Used to free shipping? There are reasons why most resellers can't offer it. Read on for what you need to know about buying vintage online
Ed. note: This article was originally published on Dec. 15, 2021 and was updated Aug. 22, 2023.
You’ve got an online shopping cart full of vintage or secondhand goodies. You’re excited about your finds. You click “Checkout” and the shipping fee will be...wait.
Shipping is how much?
Bubble of excitement burst, you hesitate on completing the transaction.
We’re all used to “free” shipping from retail giants such as Amazon and Walmart. (Except it’s not ever “free” — shipping costs are worked into purchase price, membership fees like Prime, or minimum purchase requirements).
But with the rising costs of transportation and fuel, free shipping — even among conglomerates — is unlikely to continue, predicts Ken Morris, managing partner at Cambridge Retail Advisors, in a March 2023 statement to news outlet Reuters. “The days of free delivery are numbered,” he said.
Here’s the thing: independent resellers slinging secondhand and vintage are not retail giants. And that’s one of the great reasons to shop with them.
But still, when you’re DMing with a seller on a marketplace platform and they tell you how much shipping is going to be on top of your order, it can be a surprise.
So let’s reduce the sticker shock. If you’re wondering why shipping costs what it does or why every seller doesn’t offer free shipping, read on for some tips on how to manage your expectations and improve communication with sellers when it comes to that most dreaded line item.
The cost of fuel, physical weight, volumetric weight, labour and ultimate destination are all factors in calculating shipping fees. Vintage goods don’t necessarily fit into a neat little package. You might be paying for shipping a large and awkward item, or one that requires a lot of care to pack so it doesn’t break.
In Canada, the large geographic footprint and the distance between towns means it’s more expensive to ship compared to other countries (in the U.S., for example, there are so many more depots that might provide better proximity to the final destination, reducing the length of time a package might travel).
Many sellers, especially those outside of urban areas, use Canada Post to ship for its small business services, drop-off and pickup convenience and rates.
But as a Crown corporation, Canada Post needs to provide postal service to all areas of the country, including rural and remote ones. The cost of subsidizing that transportation is worked into Canada Post’s fees.
Other sellers, especially those in urban areas, use courier services, which sometimes have higher rates based on convenience or shipping times. The supply chain problems that plagued the world throughout 2020 and 2021 and still linger in 2023 are also a reason for higher rates.
Shipping and postal rates tend to increase incrementally every year, so expect that a seller’s shipping fees will also fluctuate.
Shipping is one of the most expensive parts of a reseller’s business, and trimming costs on that line item is important to most sellers. So trust that the rate you are getting is the best one they can give you. They likely have researched and exhausted other options.
Shopping vintage and resale means supporting local businesses. Free shipping is a nice perk, but it’s one offered mostly by larger companies that can subsidize the cost. Amazon moves so much volume that it can afford to offer free shipping.
Many vintage and resale shops are run by sole proprietors or small teams who can’t absorb the costs of free shipping, which include packaging materials, postage/courier rates, labour and time. They need to pass the costs on to the customer, because they don’t have the inventory volume to make up for it.
If you are buying from someone who does offer free shipping (i.e., on Etsy, which encourages free shipping), expect that the cost has been rolled into the final ticket price of the item you are buying.
Sellers who ship are dedicated to using the least amount of packaging possible to keep their costs down, with one exception. If they are sending you something breakable, they are far more likely to pack it well to ensure it doesn’t break.
No tiny item in a large box or broken items and returns here — it’s too big a risk to a reseller’s bottom line.
In a 2021 poll of our Instagram followers, nearly 30 per cent of people said they don’t review store policies or shipping info before buying from vintage sellers. Policies are there for a reason — so there are no surprises.
Some sellers do not offer shipping at all — only local pickup or delivery. So it’s best to check before you buy. If you’re on a seller’s website, look for an FAQ or Info section that details their purchase, shipping and return policies.
If you’re on a marketplace platform, look for their Shipping Policy, Terms & Conditions, About or FAQ section to find information about shipping.
If you’re on Instagram or another social media channel, visit a seller’s Highlights section on their profile to familiarize yourself with their policies.
Everyone has slight variations, so it’s a good idea to tap through them before you finalize your purchase.
If you’re game to wait for your items, that’s one way to save on shipping fees. If a seller you regularly shop with charges a flat-rate for shipping, ask if they’ll hold items for you until your next buy so that stuff can be bundled and shipped all at once.
Or perhaps you can combine an order with someone else in your town to save on shipping costs.
To reduce shipping costs, you may be able to choose from standard or priority delivery depending on the marketplace platform you are using. The longest delivery time will have the lowest price.
Some sellers will offer coupons with orders to save on a future purchase, which can help offset shipping costs you have to pay now. You can also wait for sellers to mark down inventory on a promotion or sale to save on the base price.
Put off by the cost of shipping an item to you? Try contacting a seller in your area who has a similar inventory to what you’re looking for to see if they have something that might fit the bill, or if they’ll hunt around for you. Many sellers do custom sourcing. Or browse an antique mall or vintage market to support local shops.
Shipping also comes with a price when we’re talking about sustainability. To cut down on the carbon footprint, turn to your local sellers first and choose delivery or pickup instead of shipping. Shopping hyper-local also means you’re injecting your money into your region’s economy.
Abandoning a cart on a website is a-okay, but if you’re dealing with a seller one-on-one via a social media platform or marketplace app, remember there are human beings on the other side of the screen.
If you’ve asked about shipping and upon getting the rate decide not to proceed with the transaction, let the seller know so they can release the item for someone else.
Good customer service is one thing, and being a good customer is another. Sellers will remember the great ones and often go out of their way to give you a break on shipping when they can.
And don’t forget to close the loop if you do make a purchase. “I love when a customer posts photos of their new stuff and tags my shop,” said one seller in our shipping survey.
For more tips on shopping for vintage, check out our post Shop Like a Pro: Vintage Buying Tips.