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The illusion of free postage

Updated: Dec 16, 2022

As Black Friday slithers away and Cyber Monday drags on I am increasingly amazed at how many Etsy shop owners were sweating because their sales haven't been successful. Logically during the current economic situation how can making all your wares cheaper whilst continuing advertisement campaigns that cost a fortune be a good business venture? As a small business owner I don't see the benefits with trying to act like the big boys, by having 20% off sales, free postage (which doesn't actually exist for small companies, I'll explain later) and spending a king's ransom on advertising. Of course there are many shops that do all the above and have great success, but for smaller folks like me there is a better way to go about things which benefits not only me, but the beautiful souls who buy from Cat's Punky Stuff.

Hand drawn Poppy wrapping paper, my new gift wrap

No advertising

I actually got the idea to write this blog when a pop up on Facebook (yuk, I dislike FB the most!) said that for £14 my post would be advertised to 500 people. Who on earth would pay that? For £14 I would want 10,000 people to see my advert! The fact is I have never advertised and never will. As a buyer, is there really any need for advertised wares? When I search for an item to buy I instinctively ignore the first listings that have paid for advertising. Should I be led to believe that people who have spare money to invest in advertising are producing a better item than someone who doesn't advertise? Do people who sell in a saturated category actually have to advertise so they stand out in the crowd? At which point I wonder, if everyone advertises then the ones at the end of the list aren't going to be seen any more than if they hadn't paid for promotion. I detest adverts and advertising with a passion.

Sunflower wrapping paper design

Rather than advertising in a busy market why not specialise into a genre of your own, where the competition is minimal, making you one of a few that are the only ones selling such an item. My approach to not advertise means I am not wasting money on undirected promotions. A long while ago I was accidently signed in for Etsy's 'Off-site' advertising. The concept in principle is very good; you only pay for advertised listings if someone clicks through an ad and buys. At that point an advertising fee (above average charge) is added. Seems like a good idea, you don't pay unless you get sales. The small print is a different story. If that customer then buys again within the next 30 days, the fee is continued to be added as a 'finders' fee. Etsy will be making a fortune from this.

A small portion of the money I would have used for adverts is directed straight back to the folks who buy from me. Why thank an online platform for finding you a buyer, when you can thank the buyer for finding you directly? Being the only one making the Stuff that I do I have no competition. Instead I have a smaller, niche market catering to a very small percentage of online buyers. With this sort of retail ideology I have to ensure that everyone who comes to Cat's Punky Stuff has a customer service that is far superior to anything experienced before, to delivering Stuff that is clearly made with love and care, with attention to detail that borders on the excessive.

A special gift wrap for a returning client with my own hand stamped wrap paper

The extent to which I go in providing brilliant customer service can only be possible with plenty of time. As a seller each little extra you offer, each 'going out of your way' you do for free and all the times you take on a request that is more than you want to give, can all go towards your 'free' advertising. If you have time, wares that have little competition and you give more than is expected you don't need advertising, as people will come back time and time again. If you're prepared to put in more time and effort, advertising fees could be made into a lovely gifty, something special and relevant to what you sell, which you give for free with orders. If you do a good job the gifty will be treasured so ensure your name is on it. A hard wearing gifty will last years but folks memories don't!

No sales

Just like with advertising I have never run a sale. If I can afford to knock a percentage off my Stuff then it was clearly too over priced in the first place. Instead of sales to attract buyers I stick to the principles I have for not advertising. The best way to generate and guarantee sales is to look after the people who have already found you. You have to remember people talk to their friends, friends see new purchases and ask where the item can be found, folks like what their friends like. It's a regular occurrence to get a message along the lines of 'my friend/family member got me a present from you and now I'm buying gifts'!

Printed at home parcel labels for my lavender wands

I do run web offers for subscribers to my website. This is an alternative to advertising where the discount of the offer goes to folks who have already found you rather than running a sale and giving random people discounts. I also don't like sales as it may encourage impulse buys which can have a high chance of being problematic. I like to be found by folks who are looking for what I sell and not by suggesting that something is cheaper so 'go on, you know you want it really!'. The internet gave birth to the idea that there is a fast buck to be made, which was true before everyone and their pet started trying to make that fast buck. It is still possible to sell mass produced crafted things in high volumes and to make a comfortable living from it. My principles and ethics are a branch of the Arts and Crafts Movement, a direct reaction to mass produced wares stemming from the industrial revolution. My ethics are firmly embedded in the beauty of one-off unique items, hand crafted from raw materials of my own designs, ideas developed through trials and tests. After all that work why would I want to sell it off for less than it's worth?

No free postage

With small businesses like Cat's Punky Stuff there is no such thing as free postage. Lets use a birdie as an example.

  • Birdies cost approximately £6 plus £3.35 for the stamp. I personally don't charge for packing (it costs pennies for tissue and ribbon and is part of my advertising substitution) and the cost of the box is within the birdie price. After all, I can't send out the birdie without a box

  • Free Postage would mean the birdie would be £9.35 and as postage is never free the cost has to be covered by someone. If I sell a £6 birdie I'm not going to be using half of that on the postage.

Now, if I were someone offering the illusion of free postage and an order for 10 birdies came in at £9.35 per bird, the order would total £93.50 with free postage. But if I send out the10 birdies at £6 each with £3.35 postage the order would total £63.35. That means the order with 'free postage' is actually £30 more

The new gifty robin with rustic printed tag

Therefore buying single items from shops claiming 'free postage' is a saving, but you only get that saving at the expense of people who have ordered quantities, and have been ripped off.

Everything I have discussed has got an opposite argument, but what is written here is tried and tested. Having virtually no outgoings I do not need a huge turnover and I have lots of time, therefore handcrafted, lovingly made one-offs can be created. If you have no time and huge overheads or living expenses my business strategies would not work. Of course spending £20,000 a year in promotion to support a £70,000 annual turnover is worth it, but that £70,000 turnover is a shadow of its former self once you deduct the advertising, bulk materials costs, selling fees and postage (whether for a courier service or for running the car to the post office).

Whether mass producing for a huge return, or making one-offs for a selected market, strategies for one will not work for another. It strikes me as odd how small shops sell themselves short by doing sales, just because the big boys do. Put more effort in and stop throwing money at multi

national corporations, give to the folks who support you, become known for sending a little sunshine within your parcels.

Doing free postage on the promise that shops doing so will feature higher in searches on selling platforms? There has to be a point where there is no benefit because if everyone does free postage, someone has to be last in the listings. Be totally transparent and true, honesty is becoming as rare as hens teeth these days.

Everyone does things differently, this is my path and it is smooth, full of very interesting people, many with a tale to tell. Different priorities will bring about different journeys each with their own pros and cons. Good luck on your travels!

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