I got a great question the other day from an artist who is slowly getting back into art since starting a family (she has two young children).
She told me that all her sales so far have been in person, but she’s ready to tackle selling online. And one thing holding her back is the whole fiasco of shipping your art. The biggest question she had about shipping was how to price it and I know many artists out there are struggling with the same thing.
So I want to share with you my favorite method for deciding what to charge to ship your art to your customer.
Friendly disclaimer: This isn’t the only fiscally-responsible method for an art business. If this doesn’t sit right with you, do something else. It’s not my advice to absolutely do this because I said so. The purpose of this article is to teach you a method you might not have thought of that works well for many artists, and may work well for you too.
SO WHAT’S THE SWEET & SALTY METHOD ALL ABOUT?
When you’ve got a dish that’s built around a sweet and salty combo of flavors, it’s all about balance.
If you add an ingredient that brings some saltiness, you have to complement it with an ingredient that brings some sweetness.
Mmm chocolate chip cookies!
That’s how this method got it’s name – it’s all about balance. (And my obsession with chocolate chip cookies.)
1 The first thing you want to do is look at your most common shipping carrier’s calculator on their website.
Most of them have a shipping calculator that allows you to get an idea of how much it will cost to ship a certain package to a certain place. Here’s the one from the US postal service and here’s the one from UPS.
Take a look at a map and pick out at least 5 destinations that are in different regions, getting increasingly closer to your home.
For example, I’m in North Carolina in the United States. So I would likely pick somewhere in Australia, somewhere in Europe, somewhere in Canada, somewhere in California, and somewhere in my own city.
Google a zip code or postal code in each region if you don’t one, and use that in the calculator to get a general idea of how much it costs to ship to each area. You’ll also have to estimate the size of the box. Choose an average or slightly large size based on your paintings – remember that with the protective materials (like bubble wrap) around it, it’s going to be a couple inches bigger on each side.
Make a list of these example shipping costs the calculator reveals for you.
2 Once you’ve got your 5 price points for shipping, the sweet & salty comes into play.
You want to offer free shipping to as many places as you can.
People love free shipping!
There are studies – actual scientific studies! – that have shown that people will pick free shipping on a product even if it means the total price they pay is higher than buying it without free shipping.
It just makes people feel awful to have to pay something on top of what the piece already costs.
3 So make sure the price tags on your art have some wiggle room for you to breathe in.
If you decide to cover shipping costs yourself, is your profit (the price of the piece, minus expenses like materials and overhead like a portion of the monthly cost of your inventory tracking software) high enough that you won’t lose money on the sale?
This is going to be different for each of your 5 example locations.
You need to decide which locations you can manage to offer free shipping for.
And sometimes you might need to raise your prices $10-20 to give yourself that space, depending on how you’ve been pricing your art.
Don’t forget that I’ve got a fantastic (if I do say so myself) video series on how to price art.
4 Let’s use my location as an example again.
Say my average painting was priced at $500 (with my costs usually around $100, leaving me with $400 of profit to start with) and shipping to my town and to California were both under $100.
Most of the time, shipping to an address in my country is going to cost under $100, and my profit leaves me enough room to have at least $300 after the sale to compensate me for my time, skill, and expertise (both in the actual painting process and in the marketing, sales, customer service, and fulfillment parts of the business too).
And then I can imagine, like sweet & salty, that sometimes the actual shipping cost will be $20 and sometimes it will be $90, so it will all average out over time to me having more than $300 profit on that average piece.
And also like sweet & salty, sometimes the piece itself is more than $500 and sometimes it’s less than $500. You’re just trying to work on averages, assuming that if you add a little sweetness here and a little saltiness there, you’ll end up with a delicious dish (or a great profit… either one, right?).
So I’d probably offer free shipping within my country.
It’s helpful to remember that shipping might cost more for a larger work, but usually a larger work is also priced higher so you should be bringing in more money to help you pay for the more expensive shipping too.
5 Once you’ve figured out where you can offer free shipping (typically that’s going to be just your own country, but sometimes it can be a broader region) it’s time to decide how much to charge everyone else.
Looking at the remaining locations, you want to see how far apart your random samples of pricing are.
If shipping to Australia for me were $200 and shipping to Europe was only $75, I might not want to charge customers in those areas the same amount for shipping since my paintings are only $500 to begin with.
But if my paintings were $5,000 that might completely change my perspective on how far apart $200 and $75 are.
6 Your goal now is to combine regions so you have the fewest possible different shipping rates – as flat rates. Everyone pays the same no matter their address.
Unless you have really good ecommerce software that can adjust the price based on what your shipping carrier charges and the address your customer has entered, you’re going to want to keep things simple like this.
Flat rate allows you a lot of ease getting things set up and remembering your prices later.
Perhaps I want anywhere in the Americas (aside from the US, which we’ve determine in our example is free shipping) to be a flat rate of $25. I’m assuming it will cost more than $25 to ship there (as our sample calculations revealed) but that I’m already planning on paying for $100 worth of shipping anyway. So this would cover me up to $125 in shipping costs at the postal counter.
Then I might look at my sample calculations and see that shipping to Europe is going to average $150 and shipping to Australia is going to average $250.
So I might choose to have a flat rate for anywhere in Europe of $50. (Again, since I’m assuming I’ll already be eating $100 worth of shipping.) Or I might choose to have a flat rate for anywhere in Europe of $100, to give me lots of room and make up for some of the “salty” losses I might incur occasionally from shipping.
7 And then usually when it gets high like that, the best thing to do is set a flat rate for “the rest of the world”.
Everywhere that you’re not setting a lower rate for, you can just lump them together and charge them a different rate. For example I might use Australia as my guide for what it might cost to ship to Asia, so shipping to either region is going to be the same flat rate. I would be likely to do $200 given our example numbers (to add some padding to make up for “salty” shipping costs). But some artists prefer to use a lower flat rate when you’re getting into these higher shipping costs and eat more of those shipping costs out of their profits just so the customer doesn’t have sticker shock.
So your end result will look something like this:
United States – free shipping
Canada/Central & South America – $25
Europe – $50
Everywhere Else – $200
8 Then just plug those 4-5 rates into your ecommerce provider and you’ll be set.
It might feel “salty” to offer free shipping and even the lower prices for Europe & the Americas, but it’ll feel plenty “sweet” enough to make up for it when you’re sending a painting to Japan and find yourself with $100 extra profit because shipping didn’t cost as much as your flat rate for it.
Alternatively, you can pass the savings onto your customer. Some artists refund excess shipping costs whenever shipping costs less than the customer paid at checkout. That’s a whole different kind of “sweet” and I can get behind it!
9 The last thing to worry about once you’ve got your shipping prices set is another price check on your art.
Just look everything over again and make sure you feel comfortable with how much of the shipping costs you’re going to have to handle yourself (effectively using the price of the artwork to pay for that portion of the shipping).
And that’s my Sweet & Salty Method for shipping art!
Is this something that would work for your art business? Let me know in the comments!