Why Online Book Sellers Should Disclose Shipping Costs

With the pandemic behind us, customers once again have a taste for books. However, with the popularity of e-books and online shopping, the traditional book-buying audience is changing. Those looking to purchase a book typically turn to online retailers, who frequently offer amazing deals and ship worldwide, as a way to entice customers.

The demand for books during this time is clear. The Book Industry Council’s (BIC) data shows sales were up globally last year, with increases of 18% in the United Kingdom and 11% in North America. It also predicts an increase of 5% in 2020. As a result, the list of bestselling books is now dominated by e-books rather than physical copies.

The upside for book publishers and authors is that with more people spending their leisure time online, there’s a greater chance of them discovering your work. But the downside is that if customers feel misled by sneaky shipping charges, it could damage your relationship with potential future customers.

In the UK, the bestselling fiction titles of 2020 all feature e-books:

  • The Girl on the Train
  • Red Rabbit
  • Death on the Nile
  • The Sunken Island
  • Black Angel

In fact, according to a YouGov survey, 78% of UK adults think that online retailers should have to include all shipping costs in the price of a product, and only 22% think otherwise. When it comes to non-fiction bookshops, 28% think the same, while 66% believe that all delivery charges should be disclosed as upfront as possible. Only 4% feel differently.

That’s pretty damning and could suggest that customers are becoming more vigilant shoppers who expect to be charged for everything — even delivery charges. The same trend is seen in North America, where a survey conducted by OneOpinion on behalf of the Book Industry Council (BIC) discovered that 86% of respondents want to know the total cost of what they are purchasing, including shipping fees. Furthermore, 17% want to see the shipping fees advertised in advance, rather than as an additional cost at the very end.

The Rise In Genuine Interest

In the past, the world of books largely restricted book-buyers to a few high-street bookstores. However, with the rise of internet shopping and online retailers such as BookDepository, all of this has changed. Suddenly, anyone with a laptop can be an online bookseller and attract customers from all over the world. This has led to a rise in interest, as shown in the BIC survey.

In the UK, 71% of respondents expressed an interest in reading or listening to an ebook versus 56% who were interested in buying a physical copy. In North America, 68% were interested in buying an ebook versus 54% who were interested in a physical copy. In fact, the number of adult respondents who are expressing an interest in reading e-books nearly doubled between 2019 and 2020, according to the BIC data.

This rise in interest means that you should be prepared to gain new customers, especially as many of the books in demand have been discounted to attract a greater audience. If you’re running a bookshop or selling your own work, you might consider lowering your prices to entice more people into your store. Or, if you’re writing for children, you might want to consider creating a loyalty program where customers can earn points and prizes for returning.

The Digital Divide In Reading

Although books have always been available online, the majority of them have been written for adults, and it’s been a while since children’s books have been commonplace on digital reading devices. With more families opening up their homes to anyone who needs a babysitter, reading to your children is becoming more commonplace. Therefore, if your book is aimed at a younger audience, it might struggle to gain much interest, particularly as parents are now turning to tech devices to entertain their children.

The rise in the number of young readers has led to a rise in demand for apps that can be used to enhance a child’s literacy skills. According to a Global Market Insights report, the children’s book market was valued at USD 16.2 billion in 2019 and is predicted to rise to USD 22.2 billion by 2025.

If your work focuses on children or teens, take the opportunity to explore the world of apps and how they can be used to improve literacy. With adults increasingly turned to their phones in the evening, it’s the perfect time for parents to read aloud to their children and allow them to learn while having fun.

The Impact Of COVID-19

Although not a book-related issue, the worldwide pandemic had a HUGE impact on the way we shop and the kinds of books that were most in demand. During the pandemic, there was a fall in the number of people buying fiction books, with interest falling by 23% in the United Kingdom and 16% in North America. But interestingly, interest in non-fiction books rose by 14% in the UK and 22% in North America. This is probably because people were using their time productively, staying indoors, and wanting to learn more about the world around them.

Since the end of the pandemic, the appetite for reading has returned, with interest soaring in both the UK (up 33% in less than a year) and North America (up 20% in less than a year). It seems that during the pandemic, people were seeking comfort in reading, hunkering down in their homes and wanting to learn more about the world.

If you run a bookshop, you may see an increase in your sales figures as customers are now more likely to want to be able to browse and purchase books in solitude, instead of in large groups, as before. It also means you might see a rise in interest in buying audiobooks, as people were using their time more effectively on devices such as Kindle, which allow for better audio listening compared to traditional print books.

Despite the upsides of increased interest in reading, there’s a down side. In the UK, the BIC survey found that 49% of respondents were frustrated by trying to work out the true cost of a product that was discounted, while 26% found it difficult to make a true comparison because the prices were so different. Another 28% were put off by poor customer service.

If you want to retain existing customers and attract new ones, it’s worth considering whether or not you should be including all of your costs in your prices, including shipping. A lot of customers will appreciate this honesty and appreciate the fact that you’ve actually bothered to offer a shipping price rather than sneakily added on a hidden cost at the very end. Also, make sure that your return policy is simple and clear – after all, you can’t be expected to serve as a bookseller for life.