Shipping out

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David TuckerDavid Tucker 10/29/2021 at 04:390 Comments

I have been thinking about shipping costs recently and how they are skewing the way we shop. Here are a few examples, for what they are worth.

My wife and I sent a package to a friend filled with books. It was a reasonably small package, less than 1 cubic foot, and weighing less than 15 pounds, but the cheapest we could get it to our friend was $45. My heart stopped for a moment when I saw that, we could have bought everything in the box new and had it delivered from Amazon for less money. More interestingly 10 years ago we could have wrapped each book in brown paper and sent them by media mail for less than $3 a book. Sending personal items through the mail is going to become a thing of the past soon.

Ages ago Amazon would charge you a fee for shipping. Then over time they played around with various schemes until they got everyone hooked on prime (paying a flat fee upfront for shipping) and that seems basically set in stone. I have noticed over the last 20+ years of Amazons growth that as the have moved towards 'free' shipping they have also moved to limit there minimum order size to about $10. It is nearly impossible to buy an item for anything less. I can buy one item for $10 and 10 of the same items for $15, but I can't get them cheaper. This has changed the dynamic when you need small items like screws or electrical connectors. Spending $10 for 5 m3 bolts and another $10 for 10 m3 nuts is a crazy way to do business, especially when you can turn around and get 100 m3 bolts for less than $20. I'm now starting to think twice before going to amazon when buying small items. It may cost me $1 per bolt at the hardware store (for metric fasteners) but at least if I only need two or three I'm money in the bag and I got to enjoy a stroll through the store as well.

Recently I placed an order from Jameco Electronics for some buttons and connectors. I had looked at Amazon but as I said above it was $10 for 2 buttons and I wanted several different looking ones. It was wonderful seeing parts listed for $0.10 again and being able to mix and match to my hearts content. However when I got to the checkout with my $14 worth of stuff I got a notice about having a $20 minimum order or they would charge me something crazy like $10 in handling fees. On top of that shipping and taxes were not factored into the price so everything was appearing artificially lower in cost. A quick search around and I found something for $9 that I did not really want but would rather have than a handling charge and away we went. The frustrating thing is that if they had just rounded up my order to $20 I would have been ok with it. It would have still been a better deal than amazon, and since the demise of RadioShack there really is no good local source for electronics parts in my town.

What I would like to see is a service that has a sliding scale on shipping where they are not hiding the cost up front in a $120 a year charge for the service like prime, and where there is still strong incentive for them to offer you small items that are counted out rather than having even the smallest things cost $10. Using a sliding scale where I'm rewarded in lower shipping and handling charges for larger orders (and slower delivery times) would incentivize me to save up my purchases and make the whole system run more efficiently. Amazon had something like this years ago and it was really nice, they even had 'add on' items that were only a dollar but could only be added onto the order. This was a bust because you could not order 10 add on items alone, but that was just a procedural issue on there part. The incentive was there to be careful with my orders but at the same time I felt like I was truly getting the best deal. Now I feel like I'm paying for the convenience of not leaving my house, and not really saving much money along the way.