Ask a Gallery Owner | Calculating Shipping Costs for Art on Website

I recently received an email from an artist asking about calculating shipping costs on his website. This is a challenging issue for any artist who sells online, but especially for artists who work in 3-D.

 

Email from Artist

 

Hello Jason,

I make sculpture vases out of wood.

I have a question about your web site’s shipping instructions. I have a web presence. Unfortunately, it’s a ‘backyard’ special—I made it. When possible, I will devote the money required to have one professionally produced.

In the mean time, I would like to add a shopping cart like you describe your gallery has, to encourage additional sales.

Here’s my question: How do you deal with shipping costs for web generated sales? You must have many variables to consider when costing out a shipping price: crating, physical size, and weight for shipping the piece.

The packaging and shipping costs for my vases range from $12 to $80 for my small and medium sized vases. My larger vases are 24” tall and weigh 28 pounds Shipping on those are about $130 to $180. I do have FedEx do the double-box packing so they can’t come back to me if damage occurs during delivery and say I packed it wrong. I even have a 34” tall vase weighing in at about 70 lbs. I shudder to think about its cost. I suppose whoever buys that one will not be dissuaded from the shipping, however.

So that’s my problem: too much variability in packaging and shipping.

Do you have any suggestions on how to handle the variableness (to invent a word) of total costs for shipping for your web sales?

I fear if I have too high a shipping cost added to an already expensive vase, the potential client will shy away from the sale, or ask that I pay for it. I suppose I could include an averaged figure and add it to my cost of doing business to the web price of each item. My thinking is that with so many different regions in the country that require different rates, the potential for over pricing could negate a sale.

Thanks for any help, Jason,

Mike F.

 

My Response

Mike – this is a great question and not an easy one to answer. On our site we do exactly what you suggested – that is, we’ve taken an average of our shipping costs based on price of the artwork and tried to create a correlation between price of artwork and shipping cost. We’ve done this based on media (bronze sculptures and glass are more expensive to ship than paintings). Because we have a high volume (relatively) of sales we have enough data over time to create a fairly accurate average over our total sales. On any given shipment we may actually lose or make money on the shipping, but on average we break even. The reason we do it this way is that I believe there is a perception among buyers of what an “acceptable” shipping cost is relative to the the cost of the piece of art. In our case I believe that number is between 3-7% of the retail price (again, depending on medium).

What are the retail prices of your pieces? This is obviously a critical factor. If the vases are selling for $500, $130 for shipping is going to really impact your ability to sell.

As your volume of sales increases you can move your shipping in-house which is going to help you decrease the cost of shipping dramatically. There’s no reason you can’t double box the pieces yourself to FedEx standards and decrease the packaging and shipping cost to around $30-$50. Paying a retail FedEx or UPS location to package and ship the artwork is going to absolutely kill you.

As far as damage, I have filed claims on broken glass and never had a problem getting the carrier to pay if they were indeed at fault. Offering a much lower shipping cost will make a huge difference in your ability to sell online, and the more you ship the less damage you will have as you become more an expert in packing the pieces for safety.

For the website you could then take your variables and price the shipping based on worst-case scenario.

Remember, if your clients are accustomed to buying art, they are also accustomed to paying for the shipping as long as the price is fair.

 

What do You Think?

How have you dealt with shipping costs for your website? How do you calculate shipping for your medium? Do you generally come out even on your shipping costs? Share your responses to these questions or any other thoughts you have on shipping below in the comments.

 

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

36 Comments

  1. It costs me about 10%-15% to ship a painting. I usually negotiate the shipping and taxes with price of the painting. The shipping of large paintings (over 36×48) is exorbitant and I just absorbe some of the costs. When I ship more that 2-3 paintings I like Craters and Freighters to build a crate. It is truly the safest way, they wrap the paintings like babies, in heavy moving blankets, when transported to where the crates are made. Galleries don’t like them because they take long to unpack, take to much room and they are heavy duty. I had paintings damaged with Fed Ex. Not a pleasant experience when they don’t pay. Lately I have used UPS. I prefer for UPS to do the packing because they use heavy duty boxes and would be less likely to deny a claim since they have to pack according to their standards. I have also packaged and shipped paintings as large 72×48 and I have sweated bullets! I end up spending lots of time on this task… looking for reasonable priced boxes and re-building boxes to fix the large paintings. I don’t use moving boxes because they a frail and you can even poke a finger thru them. No peace of mind.

  2. Hi Jason… This is a great discussion for all of us. I have been shipping my high-end ceramic work for over 15 years. I have a ‘click n buy’ option on my website and add shipping fees per piece. I agree when you ship yourself, you keep the costs remarkably lower. The client does not realize how inexpensive it is, so this builds in a buffer for the variation of costs, allowing me to break even and still get paid for all my packing time (when in a pinch and I have UPS pack for me, I am always very surprised at the cost). I usually charge between 7 – 10% shipping fee, depending on the price of the artwork. I have never had clients hesitate about this – it is close to the cost of sales tax if you are selling direct in any state.

    I also offer a once a year ‘free shipping’ option around the holidays – as a thank you for clients support. This allows people to appreciate the ‘deal’ they are getting while paying close to full price for the artwork. This free shipping option once annually has been a huge boon to my sales – and worth the absorbed cost. As I see it, it is less than I pay to go to a juried art show and there is virtually no risk of weather, low sales, etc. I have been doing this for about 5 years. From my experience, art sales on the internet have dramatically changed in the last 5 years as the comfort level of collectors is high and the convenience factor is excellent. Thanks for all your great articles!

  3. I have a pretty good handle on what it costs to ship my textile artwork to anywhere in the US since I ship at least monthly to galleries and museums for juried exhibitions. I use these actual cost histories to determine a general shipping charge for each size range of art pieces that I have on my website as well as other gallery sites where I would ship either directly from my studio or to the gallery itself. I use ULine for high quality boxes and tape supplies and do my own packing with bubblewrap and airbags. I hate to jinx myself, but I have never had an issue with damage in the past 10 years.

    I usually either break even on my shipping charges or come out about $15-$20 ahead which covers my time in wrapping and boxing the artwork and computer time to schedule pickup by UPS and print labels. As sales continue to grow, I will change my UPS account to a daily pickup instead of just scheduling when needed as I see that I am almost at the breakeven point for the Pickup fee vs a weekly fee for being “on the route”. I am about 50 miles from any UPS retail store so I don’t use them, just my own commercial account.

    I do not use FED-EX because everytime I have used them, the outside of the boxes have become covered in black grime from the trucks and clients and galleries were very unhappy so I only ship via UPS now. I can’t control how suppliers ship to me usually but those supply orders via FED-EX still arrive extremely dirty so I end up unpacking either outside or in the garage to avoid bringing all of the grime into my studio space.

    Thanks to Mike for bringing up this topic. It will be interesting to see what others have to add to the conversation.

  4. Ugh, shipping costs! It’s such a pain trying to guess the cost. I’m always off. Sometimes way too low, sometimes way too high.

    I just don’t ship often enough to have a good feel for it. In fact, I’m sending a refund check today to a collector for overcharging on shipping. How embarrassing. Lucky for me, my collectors are very nice people and very understanding.

    Doggedly, I keep trying to improve my estimates. Hoping to get it right someday! Just this week I changed the numbers on my website… again. It’s an ongoing process.

    1. Barbara, you don’t go online to see their prices and mail a shipping label online? It’s cheaper than going to the shipping location. USPS will tell you a price online when you type in the package dimensions, weight, and zip code of where to. That way you know exactly how much to pay.

  5. I guesstimate shipping costs for my paintings based on prior experience. When selling off my web site, I usually charge for the painting and ship it and then pass on the shipping bill to the buyer. They have always reimbursed me. Where I live (in a relatively remote area) I have only a couple of options. UPS won’t ship and insure original paintings unless they do the packing – which adds about $25 to the shipping cost. FedEx won’t insure original one-of-a-kind pieces of art – at least that’s what my office told me, so I don’t use them. Recently my co-op gallery sold a $1000 painting of mine, 12×24 plus frame. The person on duty estimated a $40 shipping fee. I put cardboard over the front of the oil painting, put protective cardboard corners on the frame, and double-wrapped it in bubble wrap. Shipping and insurance came to about $48, plus $25 for them to put it in a box! Maybe adding more bubble wrap. I will be absorbing the additional $33 unless I feel comfortable enough to ask the customer to reimburse me. But as another commenter said – when UPS does the packing, you would expect them to be more likely to honor an insurance claim should a piece get damaged.

  6. I found a carton Manufacturer in Chandler who is reasonable and will make cartons to specified size in small quantities, like 2 or 3 of the same size. I get double wall corrugate which is pretty sturdy. I then decide upon the most common sizes I need, estimate weight and apply those cost figures to shopping cart calculations for the appropriate sizes. Since I price basically on size I can also develop a percentage from that information as well.

  7. I am going to go out on a limb here as an emerging artist, my experience is people like “free” shipping. Most all of my work is relatively the same in size and I bundled the shipping (excluding insurance) into the price, but only for US addresses. I have a pretty good average on my cost, thus I may absorb a small amount on a few, but not often. again, I am emerging, any perks I can offer to move inventory and still make a profit, I have to do what I have to do.

  8. I got tired of making the sale and then having the buyer be shocked by the shipping costs. I do use a professional shipper and am happy to pay the extra for piece of mind, so the cost can be high. I now offer free shipping and just build an average into the price. Eliminates the two step of closing the sale and the buyer knows exactly what the price is going in.

  9. When I ship my paintings and pastels, I actually always let the client know that I will be charging them the actual shipping cost. Its not that hard to go onto the UPS or Fedex site and get a good estimate, once you have the potential buyer’s zip code. I know this is hard to automate, but I like referencing with the client on a shipped work, and timing anyway. And then the client can choose the speed of shipping. I usually pack in reinforced, reusable Strong Boxes for convenience (for both me and the client) and peace of mind. I know it costs more than in house packing from scratch, but it really streamlines the process. I don’t have assistants, so I appreciate the ease of use. I’ve never had damage using Strongboxes, even when shipping pastels under glass. If its practical, I sometimes ask the client to return the box by ground service to me, with a prepaid return shipping label I enclose, so I can reuse the box. It cost more to replace a Strongbox than to ship ground. If I’m asking them to return the box, I don’t charge them for the packing/container. Sometimes I don’t charge for the price of the box anyway, especially for more expensive works or if they have paid full price on the work. For some larger paintings over 4 feet, I have had plywood crates constructed and used an art shipping service.

  10. Also, remember to set up UPS and Fedex accounts for your art business, so that you get the substantial discount for account holders…for UPS that is 18%.

  11. I let myself be convinced a “click and buy” option was the way to go with my giclees. The problem wasn’t in variable shipping costs because I figured the exact size/weight that fit each giclee … I offer very few giclees. I still insist patrons email me directly for original sales. I calculated the the cost to ship my originals by the shortest/average/longest distances. I pack my work myself and ship with the USPS or UPS. If it is a small piece I absorb the cost but normally I add shipping to the cost of the piece. No one has ever questioned paying for shipping; buyers expect it.
    My problem was in the platform; I had PayPal set up and it was a horrendous headache. I know others use them with no problems but it took me seven months of customer service complaints, bank statements, emails, with up to four phone calls from India a day demanding payment to finally resolve their error. I said, “Never again,” and had my webmaster delete them after the first volley.
    I use a different proprietary”click and buy” system with my self published books and it works perfectly. Reputable options for art work? “Click and buy” is not worthwhile with low website volume. My website is more a presence of images, referals to galleries, and information rather than a singular marketplace, and that is the difference.

  12. I make both functional and sculptural ceramics. Currently I sell through Etsy but am in the process of adding purchasing directly through my website. To the letter writer…if you used WordPress to create your site you can add Woocommerce plugin for your shop. There is a way to have shipping calculated by zone with that plugin: http://docs.woothemes.com/document/table-rate-shipping/

    I do all my own packing. I double box. I use FedEx and USPS. FedEx recently increased their rates so I usually look at FedEx and USPS and compare by order which is best option. I don’t add shipping to the price. I have shipping policies posted on my Etsy shop and once I finish redoing my website with new theme (I recently purchased X Theme which included woocommerce) I will add shipping policies to my site as well. I purchase boxes from Uline. I get packing peanuts from SupplyOne because they have a warehouse in Tucson where I live and I can pick up just one bag at a time if I need it (they deliver to my house if over $100). Uline had a variety of boxes and some are extra durable. One can compare poundage ratings. I get bubble wrap from Uline or SupplyOne.

    I have mixed feelings about including the shipping into the cost of my work. For functional pottery it is cleaner not to for me. Because I sell in person at shows and online if I add the shipping into the price online, then my work has two different prices. So it isn’t really free shipping. I could say shipping included but easier just to add it. Etsy now has option for calculated shipping. I have found that people will pay up to 40% of the cost of piece for expedited shippings on functional work. I haven’t shipped as much of my sculptural work (that I have sold at local art shows) so I don’t have as many data points on that.

    I am impressed with the plugin options that are available for WordPress themes these days and for the ease of use of some of the newer themes. I am still working through the tutorial videos for the new theme. It would be easier if I was starting from scratch with that theme but I need to tweak more to convert existing content. Many web designers use WordPress themes for creating sites for customers, especially if customers want to be able to add content and modify themselves, i.e. want it designed by someone but want to maintain it themselves to avoid the ongoing costs of paying designer to update and the delays associated with that.

    Thanks for addressing this topic.

  13. And don’t forget…shipping costs and packaging materials are a write off.

    I also reuse good quality packaging materials (bubble wrap, etc.) that comes with items that I order online. But I only use it if it looks professional and has good functionality. Waste not, want not.

  14. Some time ago I was chastised by an online art site for under estimating the “weight” of my paintings, wrapped, packed and shipped to international destinations by post. I had sandwiched my small watercolours between acid-free paper and heavy card and used an official bubble padded post bag.
    The site in question wanted a totally professional look, so insisted on using a cardboard box with all sorts of waterproof and acid-free wrapping, then bubble-wrap padding. The box was then picked up and shipped via DHL air freight. Shipping costs were payable by the buyer, based on an estimated “weight”.
    While the actual weight was less than 500 grams, DHL uses a formula based on the physical dimensions of the carton to calculate a “volumetric weight” for air freight purposes. This volumetric weight proved to be 1.5 kilograms – three times the actual weight.
    Somebody had to pay a supplementary fee and they were not happy.

  15. I also do websites. There are different ways to set up online shopping, depends on how your website is set up. There are shopping cart packages for HTML sites as well as WordPress or Joomla, plus others. If you are happy with your website and it is HTML, I have used OpenCart before and found it easy to work with. Another way is to upgrade your website with a template using a content management system such as WordPress or Joomla. The templates usually have a shopping cart built in, or one can be added in. Once your cart is populated with sales items its a matter of acquiring a PayPal account and a shipping account such as UPS or FedEx. You can sign up online. Once the accounts are active, insert the info into the payment and shipping modules and you are set to go. Create a dummy item that you can purchase from yourself before you go live. That way you can test its function and make sure the payment is being processed and the shipping is being calculated. Then take the dummy item out and go live. You will have to enter size and weight information for each item. The shopping cart software will automatically calculate the shipping based on zip codes etc. Good luck. Its not that hard to do.

  16. I like to have a good line of communication with my clients and I find that having an ongoing dialog with them during the purchase process helps with shipping. When the artwork is purchased, I inform them that I will get a shipping estimate for their artwork being purchased. Once I get that estimate, I find they are most often appreciative of the estimate gathered. I also tell them that if the shipping amount goes over the estimated amount I will cover the difference and if it is less, then I will include a refund to them. I have never found a client unappreciative of a refund. I package my own paintings in 1″ thick rigid foam insulation and use a heavy duty corrugated cardboard box. The foam is lightweight and durable so it doesn’t add a ton of weight.

  17. Hi – I currently ship mainly small items (goldsmith), and include free shipping in any purchase over $50, so that doesn’t apply much to the discussion. BUT I used to run a gallery also, and had a large glass piece arrive shattered – it was quite clear UPS had run a fork lift tong into the box! I had to REALLY fight with them over the claim to ensure the artist was reimbursed – it was quite clearly their fault, they kept saying it was improperly packed. I insisted it didn’t matter how it was packed if they were going to pierce it with a fork lift tong! So the folks having UPS or FedEx pack actually have a very good point! Yes, folks do like free shipping BUT you have to be sure you have genuinely covered your costs, including insurance. Check out your business insurance – some policies cover sold work in transit. I sell heavier items on my eBay store, and eBay has an excellent shipping calculator program. Even then it is sometimes off – I have learned to estimate high on weight, and advertise that I refund excess shipping paid – and do so as soon as I print the actual shipping label. Folks LOVE getting that refund – it is very impressive, even if it is only a $1 refund – they feel that I really DID only charge actual shipping costs, and it reflects in my feedback (100% positive).

  18. I have just recently started to add shipping into the cost of the art and advertise shipping included or free shipping. Unsure about advertising free shipping since it is added, but they don’t know that. This way it eliminates any doubts they may have as far as additional shipping costs. Curious what your thoughts are on this strategy?

  19. Very good information. Shipping can be a big challenge. Packing and shipping can actually add or detract from “perceived” value. When a customer gets their painting shipped in a professionally built wooden crate, it adds value in their eyes. If you value your works enough to ship this way, it impresses the buyer. Nobody wants to buy a painting for thousands of dollars and have it shipped cheaply in a flimsy cardboard box. Take great care making sure it gets to the customer safe. On the other hand, prints can be shipped very inexpensively. My advice is to not cut corners on shipping and packaging. The customer will appreciate it in the long run. I don’t mind negotiating shipping charges. Sometimes I will give them a break in the price of the painting as an act of good faith in shipping charges, but I always advise my clients that shipping the right way is worth the extra cost.

  20. Thank you, Jackie, Jennifer and Sarah, for your info on setting up shipping and payment for websites. Mine has none as of yet and I need to make a change. I will look into what you all suggested.
    I have shipped through an independent shipper and he has done a great job double boxing – nothing broken. One painting arrived in New Zealand just fine.
    I did buy a scales for myself to find the weight of boxed items and I measure the size of the box and then get the shipping cost calculated from that info.
    Thanks, Jason, for including this topic from which all of us can glean.

  21. I include shipping costs in my price so there is no surprise to the buyer. I do state shipping include for US addresses only. Sine I ship paintings I have a pretty good estimate of the costs and generally break even on the shipping cost.

  22. Hi Jason,

    I have a shopping cart feature on a website I designed and in the process of setting it up this particular web builder gave me options for inputting parameters for “individualized” shipping fees. For instance, I approximated the weight of each similar type item (e.g; large original framed painting, small original framed painting, fine art print, etc). Then I calculated the cost of shipping via UPS to several regions in the lower 48. I set the shopping cart intake form to use the zip code multiplied by the rate specified for that item to give me a line item shipping cost that was added to the cost of the item and the sales tax. It is all itemized clearly for the buyer (without them seeing the formula) and spits out a total amount of purchase. They click buy and I get paid via paypal and an email notifying me of the purchase with all of the shipping details. Badda boom, badda bing. The set up took some time…but it makes it “point and click” easy for the buyer.

  23. 3-7% of the retail price?!?! Wow! That’s cheap!
    If I sell a large bowl for $65, the shipping across country runs more like 25% .

    1. It’s a good point Cindy – shipping lower-priced items can be a challenge for exactly this reason. Clients may feel that the item is a great value and they don’t mind paying for shipping, but they might also feel like the shipping is very expensive for the amount spent. At that point you would want to educate them about the care taken when shipping the piece to help them see the importance of protecting the work sufficiently.

  24. I have just been signed by two Colorado galleries and live across the country in Maryland. Now I will be shipping work to these galleries on a regular basis, and my question is about insurance. My internet research indicates that Fed Ex insures only to $1000–is this correct? UPS is up to $50000, I believe. The artwork I will be shipping retails between $750 and $2000 per painting. Paying the typical shipper insurance rate of $1 per $100 value seems prohibitive on this larger scale, although I have done it in the past. Also, these are not yet sold pieces, so they have no established value, and proving a comparable value with a shipper would be a nightmare. I have seen advice that it is best just to over-wrap and over-package your work and spend the money on packaging rather than insurance, because you are not likely to get anything back for a damaged piece (except material costs), anyway, and at the least, it will not be worth your trouble.

    Jason, what is your take on this? When you ship work to a client, technically you no longer own it anyway, as the client has already paid for it, the value is established by the sales price, and I would think that you would pay to insure for the full value. What do your artists do about insurance when shipping work to your gallery? And what do some of the artists who have responded to this blog post do? Thanks, Claudia Brookes

    1. Great questions Claudia. We insure everything through our business insurance policy, not through the carriers, as it is much more reasonable. You should talk to your insurance agent and find out if you could add a fine-art rider on your insurance to cover the work while in transit.

      You are right though – the insurance company is likely to balk at covering the full retail, they’ll just want to cover the replacement value – a very complicated concept when were talking about art. Is it the cost of materials, the commission you would have made if it had sold? Again, a good business insurance agent is going to give you the best direction here.

      Honestly, most of the artists I work with don’t insure their work – or, if you prefer, they self-insure it. Damage is rare enough, they figure, that it’s not worth the added expense of insurance.

    1. is this one the most expensive Squarespace website option or all of them? Wondering if i need to switch to the most premium plan for this?

  25. Hi everyone!
    This post was extremely helpful, as was everyone’s responses that I’ve read. I’m a new artist starting out and am trying to figure out a balanced approach to start with as I don’t have much income yet. From everything I’ve read here though, here is what I’m thinking might be good to start out with in my situation: selling my paintings on my website, I will choose one of the suggested payment services (PayPal, Woocommerce, etc), use the weight, dimensions, and client’s postal code to get an online estimate from UPS (from everything I’ve read here they sound more reliable than FedEx, and the shipping typically averages out around 10% of the price of the piece of art?), advertise shipping as separate from my painting’s price (as opposed to including it in the price and advertising “free shipping”?), buy my own packing supplies from ULine, pack my painting, have them double box it at UPS for safety, insure it through UPS (buying my own separate insurance might be too expensive for me at this point I think. But like others have said here, hopefully damaged items is a rare thing), and provide the client with a refund if the shipping estimate was in excess. Does this sound like a good idea as a set up for a new artist? Also, is it normal to add 13% HST as well on each painting (I’m in Canada)? I’m still a bit unsure if I should pack my paintings myself or have UPS pack them, or double pack them (once by myself and once by UPS). I of course want to avoid at all costs having a client receive a damaged painting, but I also don’t have a lot of money to start out with. And I’m guessing it will be cheaper for me to bring my paintings to a UPS location myself at this point rather than schedule for them to come pick it up from where I live?
    Thank you so much in advance to Jason and anyone else who may have some input or suggestions on this!
    Sincerely,
    Lara

  26. Thanks for this article and all the comments. I am re-reading it for the umpteenth time. One question I have is what about insurance? Do you add that onto the costs of the shipping? Is that part of the suggested 7-10%?

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