how to know when spending more for free shipping is a good deal
September 19, 2012 6:14 AM   Subscribe

Going to purchase something online. Shipping is expensive. A larger purchase will get me free shipping, but the cost would be more than the cost of the smaller purchase plus shipping. How do you analyze decisions like this?

Let's say my desired item is $20. Shipping is $20. Wow, the cost just doubled. But if I spend $75, then I get free shipping. I can find $75 worth of things that I'd like, but I obviously didn't go shopping for $75 worth of stuff. However, the cost of the items purchased wouldn't double due to shipping.

How do you make good decisions in situations like this?
posted by biwa-shu to Shopping (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Does the website have other things I'm sure I'll eventually need? Amazon, for example, carries all sorts of stuff that I use regularly, so I'd certainly find something else to buy to get the free shipping. If it's some odd specialty item from an odd specialty online store that carries nothing else I need, then I might eat the shipping cost -- but only after looking for cheaper or local sources.
posted by jon1270 at 6:18 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

-- Are free returns part of the deal?
-- Is there a brick and mortar version of the store that accepts free returns?
-- Do you know of anyone else that might shop at this store? Can you combine your order with theirs?
-- Is there anything you might want to buy now as a gift, and just hold onto it?
-- Do you need multiples of the item in order to push the order cost up?

If I can't work any of the above into the order and I MUST have the item now, then I just sigh heavily and place the order.
posted by hmo at 6:19 AM on September 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Unless I actually need that other $55 worth of stuff, this is when I usually suck it up and go find the $20 item in an actual brick&mortar store. But I live in NYC, so that might not be as viable an option for you, depending on the item.
posted by Grither at 6:19 AM on September 19, 2012

When that happens to me, I recheck that there is no local option available. What about a store (like REI or Nordstrom or lots of national stores) where you can order online and pick up at the store for no shipping cost?

If there is no local brick and mortar option, I will re-evaluate the purchase. Do I need it? Is there another option? Can I wait until I need enough things to make shipping cost-effective?

If I need it and need it now, I ask my husband (but friends will work), if he needs anything from that store.

If none of those options work to make the shipping reasonable to me, I just don't buy it.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:21 AM on September 19, 2012

Shop for Christmas/birthday gifts.
posted by headnsouth at 6:21 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are no good decisions in a situation like this. That's why some people say that "having a choice" should not be confused with "freedom". And why poor people aren't poor just because they're "not smart." If you dont have $75, and live in a rural area, then you have no choice but to overpay to get what you need.

What you have there are two shitty choices.
posted by vitabellosi at 6:22 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

It totally and completely depends. Once I was ordering online groceries and realized I could get free shipping if I added like $30 more stuff, so I just bought cans and cans of beans, because I knew I'd use them eventually and it meant I wouldn't have to carry them home from the store. Once I wanted a specific dress for a formal function, saw that I was $25 away from free shipping, and used it to buy a cheap, crazy dress that I couldn't have justified buying on its own, but that I really liked. But usually I just buy what I went in there to buy.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:27 AM on September 19, 2012

  1. Is the first item worth $40 to you?
  2. Are the extra items (which are nominally worth $55) worth $35 to you?
If you answered:
  1. Yes & Yes - get the lot.
  2. Yes & No - pay the shipping
  3. No & No - save your money
  4. No & Yes (!) - ask yourself are the extra items worth more than $35? Are they worth $55? Proceed accordingly…

posted by puffmoike at 6:28 AM on September 19, 2012 [10 favorites]

Thanks all for the ideas! Additional information: very specialty store--no one else needs this stuff, and it's useless as a gift. But if I got $75 worth I could probably use it eventually. No brick and mortar store, no real alternatives for purchase. I'm leaning toward free shipping.
posted by biwa-shu at 6:30 AM on September 19, 2012

What you have there are two shitty choices.

And when you have two shitty choices, the smart thing to do is to find a third, better, option. In the hypothetical example, there might be another online or local store that will sell you the item for $30 including shipping, say, or more research might point you towards an alternate item that works out better overall.
posted by Forktine at 6:30 AM on September 19, 2012

Puffmoike, great idea--costs of the batches of goods relative to each other. Thanks.
posted by biwa-shu at 6:31 AM on September 19, 2012

Have you googled for a free shipping code?
posted by Yellow at 6:38 AM on September 19, 2012

I was in a very similar position recently--I wanted a few skeins of a unique specialty yarn available from only one online retailer that offers free shipping with a $75 purchase. I have use for about $20 worth of this yarn, but I'm otherwise an extremely occasional knitter/yarn user.

It's possible that I would eventually find a use for an extra $55 worth of yarn/knitting supplies. But it's also the case that I am constantly annoyed by feelings of having too much "stuff," too many pending projects, too much clutter, etc. So for me the negative mental energy of acquiring more yarn than I needed/had a clear short-term plan for outweighed the negative mental energy of paying something like $13 to ship $20 worth of merchandise.

If you imagine a little slider on vague terms like "possible" and "eventually", I think my decision would have shifted toward buying $75 worth of merchandise if the slider was closer to "probably would use" and "within the next year".
posted by drlith at 6:45 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yellow, yes--again, very specialty shop. Free shipping on $75 is about as good as it gets.
posted by biwa-shu at 6:45 AM on September 19, 2012

$75 of things you'd like, or things you also need?

Can you get this item in a bricks-and-mortar store for under $40?

In some predictable situations where I know I can get free shipping on purchases more than $X, I'll wait until I want to spend $X with that merchant, and then order the stuff. For example Powell's Books has a long standing deal where they offer free shipping for more than $50 of used books. Once a year or so, I'll go on a Powell's shopping spree and take advantage of that.

But what I don't do is go to Powell's, find a $3 book I want, remember the $50 deal, and then buy exponentially more stuff than I intended to.
posted by Sara C. at 6:47 AM on September 19, 2012

But if I got $75 worth I could probably use it eventually.

How probably? If you had to put that probability in percentage terms, what percentage would you guess? The smaller the chance you'll use it, the worse idea it is.
posted by jon1270 at 6:50 AM on September 19, 2012

Drats. If you can't get that item anywhere and you need it, you may have to bite the bullet. I'd try to find Christmas gifts for people if that is an option. Otherwise, I forego making the purchase.
posted by Yellow at 6:55 AM on September 19, 2012

Yeah, if we're talking about "probably use it eventually" territory, just pay the $40. $40 for something you need is better than a $20 item you need and $55 worth of garbage.
posted by Sara C. at 6:59 AM on September 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Resell the extra stuff on ebay? Maybe there are other people having the same problem as you. You could buy 4 of Item X and sell the other three for $25 and $5 shipping or whatever it actually costs and make a little back from it.
posted by corvine at 7:03 AM on September 19, 2012

This is a situation where I would pay the extra for shipping, if I could afford it, just for the satisfaction of not having been manipulated into buying extra stuff.
posted by milk white peacock at 8:16 AM on September 19, 2012

Also, you say it's a very specialty item at a very specialty store but is it available *anywhere* else? If it's for sale at another site for $30 plus $5 shipping you still come out ahead...
posted by mskyle at 8:34 AM on September 19, 2012

Your time has value. How many hours have you spent dithering on this? If you've been thinking about it more than 15 minutes, and you really need the item, just pay the shipping and be done.
posted by momus_window at 10:45 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're talking yourself into buying something you wouldn't have seriously thought about buying otherwise you're probably talking yourself into spending money you would have saved otherwise. This is why they offer it: they know that, statistically, you would end up spending less at their store if they didn't talk you into an extra-large expenditure with free shipping. It's up to you to decide whether you would really inevitably make that or an equivalent size purchase eventually - if you merely think you could "probably use it eventually" what you're really thinking about is spending an extra 35 dollars you wouldn't otherwise.
posted by nanojath at 11:39 AM on September 19, 2012

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