With mere weeks to go until Christmas, it’s time to pull out all the stops to get readers to visit your website and buy your books. A highly effective strategy is offering free or discounted shipping and using your homepage banner to blast that news. By doing so, you’ll get your site visitors primed for making purchases and much less likely to abandon their carts.

An unprecedented opportunity prompted by empathy

Buying local and supporting indies has never had more urgency or meaning during this awful year of the pandemic, and there is evidence that consumers know it. For example, an American Express Canada survey conducted in June found that 83% of respondents agreed that it was time to support the small business community, and 76% said they were “determined to shop local more than in the past.”

This attitude is prompted in part because we are all watching our local businesses struggle with lockdown restrictions, and many of us understand that when we buy from Amazon, it takes money away from smaller retailers. We see the human faces behind businesses and the livelihoods affected by Covid-19. It’s emotional, and it’s close to home. We understand how much our consumer behaviour matters this year.

If readers come to your site amid this emotion-fuelled zeitgeist, it’s an opportunity you don’t want to miss. Readers are coming to your site because they clearly like your books, and they will want to buy from you even more than they usually do.

BUT … and this is a huge but: readers are as price sensitive as anyone else, and shipping costs can deflate even the most determined potential book buyer. Shopping cart abandonment is a major issue for all retailers (75% of all carts are abandoned by potential buyers) and research shows that the main reason for that is that shoppers decide that extra costs are too high, including shipping, taxes, and fees (60%).

Free shipping matters the most to consumers

Free shipping is the top incentive for shoppers, as you can see from this infographic, which is based on a compilation of research about what online shoppers want most from an e-commerce experience. Fully 74% of consumers said it was the most important step a retailer could take to improve the e-commerce experience – far more than those who cited same-day delivery (9%), secure website (25%), free returns (35%), and lower prices (50%). Free shipping is also more compelling to shoppers than fast delivery.

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Can indie publishers reasonably offer free shipping this year? We’d argue that the answer is a clear yes. Shipping costs are not insignificant, but you can temper that by establishing a minimum threshold purchase, as ReaderBound client Arsenal Pulp Press is doing on their homepage right now via their top banner.

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The beauty of making direct sales is that it gives you flexibility to extend shipping incentives, including free shipping, because you have more margin to work with.

Use that banner

If you do offer free shipping, use your banner to shout it from the rooftops, as Arsenal Pulp Press is doing – don’t wait to surprise customers with it at checkout. Blasting the news right from the get-go sets up an urgency and excitement for customers to browse your site with a clear intent to buy. These customers will be far less likely to abandon their carts and also much more likely to look for more than one book to buy.

Do it now

There is no time to waste in setting up your free shipping incentive. Free shipping may be more important than expedited shipping in general – but your customers are going to want their books to get where they need to go before Christmas. If you offer free shipping now, you’re not going to disappoint buyers with books that don’t arrive on time.

Make it personal

If at all possible, send your buyer an email after they make a purchase thanking them for supporting an indie and whatever other personal message you want to include. Better yet, offer them a promo code for the next time they visit the site (e.g., 10% off the next book they buy from you). The offer for free shipping now can be leveraged to help boost future sales – and to develop an even more loyal fan base than you already have.