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My Blog about SEO & eCommerce, Mitochondrial Disease & Disability, & the Good Life

Blog posts from Cindy Lou Who 2 - a little eCommerce & SEO, some discussion of disability issues (including mitochondrial disease), some jewellery info, & the expected topics of beer, travel & recipes. 

 

Filtering by Tag: shipping

Free Shipping Is Part Of Etsy's Search Algorithm, In Canada At Least

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Notice anything similar about these listings? Every single one of them ships free, and they all rank at the top of the search for “baby” in Canada (Jan. 29 2019)

Notice anything similar about these listings? Every single one of them ships free, and they all rank at the top of the search for “baby” in Canada (Jan. 29 2019)

Is Canada A Testing Ground, Or The First Country In A Slow Roll Out?

We Don’t Know Yet

Back in September 2018, when Etsy released their Ultimate Guide to Etsy Search, and stated that shipping prices could factor into the search algorithm, I blogged that I wasn’t seeing any ranking impact when I tested changing my shipping prices, including offering free shipping.

That is no longer true, at least within Canada.

Since November, I have been able to move a few of my items up and down in Etsy search by turning free shipping on and off, but it only had an immediate effect domestically (in Canada); my items did not move in international searches, including in the United States, even when I offered free shipping everywhere. (By “in Canada”, I mean when the search filter is set to ship to Canada, not just with items from Canada.) The most obvious movement appeared with items that already had a good listing quality score, and only within large searches; an item that jumped from page 25 to page 1 for a generic query might not move at all for a very specific search term. For example, a listing might leap up the rankings for “stud earrings” but not for “red abalone shell earrings”. Most of the items I tested didn’t move at all, so I didn’t make an announcement.

But just under a week ago, I noticed that many broad searches in Canada changed quite a bit, and 100% of the listings (other than ads) on the top pages offered free shipping.

Yes, you read that correctly. All of the top ranked items a Canadian customer sees in generic searches within Canada at the time I am writing this have the free shipping badge. (You can see this by changing your country settings to Canada.) I was able to move a few of my listings that used to rank near the top back to page 1 just by using free domestic shipping. When I removed free shipping, the items dropped again.


This Could Be A Test, Since It Isn’t Showing Up In Other Countries, Yet


I contacted some of my volunteer testers in other countries, asking them to

  1. pick a listing that does reasonably well in search

  2. find a few broad search terms they show up for in their country

  3. add free shipping to the listing

  4. track what happens in the next hour

I coordinated the tests so I could track them as well, searching incognito with the “ship to” filter set to their country, and even with VPNs in a few cases. None of the listings moved up once their shipping charges were removed. So, that’s the good news; we are only seeing this in Canada, currently.

Furthermore, we couldn’t find any broad searches in other countries where 100% of the listings had shipping included. If you see any, please let me know!

While Canada is a localized/regionalized country (where items from Canada rank higher in generic searches than items from elsewhere), there is no obvious reason that free shipping products should dominate searches here, especially considering that products jump in ranking within 15-20 minutes of changing the postage costs. This is not about the preferences of Canadian shoppers being more skewed to not paying extra for shipping; that effect would be more gradual. I just woke up one morning and suddenly every top listing had free shipping.


What You Need To Know, even if you hate “free shipping”


First, do not panic! This might be a test. Now that the word is out, Etsy might even end it.

Second, it currently only happens in very generic searches, the ones I am always telling you not to worry about ranking in. If you have been listening to me, this isn’t going to have a big effect on you, even if you are Canadian. If you haven’t been listening to me on that point, then this is your wake up call - ranking in large, generic searches is not guaranteed, since Etsy can change the algorithm at any time. This is only one of many different ways your ranking in a broad search can tank. If you currently are on page 1 of a big search and are getting a lot of sales from it, congrats! But consider that a bonus; don’t assume that you will stay there, or that anyone can stay there indefinitely.

Third, since most buyers use more specific searches, you are all still visible in Canada if you ship to us.

Fourth, if you are Canadian, including the shipping costs in your item prices will not automatically boost your search ranking. You have to be well-optimized, and have a good listing quality score (meaning that buyers click on, favourite, & buy the listing when they see it in search), and show up in very broad searches. Even with a good quality score, I wasn’t able to make this work for the vast majority of searches.

Fifth: however, in my testing over the past 18 months or so, many listings where I include the shipping costs in the item price are gradually ranking better overall, even outside of Canada, than the ones that do not have free shipping. It doesn’t happen immediately, though, and there are some items that it never seems to help at all. So, sometimes free shipping works, even if it isn’t a direct algorithm factor.

Finally, remember back in September when I said that Etsy is “going to continue to push free shipping”? This is just one of many examples that will be coming. Even if this is only a test and they end it soon, expect Etsy to add low postage costs into the algorithm at some point, and to give benefits to shops who offer it. Research shows that most buyers are attracted to lower shipping prices, and Etsy wants that bigger pool of customers. So, make your peace with free shipping now, because it isn’t going away. You don’t have to use it, but you do have to accept that Etsy will.

If you have done any testing yourself, or have seen odd search results, please let me know: leave a comment below (no sign up required), convo me, tweet me, email me by clicking the little envelope icon at the top right of this page, or comment on Google+.

This post will be updated as developments happen. Stay tuned!



Canada Post Alternatives: Other Shipping Companies in Canada

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There Are Many Different Ways To Ship Into And From Canada Without Using Canada Post, Including Options For Small Businesses

Worried about backlogs at Canada Post after the strikes (get updates here), but you don't know any other affordable shipping companies to fill the gap for your small business?

Need a cheaper way to ship within Canada or to the US?

Need an alternative for shipping into Canada from other countries?

Fortunately, there are many established options out there, including several services that will truck packages across the American border to ship via the United States Postal Service, incoming and outgoing.

Note: The following lists do not mean I am endorsing any of these companies, and I have not received any compensation to link to any of them. I am sharing this list because I spent some time compiling it for Canadian Etsy sellers I know, and thought it might be useful to others too. 

National Courier Companies

Most large courier companies in Canada have locations in most provinces, and provide national and international services. However, coverage can be minimal to nonexistent in many remote or rural areas, and prices are all over the map. One company may be cheaper for mailing between points A and B, while another company gives the best rates between cities C and D. Also, courier prices are often more in line with Canada Post rates for a larger package, but small items are several times the cost of regular mail, so this is not a viable option for many of us.  

The following list shows the cost to ship a small bubble envelope with a $50 value from Calgary to St. John's, Newfoundland on October 19th, 2018 (tax not included, cheapest/slowest rate selected, no customer discounts applied):

Signing up for an account may make you eligible for discounts (e.g., UPS gives me a small business rate of 20% off the price listed above), as can a high volume of packages. Note, however, that couriers will sometimes limit their services to existing customers for the duration of any Canada Post disruptions and during the busy holiday season, so you will need to contact these companies to make sure they will be able to cover your needs.

There are also numerous companies which offer access to better rates at couriers and for Canada Post than many of us can get on our own, including Chit Chats. Their prices, reliability and customer service can vary, so check reviews carefully before signing up for their services.

Regional Shipping Services That Deliver Outside of Canada

There are many businesses that provide shipping and freight services within a city or region; therefore, I have restricted this list to those who ship outside of Canada (although some also provide in-Canada service as well). Do check with each company for more details on their current service levels and time frames, and other details regarding requirements, as some request a spreadsheet detailing each of your parcels being shipped. 

(If you are a high-volume seller but don’t live near one of these options, consider couriering your packages to the closest office; contact the company you wish to use to get their recommendations on the cheapest way to reach them.)

Chit Chats Express: the most national and established alternative that ships via the United States Postal Service (USPS). Opened in 2001, they now have multiple offices in Ontario, BC, Quebec, Alberta and Nova Scotia. Fees are 65 cents to $2 per package, plus the US postage cost. They also have courier arrangements to ship within Canada and internationally. Print US postage at home or in their offices; check with your nearest location for details, as services vary by city. (Note: they did not reply when I emailed a few questions, which is a bit of a red flag for me)

DYK Post: shipping via USPS from their offices in Calgary and Edmonton, with drop off locations in Edmonton North, Red Deer, Innisfail and Lethbridge; they also offer pickups in Calgary and Edmonton. Costs $1 and up per package to ship via USPS through their location in Montana. Print your own USPS postage or do it at their office. They also offer discounted DHL and other services to ship around the world.

Parcel for Less: southern Ontario shipper with main offices in Hamilton and Mississauga, with some services in other surrounding cities. Their fees start at 60 cents per package for shipping to the US and other countries. Print USPS postage labels online or at their offices. 

Runnin’ Red: based in Winnipeg, they ship with USPS and UPS from North Dakota, starting $1 per package. You buy labels online yourself then drop your packages off.

Do It Yourself Shipping from the United States

Live close to the border? You may want to try shipping via USPS (or other American service providers) on your own. Make sure you do your research first, including contacting your closest border crossing to get their advice on the quickest legal way to bring your packages into the US. There is a per-crossing fee (or you can pay for a yearly pass), and border agents generally prefer any parcels remain unsealed so they can be inspected if necessary. While many USPS offices allow you to use a Canadian return address on their packages, some online merchants prefer to set up a PO box in the US to avoid any issues. An American address is also necessary to use some online label services. 

Services That Ship Into Canada

Outside of Canada and want to ship things to your loyal customers here? If you don’t want to use the courier companies listed above for shipping into Canada due to the high brokerage fees, there are other options for your Canadian customers. Most common are cross-border services that allow Canadians to receive mail at a US address, and then have it brought across the border for local pickup or delivery. DYK Post, Runnin’ Red and Cross Border PIckups are three companies that offer US PO boxes to Canadians, and bring the mail back over the border for pick up in their respective cities.

Other companies such as My US Address will let Canadians pick up their mail in the US, or will reship it in Canada for them. Some businesses such as Kinek have multiple US locations that their customers can drive to for package retrieval. Note that the prices on these services vary, and may not always be cheaper than using conventional couriers, so it is best to ask your customer what they want to pay when giving them these options.

If I have missed any useful tips, or if you know of any other companies that should be included here, please send me a message or leave a note in the comments. This post will be updated as required. 

For media enquiries, please email me by clicking the envelope icon on the top, or contact me on Twitter. I will get back to you as quickly as possible.

UPDATED: November 27, 2018

Canada Post Labour Disruptions 2018 - Updates On My Shipping

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Mail in Canada might be a little slower for the next little while …

Mail in Canada might be a little slower for the next little while …

UPDATED: The strikes at Canada Post are now over, as of November 27, 2018. The company is warning customers that there may be delays within Canada as they work to clear the backlog, however, and all delivery date guarantees are currently suspended.

So far, my Canadian orders are at most 1-2 days late, and many have been delivered within normal time frames. Customers in southern Ontario will probably see the biggest lags. I am currently offering pickups in the Calgary area for people who want to avoid Canada Post for the time being.

How Canada Post Rotating Strikes Work

Rotating strikes involve union members striking for 24-48 hours in a different cities each day. The strike locations are currently not being announced until each strike is about to start.

Although I have not seen any serious delays in my packages arriving, as of Monday November 19th, Canada Post is now warning Canadians that domestic mail delivery could be subject to significant delays, especially in Southern Ontario where 1/3 of Canadians live. The rotating strikes & the union’s refusal of overtime (which is generally used a lot during the holiday shipping season) has caused large backlogs in and around Toronto in particular. Canada Post even anticipates having to start refusing mail in the Toronto area as they do not have enough places to store it.

At this time, I will still be using Canada Post for all of my orders, so please note that tracked and express packages may be delayed within Canada by more than 1-2 days, especially if your location becomes a strike target. UPS is available if you want to pay the additional fees, and Calgary-area customers are welcome to arrange a pickup if they want to avoid this problem.

International customers (including in the US) will not likely see any major changes to their deliveries during rotating strikes. However, it is possible I will have to delay shipping by 1-2 days if Calgary is chosen as a rotating strike location. I apologize for the inconvenience.

What Happens If This Escalates To A Lockout Or Full Strike?

While the contracts may be settled without any further effects on mail delivery, I am planning ahead for the possibility that the dispute escalates to a full strike or lockout.

The following services will be available in my Etsy shop and here on my website if Canada Post suspends all mail:

1) Shipping in Canada via UPS courier services, if you wish to pay the additional fees, as well as local pickups for customers in the Calgary area. All other Canadian orders will be held until Canada Post resumes service. 

2) Shipping to the United States using USPS (regular mail), via a courier that will take packages from Calgary across the border into Montana a few times a week. Shipments will include USPS tracking. 

3) Shipping to most other countries using the service explained above with a non-USPS carrier. I can also hold your orders until Canada Post resumes service, if you wish. 

I strongly suggest that you order now for the holidays so that you are less likely to experience any additional delays in delivery. My international packages generally leave Canada within 2 business days, so non-Canadians ordering now should not be affected by any significant slowdowns.

This post will be updated as the situation changes; please bookmark this page for ease of access.

UPDATED: November 27th, 2018

Canada Post 2017 Suggested Holiday Mailing Dates and Deadlines

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Don't worry, you don't have to wrap anything quite yet ...  (Photo on  Visualhunt )

Don't worry, you don't have to wrap anything quite yet ...  (Photo on Visualhunt)

Yes, it is that time of year again - we are getting close to the suggested holiday shipping cutoffs for Canada Post for some countries. Whether you are a customer or a Canadian ecommerce business owner, please take note of the following suggested shipping deadlines for delivery by December 24th. (These are not guarantees, and I highly recommend ordering well before these dates, or upgrading to faster shipping, if you need your purchases to arrive by Christmas.)

Suggested Dates for Regular Shipping from Canada

  • Africa - November 25
  • Asia/Australia/New Zealand - December 1
  • Central/South America/Caribbean - December 1
  • Europe - December 1
  • Middle East - December 1
  • United States - December 11
  • Canada - December 11

Express Shipping

  • United States - December 16
  • Canada - December 20

Priority Shipping

  • United States - December 20
  • Canada - December 21

* Express and Priority service is available for other countries as well; please contact me if you would like me to set it up for you. 

Canada Post Holiday Season Shipping Deadlines, 2016

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Photo Credit: Christmas Poinsettia, Staplehurst, by H Matthew Howarth; Creative Commons License

Photo Credit: Christmas Poinsettia, Staplehurst, by H Matthew Howarth; Creative Commons License

Just a quick reminder that shipping from Canada to pretty much anywhere - including Canada - can be slower than you might hope, so if you want to receive your order by December 24th (which is a Saturday this year), here are Canada Post's suggested Christmas shipping deadlines for 2016:

  • Canada - packages December 12 (Xpresspost is December 21); lettermail Dec. 19 (my items ship lettermail)
  • United States - December 12 (Xpresspost is December 16)
  • Africa - November 25
  • Asia - December 2
  • Australia - December 2
  • Caribbean - December 2
  • Central America - December 2
  • Europe - December 2
  • Middle East - December 2
  • New Zealand - December 2
  • South America - December 2

I am unable to offer the faster Xpresspost option automatically on this website for countries other than the US and Canada, but just let me know if you are interested, and I will be happy to calculate it for your location and send you an invoice. 

Since these are only "suggested" guidelines, I strongly recommend buying your gifts before the date listed for your region, given the known delays at this time of year. 

You can check out Canada Post's detailed recommendations here