By Tom Caporaso, CEO of Clarus Marketing
SAN FRANCISCO (TheStreet) -- The Internet has changed completely the rules of the retail road for consumers. No longer are they at the mercy of "the only game in town" -- which, back in the 1990s, was the local fashion or entertainment outlet or that catalog they got in the mail every three months. If consumers don't find what they want quickly, conveniently and at a price they're willing to pay, it's very easy for them to search for a better deal with just a click or two on their laptops or a few flicks on their mobile gadgets.
That doesn't mean consumers are always thrilled by what online retailers offer. Sure, the prices can be more appealing and the range of options is about as limitless as they could hope for, but too many e-tailers still don't fulfill the one expectation consumers have when they shop online.
Consumers have two simple words for the online retail industry: Free shipping! Is that so hard to understand?
It's no mystery why consumers want free shipping:
It's free. This shouldn't require explanation, but just in case: When consumers can choose between paying to get something or having it delivered for free, they're just as likely as retailers are to choose the "free" option.
It lowers their overall costs so they have more money to spend on things they want. If retailers want to know the biggest reason consumers abandon their online shopping carts in the middle of a transaction, it's simple: Right when they're about to click that "place your order" button, they discover the shipping costs have jacked up the total purchase cost far more than expected -- and out of their acceptable price range. Just think: If only those consumers had received free shipping, all those sales wouldn't have been lost.
It just feels right. A free shipping offer helps convince consumers that the retailer cares about them. If there's one factor that improves a consumer's online shopping experience more than any other, it's free shipping. (In fact, consumers prefer free shipping over same-day delivery -- or even lower prices!)
It's (almost) everywhere. At this point, free shipping is so ubiquitous that consumers no longer see it as a "special offer"; it's now a "customer expectation." When retailers don't offer free shipping in some form or fashion, that's their choice, but they should expect to lose business to all of those e-tailers that give consumers what they demand.