Are companies allowed to charge anything they want for shipping?
July 26, 2008 7:55 PM   Subscribe

Is there any sort of agency that monitors web companies that charge egregious shipping and handling fees? I am looking to make a complaint. Is there a law against charging more than actual shipping cost?

The full story is a little boring. I am attempting to order a pair of $20 shoes (ladies' flats) from a gigantic online retailer, and they are asking a $70 shipping fee. (Not eBay. This is a regular commerce site). I do not live in a remote area, and I shop online all the time, even from this same company, without having to pay crazy shipping charges. So, it's not me. It's them. When I called, the operator told me that the weight of the package is the cause for the charges. Anyway, I am angry and want to make a complaint. But to whom? The FTC?
posted by foxinthesnow to Law & Government (14 answers total)
The Better Business Bureau would be a good place; at least you'd be adding to the canon of info about this company. Businesses can charge whatever they like for shipping; you wouldn't have any sort of case unless you could prove that you were actively misled or lied to. If you can find a shipping charge chart on their website pretty easily, and what they charged you is fairly determinable by that chart, you're probably out of luck. But complaining publicly about it and writing a letter to the customer service department might help. You should also weigh the box when you get it, so you can calculate what postal rate should have been. Unless they're just really heavy . . . but $70 for flats? Wow.

For some reason, I've noticed outrageous charges for shipping particularly when shoes are involved. I have no idea why this is - is it that a woman's compulsion in shoe-buying is regarded as something likely to cause a short circuit in clear thinking? I'd love to know. If you were to mail me the name of the company, I'd appreciate it, so I don't fall into the same trap.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 8:19 PM on July 26, 2008

Companies can charge whatever they want for whatever they want, generally speaking. Your recourse for expensive shipping is not buying the product. Unless they lied to you about how much the shipping was, you might as well be asking: "Can printer companies sell dirt-cheap printers and then gouge you on the ink refills."

Essentially you're asking if a company can make a profit on shipping and the answer is, of course, "yes."
posted by toomuchpete at 8:47 PM on July 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

That sounds insane, unless you're requesting overnight or 2-day air shipping. If it's overnight, it might be within the realm of reasonable, depending on how heavy the shoes are. Otherwise it seems loopy.
posted by brianogilvie at 8:48 PM on July 26, 2008

As bad as that shipping might be (and I have no idea), they can still charge it.

For one thing, you can pretty much charge whatever you want for whatever you're selling. I don't know about you, but I don't want the government or any outside agency to tell me what I'm allowed to charge for things.

Secondly, there's handling to consider. Maybe the shoes are in a warehouse far away and they have to be shipped from there. Maybe they're on the top shelf and they have to get someone who isn't afraid to climb all the way up there to get them (and pay them for that).

Or maybe they're just being an ass and wanting to make a killing off of shipping. Really, I don't understand why people don't consider shipping as part of the cost of the item when ordering things online. But that's a different issue altogether.
posted by theichibun at 9:03 PM on July 26, 2008

Here's my hypothesis:

They've priced these shoes at a major loss. If they're selling it at $30, they bought it for $35 or $40. Now, they're preying on the fact that folks look at the price of an item as they shop--after all, that's the only thing the site provides until you hit checkout. Anyway, they've hidden their profits on this particular item in the shipping and handling charges.

And, no, there's nothing you can do short of not buying it. They can charge whatever they want for shipping and handling. Even if you did claim that postage was only $8.44, they can charge whatever they want for the service of boxing and labeling it.

Another, alternate hypothesis:

Their database has an inaccurate weight for the shoes. Perhaps they're listed at 28lbs when they should be 2.8lbs, or something of the like. Maybe call them back and see if there's some sort of glitch like that.

What're the shoes, and which etailer?
posted by Netzapper at 10:59 PM on July 26, 2008

As others have said, the extra above the real shipping cost is what is covered under the term "handling." And they can charge all they want to put in in the box etc. Sadly.

Vote with your wallet and choose not to shop at this place. And write a review of your experience with the retailer and post it on sites that review vendors.
posted by OwlBoy at 12:26 AM on July 27, 2008

I think Netzapper is right, in terms of them trying to recoup a sales loss through higher shipping. It bugs me though because it's a similar selling mentality that tries to hook people with a bait and switch, namely getting you in the door making you think you are getting one thing (i.e., cheap shoes), but finding out that there are "extras" involved (i.e., exorbitant shipping costs, when the average person would assume they would be reasonable). Although a true bait and switch is illegal, excessive shipping and handling is not (the "handling" part can be open to some subjective interpretation). I think it breaks a similar ethical principle as the bait and switch, but because it's regarding a cost that's not generally advertised up front anyway even under less devious circumstances, it's hard to say what law it would be breaking. People can charge whatever they want for their services.
posted by Benevolent Space Robot at 12:32 AM on July 27, 2008

Is there any way they can bill your UPS or Fedex account for the actual shipping charge? Then you can argue with UPS or Fedex about the amount charged.
posted by Gungho at 5:16 AM on July 27, 2008

By keeping the selling price low and making up for that lost profit margin through raising shipping and handling charges, the vendor also can keep a overall higher profit margin because only the selling price need be refunded, not the original shipping and handling charges, thus creating a disincentive for a dissatisfied customer's product return.
posted by bbranden1 at 9:27 AM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Call them and ask if it's an error. If it 's what they really charge, take your business elsewhere. But post it to the Consumerist, so they can be mocked.
posted by theora55 at 11:14 AM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Could be that the shoes are actually coming from somewhere else, that is not in the online stores normal shipping range. maybe the shoes are coming from overseas or something? I have had this happen when ordering online occasionally.
posted by Phoenix42 at 12:36 PM on July 27, 2008

Here is the thing: Companies can charge whatever they want for shipping. I don't think you should file a complaint because YOU have the choice to view these shipping charges and decide whether or not you want to pay that. You're not being tricked and you're not being forced. Choosing to take your business elsewhere is how you punish the company. It's childish to badmouth them in a capitalist nation where everyone patronizes the business that can offer the best deal.

ALSO, if this has anything to do with International shipping, you should be aware that UPS and FedEx charge based on "dimensional weight". This means that a box of pillows is more expensive than a small 3 lbs item. If you're buying a pair of small women's shoes, the shoebox alone would make the package at least a 5 lb package (even if the shoes weight 2 lbs). If they're women's boots, it could be a 7 or 8 lb package.
posted by wannaknow at 2:08 PM on July 27, 2008

Back in the 90s I worked in the IT department of a catalog company. In fact, they sold shoes, and I was in web development, although I also did some programming for their back-end inventory and fulfillment systems. I remember a particular crisis day during the UPS strike and a bunch of stuff had to be revised... (The joke at the time: FedEx and UPS merge and become "FedUp")

Anyhow, shipping is considered a profit center. It is normal and expected for an online or catalog seller to make a reasonable profit on shipping. Having said that, free shipping was also one of the most effective promotional tools. Regardless, the company still makes money over all.

In our case, shipping charges were determined by a chart published in the catalog and on the web site based on the dollar value of the order. One of the reasons for using dollar value rather weight was to make it easier for the customer to understand how the charges would be calculated, and (for those few catalog customers who mailed in orders instead of calling the toll-free number) to calculate the charges themselves. Regardless, there were some heavier items, such as treadmills, which carried a shipping surcharge. The surcharge was stated on the web site when you looked at the product page.

I have no idea who you are shopping with or if there are some special considerations with shipping this particular item (i.e.: Is it coming drop-ship from some place other than the company's own distribution center? Are you an International customer, or in AK or HI?). The most likely thing is that the weight of this item was miscoded in the company's database, and no one has caught it and corrected it. This sort of thing doesn't happen often, but it does happen occasionally.

If you want the shoes, call them back and ask them what the product's weight is. If it seems out of line, ask to speak with a customer service supervisor and then see if they can have the weight checked.
posted by Robert Angelo at 2:33 PM on July 27, 2008

One other thing occurred to me: If you selected next-day shipping, the cost will skyrocket. If your package weighs a couple of pounds, it's quite possible that you would pay a hefty shipping charge. $70 still seems steep, but if the shoes and the packaging actually are particularly heavy, that would make a difference.

Second-day shipping, likewise, would also command a premium over something like Priority Mail, UPS Ground, or Parcel Post.
posted by Robert Angelo at 4:51 PM on July 27, 2008

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