Open Thread: If Free Shipping Went Away, Would You Shop Less?

Online shopping shipping less man repeller

I read a pretty jarring statistic from Business of Fashion’s Instagram account over the weekend that 369 billion dollars worth of goods are returned to the e-commerce platforms they come from on an annual basis. It got me thinking about the simultaneous blessing and curse of free shipping, prioritizing convenience for the customer and whether retailers are doing a profound disservice to themselves and the environment by attempting to appease the purported wants of said customer. It also got me thinking about whether I would buy online less often if I knew I didn’t have the option of a free return.


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Amazon has been doing this since I can remember becoming a customer—Shopbop, too. Net-a-Porter made it really, really fast (sometimes deliveries arrive as early as day-of, and that’s without opting into the same-day delivery service) and a couple of years ago, Matchesfashion became, as far as I am concerned, its #1 competitor in the way of speed. That I could order a sweater from London on a Monday and get it on a Tuesday became a sort of victory that incited my wanting to shop just to watch how fast it would come and because I’ve been a customer, it absolutely did not occur to me that someone is covering the cost of this speedy shipping. That when I order something lackadaisically because I know I can send it back without any penalty, I’m eating into the margins of the place I ordered it from. I’m creating work for the factory from which it was shipped. In some cases, I’m contributing to the perpetuation of a landfill where new and unused clothes are being deposited because it’s cheaper to get rid of the return than it is to unpack and reinstall it in the system.

I probably return like, 45% of what I order because it is, for the most part, so easy. And this no doubt makes shopping from the places that make it easy all the more desirable. When a property like TheRealReal forces you to spend $12 on shipping, you’re—or I’m—more likely to think twice about what I’m getting. Their return process is more complicated than just a pre-printed sticky label to slap back onto the box—it requires requesting the return and printing the label and having the ship-back fee extracted from the total order amount, but maybe this is the precise reason I am more likely to labor over whether I am going to make a purchase at all.

Sometimes when I’m tapping through other peoples’ stories, I get these pangs of activism anxiety.

Come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve returned a single thing I’ve ordered from The Real Real.

Wait, actually, that’s not true, there was a pair of pink neon suede Manolo Blahnik mary janes—a mistake I made at like, 2 a.m. while breastfeeding last Spring. But I digress!

One of the greatest things about Instagram, at least as it pertains to me, is that it has actually started to incentivize me to do and be better. Sometimes when I’m tapping through other peoples’ stories, I get these pangs of activism anxiety, as in, “I have to show people how I am trying to do good in the world, too!” But I rarely act upon it because I don’t like where the motivation is coming from (a classic case of showing, not sharing), and so long as I feel like I’m doing my part as a citizen, who needs to know about it, anyway?

I bring this up mostly because activism smacks you over the head on social media—we all know this. And as far as the sustainability agenda goes, the great thing about this genre of activism is that once the lid has been lifted on malpractice, it’s impossible to unsee. You can’t ever go back to operating the way you used to, not with a clean conscience at least.

For what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure that all the talk of having less has made me actually want to have less. (I should give myself more credit; I’ve been writing about this exactly for the last 4 years.) I am from a different era, I grew up thinking that he who has the most toys wins, that these toys are a symbol of freedom, a talisman of independence, but as I nestle into a mentality that carries the cost of a wider context, I realize that narrative isn’t true anymore. That I, no question, still yearn for something new (I am truly a consumer of fashion in the depths of my heart) but at a less frequent cadence.

Would you feel less inclined to buy something if you had to pay for shipping, but on the flipside, surer that you really, really want it?

And to this point: we are so new to the retail game at Man Repeller—blastocysts becoming embryos, I would argue. And the stuff we offer, at an approachable price point, is made with the intention of further facilitating the coming-to moment of recognizing that you know your style, you’re coming to better know yourself and every now and then, you just want a little something-something to spice! it! up!

We’ve done math that has made it possible to offer free shipping on orders over $50, but I don’t know, should we do away with that entirely? Would you feel less inclined to buy something if you had to pay for shipping, but on the flipside, surer that you really, really want it?

In my head, doing away with free shipping on the macro-level might cause a sort of ripple effect that will course-correct the way a retailer buys collections from designers, taking into account not just sales, but purchases that are seen through and keptPerhaps this would, in turn, provide an accurate depiction of the market demand for a designer’s product and potentially decrease the volume of what they make, thus reducing a big chunk of waste in the form of end of season leftovers. Just a theory! Again, I’m very, very new to this. But for bow-tying sake, one more time: would you online shop less often, or should I say, more intentionally if shipping wasn’t free?

Animation by Madeline Montoya, featuring Repeller Peach Speckle Unibrow Sunglasses and Baseball Cap.

Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

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