L.L. Bean embraces year-round free shipping
FREEPORT, Maine -- L.L. Bean is giving in to customer demand and waiving shipping fees, all the time, with no minimum order, the company said today.
The outdoors and clothing retailer joins Zappos.com in offering permanent, no-strings-attached free shipping, upping the ante for retailers accustomed to selective free shipping offers, particularly around the holidays, and sometimes tied to minimum purchases or vanity credit cards. (Model shows off a Bean look in a photo taken from the company's website.)
And next week, as part of a promotional effort, Bean will pick up the tab for riders on 10 Boston city buses decorated as L.L. Bean packages and emblazoned with the phrase, "All L.L. Bean gear now gets a free ride." The free rides are a week-only deal.
Commenting on the free-shipping policy, Steve Fuller, L.L. Bean's chief marketing officer, said the company had been toying with the idea for the past three years as it tested occasional free shipping.
"In research after research after research, the customers said this is how we want to shop," Fuller said.
It's clear customers want free shipping, and retailers are increasingly providing it. In 2009, 30 to 35 percent of online holiday purchases involved free shipping; this past holiday season, the figure grew to 40 to 45 percent, said Andrew Lipsman, analyst at comScore Inc., an Internet research firm.
Online and catalog retailers like L.L. Bean closely examine the rate at which online customers discard their "virtual" shopping carts when they see the shipping fees.
"Three-quarters of consumers say that they will abandon their purchase when they can't get free shipping," Lipsman said from his Chicago office.
Tom Peers, a customer dropping by Bean's 24-hour flagship store, said he thought other retailers would have to match Bean's offer to remain competitive.
"Everyone's looking for a hook," said Peers, who plans to take advantage of Bean's free shipping. "For me, there's no question it would give them an edge."
L.L. Bean, which saw a 5.8 percent gain in sales this past year, is counting on a further boost in sales from the free shipping offer this year, and plans on the boost in sales to partially offset the costs of providing free shipping, Fuller said.
For L.L. Bean, the free shipping offer applies to standard 2- to 5-day shipping via UPS to customers in the U.S. and Canada. Two-day shipping remains an option for $15, the company said.
Previously, free shipping was previously available only to those customers who held an L.L. Bean-issued affinity credit card. Those card holders will continue to get free monogramming, free returns and points earned toward future Bean purchases, the company said.
Bean is announcing the free shipping in an e-mail blast to customers, and will be following up with a television campaign.