The topic of today’s podcast is something that I talk about a lot. You’ve probably heard free plus shipping offers being mentioned across the board – from podcasts to webinars to course videos. It’s such an integral part of our marketing strategy that we feel it deserves its very own episode on the podcast.

So, here we are. For the next half hour or so I will be talking about how we have sold products and grown the business with the help of our free plus shipping offers.

Backstory

When we first started ColorIt back in 2015, we wanted to differentiate our coloring books from all the other options available in the market. We wanted a good quality product that adult coloring enthusiasts can enjoy.

To achieve that (and find out if our coloring books would sell at all), we needed consumer input. And getting genuine and constructive input meant we needed to get the product into people’s hands. So we had 10 of our designs printed on artist quality paper, added a hardback cover, and sent them out to people who only paid for shipping costs. Back then, this wasn’t a tactic that many people selling online knew about, let alone used. We had our “Aha!” moment and so did our customers. Our order retake rate was over 50 percent.

We’ve launched many free plus shipping offers for our different brands since then. We followed up those coloring books with three random markers. Currently, we’re building our email list for our outdoor brands Tac9er and Tactical.com by giving away credit card muti-tools. Our willingness to use this tactic, again and again, means that it works. It also means that you can replicate it in your own business.

In this podcast, I’ll be sharing with you tips on how to set up your own free plus shipping offer and provide some other real-life examples. However, the key points have already been outlined below.

What makes a great free plus shipping offer?

  • Choose a product that has a high perceived value, but you can get at places like AliExpress for a cheap price.
  • The item should weigh less than 13 oz (around 6 oz) so you can get your shipping cost as low as possible. For example, use a product that costs you $1 or $2 dollars to acquire and ship out but has a potential resale value of $10.

What are the things you need to set it up?

  • A product that’s closely similar to the product you want to sell
  • A special landing page with details about your offer, including an upsell option
  • A special follow up sequence for the product being sold

Other Useful Resources:

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Full Audio Transcript

Mike: This is Mike and welcome to episode number 173 of the EcomCrew Podcast, so glad to have you along with us today. I don’t normally talk about this in the get go of the episode. But I do want to remind people, if you got a second please go over to iTunes and leave us a review. We have tens of thousands of people that I know download this podcast but we’ve only managed to get to 100 reviews. And it drives me crazy. And one of the things that iTunes uses for rankings, more than anything else is reviews.

So, if we can get just a few of you guys to go over there and leave us a review today, we’d really appreciate. Just be honest and say Mike just sits there and blows hot air through the microphone and adds zero value my business. It’s the biggest waste of time, one star. Even that probably helps. But if you take the time to do it, I really would appreciate it. You can just go over to iTunes right in your browser or your iPhone, wherever you listen to this podcast app. It really does make a big help.

And today, I’m going to be talking about free plus shipping offers. This is something that I’ve talked about in the past before on the podcast. But I don’t believe I’ve ever given it a full length episode. So I really want to take a deep dive into free plus shipping offers and why they can be a tremendous value to your business and what the challenges are, some of the offers that we’ve run and things of that nature, things to be thinking about, and all that good stuff. So another reminder, if you go to EcomCrew.com/173, that’ll take you right to the show notes and comments, and questions for this episode. And right on the other side of this intro, I’m going to dig right into free plus shipping offers.

All right guys, thanks for joining me for another edition of the EcomCrew Podcast. I’m going to be flying solo today, talking about free plus shipping offers. This is something that has really made up pretty impactful difference in our business. And we really stumbled upon it by accident. Let me tell you the back story because it’s always fun to talk about how things happen in life. I think that a lot of things get invented by accident, right? You look back at history and some of the most important inventions in history people weren’t even trying to event, they just they just came across them.

And that’s what happens here a lot in our office. I definitely don’t feel like I’m the smartest guy in the room ever but I am pretty tenacious. And I’m always trying new things. I’m not afraid to fail. And sometimes someone will say something or something will happen, and it’ll trigger something to make me go, come up with a solution for that. And so what happened was in 2015, when we first started ColorIt, we put all this effort into designing the perfect coloring book. My cousin Erica had come to me about this idea of doing coloring books for adults, it was all the rage and it’s since really died down.

So for us to be able to continue to grow and head one with a velocity of it just being a shrinking market because it seems like it was a little bit of a fad. But luckily much like online poker, which I experienced the same thing, even though it was a fad and it was a quick run up and a peak, the end result was that it’s still way more popular than it ever was. And that’s certainly the way it is for coloring for adults. So, it was 2015. I put all this effort into designing the perfect coloring book. And the way that I am, and my cousin Erica is the same way. So it was very easy, our thoughts were on the same page.

And it was like look, we’re going to crush it. We’re going to leapfrog over everything else out there and really design like this book that’s geared towards adults. Because what was happening was artists had come along and started drawing these really intricate, amazing drawings that were geared towards adults. But they were still being printed in the traditional way with soft back covers, and just traditional paper and everything, printing on both sides, things of this nature.

And we sat down. And even though I wasn’t into adult coloring, it was obvious to me some of the things we could do to improve this, which was to make it a hardback cover. That way it would protect the artwork. That way you could color it like in your lap or on a bus or something on the way to work or on an airplane or something like that, and it would just make the experience much more enjoyable.

We wanted to make it so you would only color on one side. Because one of the things I noticed when I was testing some other books, as soon as you started coloring on a page, even if you’re using something like a pencil that doesn’t obviously bleed through the paper, it still makes like that in dent, that impression on the other side of the paper. And it just it looks kind of like tacky when you see like this scribbling stuff through the other side of the paper. That was something I was looking at.

And I was like you know what, this paper is super thin, it’s not even made for coloring. It’s got that like off whiteness that all paperback books kind of have, let’s make some actual artist quality paper. And that was the thing that was like driving me crazy as I was testing out coloring. And it was driving me crazy in other ways, because I’m not really in the coloring. The book wouldn’t lay flat. So the book would close on itself and on and on. There was a few other things that we design.

But obviously with doing something like this, there’s a cost to it right? You can’t just do all these additional features and sell it for the same four or five, $6 that the books that were really popular were selling for at Wal-Mart or on Amazon.com, or wherever it might be. Our books were significantly more expensive. At the time they were 1799. And now they’re 99 with the increased cost of labor and paper.

And what was happening was, as we started launching and the word was getting out, we were getting really, really positive comments from the people that were buying our books. I mean, it was actually flattering. And it was very touching and gratifying in so many ways because we had taken this chance by doing all this stuff, and it was really working. But what we had not realized is that most people, their head was stuck in the way that they were used to, which was I’m paying $6 for a coloring book. And there’s no way in the face of this earth I’m going to pay you $20 for a book.

And it wasn’t like they weren’t saying this or we thought that this was their thoughts. This is like, literally the comments that were happening on Facebook. I mean, every day over and over again. You must be crazy; you effing nuts, I’m not going to pay you $20 for a book, like it must be gold leaf then. There was like all these and some of them got really nasty. And I was just like what, like I get it. And that’s the thing. You got to put yourself in your customers’ shoes. This is amazing feedback. Like, I mean, people pay a lot of money to go out and do a bunch of studies and stuff like this, to get people to tell them good comments about their products, and third party studies to get honest opinions about what people really think.

So, instead of taking it as an insult, I was like you know what, I’ve got to bridge this gap, there has to be a way to bridge this gap. And I want to do something that as a test really quickly. So, I thought to myself, it didn’t take long. I was like you know what, we’ve already got — at this point, we had five or six coloring books that were out. And so we already have designs done, we’re already printing them, we already have the paper, it’s already basically done, all’s we have to do is package this in a way where we can get this stuff in their hands so they can just try it out. Like I just need to like get them to have this aha moment.

My thought was, if they get it in their hands, and they experience it for themselves firsthand, then I won’t need to convince them any longer to become a customer. They’ll want to throw their money at us, basically, and just open their wallet, and be like, shut up, take my money, I want this. That was basically the thought process. So what I did, again, I’m very big on minimal viable products. This is something that we do internally a lot. And maybe I could even do an entire podcast about that in the future, because minimal viable products allow us to test things intuitively really, really quickly at our company.

It’s why we are able to come up with usually once a month or once a quarter, something new something big, because we’re constantly just testing stuff. And we never talk about the stuff that doesn’t work, that fails. Not that we’re embarrassed because I think that it’s important to try a bunch of stuff that fails. But it’s because we put a minimal amount of effort just to see if it’s even going to get any traction at all. If it doesn’t, we just move along and move on to the next thing.

My buddy Grant used obviously to do this podcast with me for a very long time. He called this the ability to fail forward. Instead of failing and just falling backwards and being down in the dumps, you fail and you fall forward when you do it. And you learn from it and fall forward. Something that both of us I think really excel at. I just have no ego and no pride high gas when it comes to that. I have a lot of pride in our things. But telling someone that I tried something and it didn’t work is not one of the things that worries me.

So, I was lucky. I want to the printers like look, I want to take 10 of the designs we already have, print them on paper that we obviously already have. And I just need you guys to sandwich this in between two pieces of like a chipboard which is this kind of like cardboard, it’s kind of the same material that a box is made out but not quite. It’s kind of a cardboard hybrid, if you will, just to protect it and then shrink wrap it so I can take it and throw a postage label on it, and throw it right in the mail. I want this to be really, really easy.

I assume that we’re going to sell a bunch of these; I need it to be super easy to do. So, I want to just go into my order handling system, click 50 of these, hit print and just peel and stick peel and stick peel and stick, that’s how I wanted to set it up. And we did it, and it was a big success. And at the time, I didn’t really think about calling it a free plus shipping offer. I didn’t even really understand what that was because nobody was really doing any of that stuff in e-commerce back then. It was just something that we did as a means to get our product in people’s hands. And our order retake rate, basically people that buy the free plus shipping offer, over 50% of them, then come back and buy a book, they go back and buy the $20 book.

But the way that I set it up was I wanted to have my cost covered what they’re paying me for this free thing to be able to cover the cost of printing, the drawings, and the cost of the actual shipping. So it was perfect, because our standard shipping on our website is 3.99. And the cost of first class mail for these things was $2 and 40 cents. And the cost to make them was a buck. We had a little bit of wiggle room there. And our first free plus shipping offer was born. Now, some things that we did right from the get go that were really important is I made a special landing page just for this item. I made a special follow up sequence via email for this item. And we let it go. We let it just kind of run from there.

And now we are a little bit more sophisticated. But at that point again, people, our customers had an aha moment and so did we. And since then, we’ve even run a whole bunch of different free plus shipping offers. And I want to spend the rest of this episode talking about some specifics, the things that we’ve run, and the things that I think that are important to have as a free plus shipping offer and things that you want to kind of try to avoid. So, let’s get into some of the other ones that we’ve done just real quick so you can kind of get another idea of things that we’ve tried in the past.

Another thing that we’ve done is three free markers just pay shipping and handling. So, we normally sell our markers for a buck 99 each. And so it’s $6 of value. They’re just paying shipping. But the idea is for people to go out and buy a higher value product, to have that aha moment. So they can go try out the product. Its three random colors, we put together something called a three marker challenge along with this, where people are going to get these three random colors and they would also along with it, get a free download. They would color the download, submit it, and have a chance of winning a random prize as well.

So, we tied it all into all these different things to kind of really get it to work. And lo and behold, it really helped our marker sales just as much as the other free plus shipping helped our book sales. And again, you want to get the product in people’s hands because our markers look very similar to other markers out there. It’s like, well, why would I pay you — at the time we were we were charging more, actually I just realized I looked up on the site. I thought that a buck 99 was cheap. We sell the individual markers for 3.99, I apologize. So they’re actually getting $12 retail value for 3.99.

But our markers are high value; we sell them for $40 a set. And they’re legitimately better than other markers that physically look the same. But there’s a lot to a marker that makes it better or different. The ink that goes inside of it, the actual nibs, the tips that people color with and we wanted people to experience it themselves. And once they start drawing and coloring with these, they are like oh my god, this is like such an amazing experience. I want to buy a set. And that really has helped.

I’ll give you another example of something that we’re doing right now. It’s always easier to remember something that you’re in the middle of right now. We’re trying to build our email list for Tactical.com and tac minor [ph]. And so what we’ve done as a free plus shipping offer for a bunch of different products that we’ve tried out that we’re ultimately probably going to develop. One’s a credit card multi tool. So again, something that has a very high perceived value, but it doesn’t cost a whole lot. So, we’re going to make this credit card multi tool, all in with the packaging and everything for under a buck. And it will cost us $2 and 40 cents for shipping. We’re charging again, 3.99 for a free plus shipping offer.

We did it with a flashlight. You can buy these LED tactical flashlights relatively cheaply. And it’s working well for that. We also are going to hear the next one we’re going to be doing as a pair of cord bracelet. And you can get these either source, you can do what we did with the stuff that I’ve talked about here, and develop this yourself and launch as a free plus shipping offer. Or you can go to AliExpress. That’s something I’ll talk about here in just a little bit. But those are just some examples of things that we’ve done to either A, we want to build our lists, which I think is A is probably pervasive throughout all of this. It’s always important to be building your list.

But the thing that we’re looking to do, I guess the B would be to get a particular product in people’s hands that has a cross selling or up selling opportunity down the road. So obviously a credit card multi tool, they buy that directly. I’m not going to sell them the big brother of that for 50 bucks, because that doesn’t exist. So, that’s just a way to get people in the door. Hopefully, it’s a high quality product and you’ll sell them some ancillary product later. Versus the 10 free plus shipping offer has a direct upsell later down the funnel of a 50 page book or a 30 page book.

The markers, they get three markers, and we’re going to sell them the 50 set. Another thing that’s really important about free plus shipping offers is to make sure that you have an upsell at the time that you set this up. So we use OneClickUpsell for this. So someone goes and buys our 10 free sample drawings. They immediately get an upsell offer for a set of gel pens. I don’t want to sell them at that moment a full length book because I’m trying to get them to have the aha moment for the book once they get the drawing. So, what’s like a side product that they need that will make that experience even better? Well, our best selling coloring mediums or a set of gel pens. And it works really great as a free plus shipping offer upsell.

And then what we’re going to be doing later is actually adding an upsell and a down sell to that. So they elect to take it, we’ll then offer them pencils or watercolor pens, brush pens. Down sell might be, maybe it is a 30 page book or something else that’s kind of in that flow. But you want to try to increase the value that you get and not just get them to buy just the free plus shipping offer, which is something that we were missing in the earlier days that we’re doing a much better job with moving forward.

So, let’s talk about the components of what makes a great free plus shipping offer. Ideally, you want something that’s less than a pound, so less than 13 ounces so you can ship it first class. You have to get your shipping costs as low as humanly possible. I prefer something that’s six ounces or less, something that I can ship for $2 and 40 cents. It’s really important to get the cost down. Ideally, it’s something that cost you one or $2 that has a retail value of over $10. So, you want something that has a very high perceived value that weighs very little to be able to send people that is going to have one of two paths.

Either a path to a bigger brother version of that, like I was saying, I think 10 free sample drawings up selling to a full length book, three markers up selling to the full 50 set, or some other ancillary products in your catalog. So, Tac 9 are the people that buy this credit card multi tool are going to have an affinity to all of our other products, to our multi tool shovel, to our [inaudible 00:18:41] shovel, to our tactical gloves, to our trekking poles. I mean these are the types of people that are going to buy these types of products.

So, getting them to buy our credit card multi tool and basically breaking even at the time of sale without even having any upsell offers in that queue is really impactful because now I have them on my email list and I can market to them other products over time. And they’ve been able to get one of my products, experience our customer service, experience our high quality product, interact with us, they now trust us that we’re going to actually ship them the free plus shipping offer. All this is a scam type thought processes, go out the window and people are no longer worried about that. They’re going to most likely take advantage of anything else that you offer them moving forward.

So, the way that you can go about doing this almost immediately in your business is to go on AliExpress and start looking for products that that fit this model. So, what we’ve done with the credit card multi tool as a for instance, we just looked for a credit card multi tool. That was on AliExpress. They’re out there all day long for three bucks is sure whatever completely shipped to the person’s door, and started advertising it. We bought one; we made a video out of it. We started advertising it to people on Facebook. We made a landing page for it and we went to town.

And this is a way to start selling that credit card multi tool, seeing what you can get your cost per acquisition down to start to learn what audiences do what. And when you start to get some traction, first of all, you can go through a bunch of different products, you don’t have — if that doesn’t work, you go on to the next product. If that doesn’t work, you go on to the next product. But when you start to get some traction, you’re getting sales for $10 or less, $5 or less, but you’re going to probably lose money in the early going. We certainly have as we dial in our targeting, dial in our ads, etc, etc. And you’re not even using your own product at this point. So it makes it even more difficult.

But once you get within earshot of what your final goal is, what we do at that point is then we order a bunch of them, make a higher quality version of the widget that’s on AliExpress with your own branding. So, when you do with your own express, you’re going to be giving away something that is even branded as yours. We don’t care, like we just want to test it. So, the credit card multi tool, once we did get traction with it, we ordered 10,000 of them like literally because our hope is to be giving away 50 to 100 of them a day and also sell them on Amazon, which is another whole thing as a side note to this episode.

But we’ll be selling stuff on Amazon and we’ll have a list of people that have already purchased that we can use as a lookalike audience and as a hey, this is now on Amazon, go buy this new version over there. Some percentage of people will do that and we’ll have a head start over people that don’t have any list or don’t have anybody that’s ever purchased that product. So, that’s kind of like the timeline of what we’re looking for there. And you can really probably see the importance now that I’ve had an opportunity to really dig into why these free plus shipping offers are so important and can be so impactful to your business.

Now, what I will say is that, again, like I talk about whenever I go speak at any event, every business is different. So it really depends on the type of business that you have. I’m going to go through all of our business and talk about free plus shipping offers that we’re doing or thinking of doing for all of our businesses. For IceWraps, it doesn’t make sense for us to do a free plus shipping offer for a typical product because it’s a company that doesn’t have a good lifetime value of a customer. They have an ailment, they have a problem, we solve it, they don’t need us anymore. They move on with their life. We move on with ours.

Not ideal when it comes to e-commerce but not bad either. That’s a great business that makes us seven figures every year; it brings in seven figures of revenue every year. So, a great business but not necessarily great for free plus shipping offers but there is a small segment of people that are really high value customers to us. And these are people that buy custom gel packs. They buy 500 of them at a time, 1000 of them at a time. So what we’ve done is we’ve made a free plus shipping offer with a couple of different sizes of sample gel packs with your logo here printed on them and they can get those for free.

We don’t actually even charge shipping for that particular offer because it’s so high value. We just like if they want it, fill out the form and we’ll send you these gel packs. Obviously, that is a direct linear upsell opportunity. We send them something that cost us five bucks, there’s a one in five chance, one in 10 chance whatever people ordering that product eventually. So, let’s say it cost us $50 to acquire a sale that way, but they’re placing multi hundred dollar orders and almost everyone that does order once just orders again over and over again as they use them up. This is a really great way to put into a free plus shipping offer for that business.

ColorIt I already mentioned some of the ones that we’ve done with the free plus shipping offers of the 10 sample drawings. We did Christmas drawings at one point, we did the markers, there’s some stuff that we tried that didn’t work. There’s other things that we’ve tried that is working but that gives you a good idea for ColorIt. For Tactical, I mentioned already a whole bunch of them, the credit card tool, the pair of cord bracelet, the flashlight. There’s all kinds of stuff in that realm that is a perfect free plus shipping offer.

WildBaby, we’re looking at drill [ph] bibs, organic drill bibs, so we’ll give a free bib away to someone and hopefully that’s something that you need more than one of. So you get one free one, try it out, well, then we have a 10 pack that you can buy. And hopefully, if you enjoy that as well there’s a bunch of other products because you need a lot more than just drill bibs as a baby customer.

I want to throw something completely random out there like treadmill.com. When we launched Treadmill, obviously we can’t send them a free treadmill as a free plus shipping offer. But there’s all kinds of things you could do, exercise bands, like an exercise ball, downloadable free content or something or maybe it’s a book that you send them that they just pay shipping and handling of exercise routines. People that are in the fitness space that are into it enough that they’re interested in this type of content to where if they do get it, there’s a good chance that over time you can sell them something like a treadmill. That would be something I would do with that.

There’s all kinds of other things that you could do for every business I think out there. For the most part, there’s things you could do to offer free plus shipping offer, but there’s definitely businesses out there that it wouldn’t work well for. And I can never think of these types of things on the fly. I’m sitting here with a pair of headphones in front of me. If I only sold headphones, how do I like over the year $300 set of headphones. That was my only skew like what I offer as a free plus shipping offer? It’s hard to say.

So some things, it’s tough. But if you sold something like packing cubes, I know it’s been sitting in my office because I’m getting ready to go on a trip, you could send someone a free packing cube or a sample size, one of that. Maybe it only holds electronics or something and then upsell them a larger version or other things later if they like the product because yours has better zippers, or a cool design or a nice logo or the material is really good or it has some other unique functionality.

Again, it works better if you have something unique that you really need to get people to have that aha moment but it also works just fine in other ways as well. So and then of course, the other thing you could do is like I said, go to AliExpress and find something that’s close to your product. It doesn’t have to be the exact thing that you’re looking to do because you can then do a test and use them as your free plus shipping offer. So, that’s kind of the high end, reiterating kind of going over it again of a free plus shipping offer. I’m sure you can kind of see why they’ve been such a positive impact to our business.

And I think that you can use this in your business as well for the most part. But again, use your common sense, think things through, is this right for me? It’s not right for everybody. I really love to stress that because one of the things that drives me crazy is people when they promote like use my secret sauce, it’s going to make you a million dollars and you can just use it without having to use your own brain power. If you’re an entrepreneur, you have to be fluid and be able to figure things out. So, figure out what’s going to be best within your business and adapt that to this model. And I think you’ll have great success.

I want to remind people again that you can get to the show notes for this episode by going to EcomCrew.com/173 for the show notes. I’ve already begged you for a review but I’ll mention one more time, you can go to iTunes for leaving us a review. It really does help us over here at the EcomCrew Podcast. Besides that we love hearing from our fans, shoot us an email, [email protected] if you’ve got questions, or you can leave them right on the show notes at EcomCrew.com/173 just as another reminder that.

And besides that everyone, I hope you’re having a great month. Things are wrapping up here. The year is quickly coming to an end. It’s already almost Q4, almost time to get your holiday sales hat on. And if you haven’t started planning for that yet, oh man, you’re too late so hopefully you have. And besides that everyone, I want to wish you guys a good month selling and happy selling, and we’ll talk to you soon.