Amazon’s Next Big Move: Offering Free Shipping on Small Items

As popular as online shopping has become, there are still some products that people prefer to buy in-store. That’s because shipping costs on small items, like cleaning and beauty products, make them less appealing for online purchase. But Amazon, determined to conquer every area of online buying, is making moves to change all that.

Through a new offering, Amazon will provide free shipping on smaller items purchased through its site. The catch? Items will take five to seven days to get to customers, unlike the two-day turnaround time Amazon Prime members have grown to expect. But customers also won’t have to be Prime members to enjoy this new free shipping service.

Competing with Convenience Stores

The move is Amazon’s attempt to compete with Wal-Mart and local grocery stores. Once a customer can purchase small items like toothbrushes and hand soap online, that customer will no longer need to swing by the store on the way home from work. However, the five-to-seven day delivery time may not appeal to everyone, especially when purchasing products that generally serve an immediate need.

One major issue for Amazon is that competitors aren’t standing by. Wal-Mart is testing an unlimited shipping option that will cost only $50 per year that competes with Prime and grocery services like Instacart and Shipt. However, these services are only currently available in select locations.

Small Business Ramifications

Small businesses should take steps to ensure they aren’t left behind in this new delivery-driven world. They can do that by taking a closer look at their own shipping strategy and choosing the most affordable carrier for each shipment, whether that’s FedEx, UPS or USPS.

To retain an edge, local retailers should also provide a level of service not available with big-box sellers. Get to know each customer personally, keeping in mind that customer’s product preferences. Use your expertise of the market to locate items that you know each customer will like. This is a unique touch that only a small business can provide – one that can help them gain an edge over the Amazons of the business world.

One of Many Changes

Offering free shipping on lightweight products is just one of many changes that Amazon is testing as it continues to search for ways that it can win the market. Re/code also reports that The Everything Store is expanding Prime to third-party merchants who are already offering free shipping. That means sellers will no longer need to sign up for Fulfillment by Amazon in order to offer Prime. As Endicia’s Amine Khechfè notes:

“Amazon’s expansion of Prime to online sellers shows that the company is prioritizing savvy shipping strategies. By allowing online sellers to ship Prime directly, Amazon can grow its product offerings without needing to cover costs themselves. Merchants benefit from exposure to Prime customers, and they see fewer fees since they are storing products locally, instead of with Amazon.”

However, it’s still early days for the program and Amazon will likely be watching online sellers to be sure they can deliver on the two-day Prime promise. Amine continues: “Amazon will definitely be keeping a close eye on sellers to ensure they meet its strict fulfillment requirements. For this reason, it will be critical for participating merchants to understand shipping costs and service options, especially those offered by the USPS. Otherwise, the value of being able to offer Prime will easily be overshadowed by the cost of providing two-day shipping.”

One thing is certain is taking a closer look at its shipping and eliminating hurdles that would otherwise keep customers from buying.

Check out our Ecommerce Tips and Trends page for more news on Amazon.

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