TRUTH: The high cost of free shipping

Admit it, they’ve spoiled you. You know who I’m talking about. The folks with the free shipping and the other benefits. The biggest online retailer in online retailer history. You know who I’m talking about.

The world relies on “free” shipping these days. And that’s fine, but it’s not always the best way to go.

The truth about free shipping

In The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, author Robert Heinlein put forth a very simple manifesto: TANSTAAFL: There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. And to this I’ll add, there ain’t (really) no such thing as free shipping.

Free shipping isn’t free. Even if you own your own trucks, planes, and trains, like that big site does, it’s still not free. It costs money to get something from here to there. The difference with free shipping is that the cost is hidden from you. And what’s worse, you can’t get rid of that extra cost.

The nightmare scenario of free shipping

Free shipping may bring you in, but it’s not always the best deal. You might find that free shipping gets you the best price for the stuff you buy a lot. But then you get lazy. That one big site is so darn convenient! You stop checking prices for other things. And that’s how they get you. When I comparison shop, I find that the site with the free shipping is only the best price about 50% of the time. They are counting on you to be complacent so they can raise the prices on other stuff.

Not only that, but free shipping can actually cost you more if you buy a lot. When you’re charged shipping separately, it’s usually calculated as one big package. In other words you pay one shipping charge that reflects the cost to ship everything that comes from the same location. When you’re getting free shipping, you’re paying the full shipping cost for every item no matter how it actually ships. That can be a bad deal.

Some free shipping is good. All free shipping isn’t.

When free shipping is a good deal for everyone, Solid Signal offers it. We have well over 1,000 of our most popular items with free shipping. But when free shipping doesn’t make sense, we give you the price without shipping and let you decide how to ship it. That may take an extra minute to figure out, but it could just mean we have the absolute best prices.

Truth is, our shipping costs are among the lowest.

For someone used to free shipping 100% of the time, our shipping costs may seem high. But thanks to contracts with all the major shippers, our costs are lower than they’ve ever been. We don’t seek to make money off shipping, but we do pass the cost along. We have to, because it’s smart business. What you see on our site is the actual cost to get that part out to you. It’s not hidden and it’s not padded. This is what it costs us and so this is what it costs you.

Our warehouse and distribution teams work every day to figure out new ways to ship more effectively. We ship “green” — using perfectly good boxes over and over when we can. We check different shippers to see who’s the most cost-effective. Not only that, we even ship from different warehouses to make sure that your stuff comes from the closest place possible.

But if I haven’t convinced you…

Sure, it’s ok if you’re a free shipping junkie. I get it. That’s why we also have a store on Amazon. We can’t feature as many parts as we can on Some manufacturers just won’t let us. But you’ll find a lot of popular stuff there, and if you want to buy it there and get the free shipping, it won’t hurt our feelings a bit.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.