I deal with about five or six major suppliers in the jewelry industry all of them accessible online. Therefore, everything that I buy needs to be shipped to me, and each company has a different shipping policy.
My main supplier charges a very reasonable flat fee for shipping and they used to have a small fee for preparing the order, although they have recently dropped that. I pay for my own returns. My second supplier charges for shipping and I am able to choose which shipper that I want and for returns they email a return label and pay 100% of the fee. Two other suppliers offer "free" shipping after a nominal purchase, $10.00 and $25.00, and the other two charge according to the weight of my purchase.
My favorite here is the first one with the flat fee of $5.00 for shipping no matter what it weighs. The stores with "free shipping" are consistantly higher in price than my first choice. Shipping is a cost of doing business, and somehow, these places with "free" shipping have to pass this cost along to the consumer. So the $5.00 that I pay to my first choice, or the amount that I pay to the other businesses has to be spread out over their whole inventory to cover my "free" shipping. Spreading it out over their whole inventory, means that everything that I purchase from them costs more than I am willing to pay...I am a very devoted comparison shopper, I remember numbers easily and I can usually figure this out in my head...if I can't and it's a staple that I use allot,but don't purchase often, I make a little chart to figure out who has the best deal. Rarely do the free shippers win.
Recently I needed simple sterling studs for one of my shops, and that chart got a little hairy. They came in packages of five to fifty, some had ear nuts, some didn't. I looked at 4,4.5,5, and 6 mm...so I had a real mishmash here, but a trusty chart got it pretty straight in my mind. Ended up at the $5.00 shipper who had 4.5 mm with their own earnuts...the cheaper pair was at another site, but I had to buy 50 pairs, and even though they were much cheaper per pair...I didn't want to spend the amount of money that I needed to take advantage of their deal...I would also have had to buy earnuts, upping my capital expense.
While we are here - I'm gonna talk about one thing that really drives me crazy when I am shopping on line. You know how these companies say "buy 1 to 5" and your widget costs so much, but buy "6 to 50" and your widget costs so much less, likewise, buy 51 plus and you'll save an enormous amount of money. Allot of companies use this ploy in place of wholesale prices. Give me wholesale every time, please. Next time this happens to you - take the highest price and multiply it by 50...then take the lowest price and do the same. I think that in, at least, 90% of the cases, you will be amazed at how little you can save. I don't know about you, but for me, in this awful economy, I want as little of my precious earnings tied up in inventory as I can manage and still run my business. I am at the point that I do not shop at a business that will not extend wholesale pricing to me except for Rio, and I buy very little from them.
So remember not to get sucked in with a promise of free shipping...it's not free, it's just collected differently, unless you've gotten really lucky and found a seller who is not interested in his/her bottom line, somewhere, somehow, that shipping fee is being charged and collected. I much prefer to have it upfront, out in the open...so it is easier for me to do my comparison shopping. Come visit my shop and see where I've been spending my bead money...til next time...