Price is a major factor for any purchasing decision. Especially when shopping online, additional and delivery become an important consideration for buyers. In our research for the fourth edition of the Ecommerce User Experience report series, shoppers strongly disliked unexpected cost increases during the course of their transactions. The surprise of added fees or unexpectedly high delivery rates at the end of the checkout process was often unpleasant enough that users would leave a site altogether. Such additions made users think the site was trying to trick them and derailed purchases.

Although shoppers are aware that some additional costs can be disclosed only at the end of the checkout, any nonstandard charge should be communicated early.

Wait Until Checkout to Communicate and Typical Rates

US customers are accustomed to shopping online or in stores, so their mental model includes the addition of taxes and standard shipping charges at checkout. They also know that taxes and shipping rates may depend on the delivery address. If your shipping charges are not exorbitant (typical fees are under $10 for most items), then it’s ok to disclose the taxes and these charges at checkout, once the shipping address has been collected.

Crocs Checkout applied the shipping and taxes to the purchase after the user entered her delivery address at checkout. Because these costs were not outside the expected range, it was appropriate to hold off disclosing them until the end of the workflow.

Be Upfront About Nonstandard Fees

Any unusual fees that are unique to your store or class of products will be an unpleasant surprise if disclosed at the end of the checkout. Before committing to the checkout process, users want to have a general idea of the total cost of their purchase.  Many people need to stay within a budget , so an unexpected, significant fee that is revealed late in the checkout will not only make some people abandon the process altogether, but it will also cause them to lose trust in the brand or the organization.

Some organizations take advantage of the principle of commitment & consistency to force users to make the purchase: they know that, once people have invested time and effort to find a product they like and have decided to buy it, they will have a hard time giving it up when they find about additional fees. This strategy may work in the short term for at least some users, but in the long term it damages customer loyalty and brand strength.

It is better to be upfront about the total cost on the product page, so shoppers can make informed decisions. For this reason, all additional fees and significant delivery charges should at least be acknowledged and estimated on the product page. Even better, whenever possible, show extra fees in full.

One user shopping for tickets to a local event was caught off guard when a $12.50 service fee for each ticket was applied to her purchase at checkout. The event page where she had selected her tickets did not mention any additional charges. She expected that 5 tickets will cost $175, since each ticket was $35.  But the service fees increased the cost of her purchase to $230.  She said, “I don’t like that it doesn’t tell me there will be a surcharge. It doesn’t even tell me what the surcharge is for. Maybe I just wouldn’t buy these right now and see if I can call the theater and purchase over the phone to avoid the fee.” When customers abandon a purchase, we don’t know that they will come back.

KC Starlight Service fees
The ticket-selection page on did not mention the service fees applicable to each ticket. A user considered abandoning her purchase when she discovered that the total cost for tickets increased by $55 due to service fees.

Communicate Abnormally High Shipping and Delivery Costs Early

Users also commented negatively on unexpectedly high shipping costs that were not shown until after they had gone through a lot of effort to find suitable products. Often, increased charges are added in the following situations:

  • International shipping
  • Shipping for perishable food items that must be sent in short time frames using specialty packaging
  • Bulk item delivery
  • Delivery with installation and setup

A user from Denmark shopping on was revolted by the pricey shipping charges: “That’s outrageous. Thirty dollars to ship a product worth 40 dollars! I’m in a state of shock. It has taken me so long to find this item. Why haven’t they told me before?” The user went back to the Shipping Summary page to see if she had overlooked the shipping-cost information. She had not overlooked it — the information wasn’t there.

We know from the peak–end rule that users’ overall judgement of a site and brand are influenced the most by two aspects of the experience: the peak (most strong emotional impact, whether positive or negative) and the end. Any time the user applies the word “outrageous” to your site, you’ve likely triggered a negative peak, meaning that the nasty surprise of the extra charges is what people will remember the most about your brand. Not only did the company probably lose that sale, they now have a negative reputation in the mind of that user for years to come. In contrast, early communication might or might not have won the sale, but it would have avoided years of negative brand memories.

In any of the special instances listed above, extra charges should be communicated appropriately on the product page. Consider the following solutions:

  • At minimum: The product page should clearly acknowledge that specialty shipping or delivery charges will apply.
  • Better: Clearly provide a flat rate, minimum rate (or range of rates), or rate estimate near the product price, on the product page. For dynamic charges based on location, the best solution should allow users to enter their postal code on the product page and get the exact shipping or special-delivery cost.

Macy’s did a poor job of communicating specialty-delivery charges for furniture. A Shipping and Returns section on the product page mentioned that standard shipping did not apply to furniture items. However, there was no indication what the delivery cost would be, even though users were required to enter their ZIP code to check for availability before adding the item to their cart. The cost of the white-glove delivery service was not revealed until checkout.

Macys Detail Page
On, furniture product pages did not indicate shipping cost. (Box added to the screenshot for clarity; the user didn’t see this.)
Macys White Glove Delivery
The shopping bag indicated that a white-glove delivery service would be used, but the cost remained a mystery.

Users had to wait until the start of the checkout process to see the actual shipping costs. One user said, “It would be nice if they would show me what it would cost before I add it to my cart. How do I know if I want to buy it if I don’t even know how much it will cost me to have it delivered?” This user was right: customers should not be required to commit to a purchase and enter their personal information before being given a final cost. Not only is it additional work, but many people feel they’ve been tricked into sharing their data with a site when they abandon a purchase mid checkout.

Macys Checkout
Macy’s didn’t show the amount for white-glove delivery until after the user initiated the checkout and input personal details.

Instead, fees should be clearly noticeable near the price of the product and should detail the purpose of the fee.

World Market showed additional shipping fees for large items on the product page. However, this information was displayed in small print far from the item’s price, so it could have been easily missed. Instead, the page should explicitly state that the $50.00 fee applies to the product and place this text above the Add to Cart button. Even better, show the $50 charge added to the price of the item and provide a total with the oversized shipping fee.

World Market Detail Page indicated that a $50 oversized-item shipping fee applied to this product. It would have been better if this information was displayed closer to the price, to garner more attention.

That’s exactly what Airbnb did: it communicated all additional fees that applied to the total cost of a home rental. The nightly price was listed at the top of the page. The cleaning fee and the service fee were clearly displayed below, and a total price was provided upfront.

Airbnb Detail Page
Airbnb avoided unpleasant surprises at checkout by clearly communicating additional fees on the home-rental page.

If fees cannot be calculated until other information (such as delivery address) is provided,  it is imperative to at least acknowledge the existence of the extra charges that will be applied later in the checkout process.

Pottery Barn’s oversized products had a flat-rate delivery surcharge. Under the price of the product, the product page indicated that the Unlimited Flat Rate Delivery applied. This information was only marginally helpful. Clicking on the associated icon provided little additional detail.

Under the Shipping & Returns accordion menu on the same product page, there was a brief mention about the surcharge directing users to the aforementioned-surcharge detail near the price, which was not helpful. However, clicking the link to the Shipping and Delivery Information Page directly under the surcharge information took users to a more helpful detail page that included a calculator that allowed users to input their postal code to determine the amount of the fee.

Pottery Barn Oversized Product
Pottery Barn’s oversized-product page(left) mentioned a delivery fee, but the popover gave no estimate or additional information. It was difficult to get an actual number for this cost without going all the way through checkout. Additional surcharge information further down the page (light) was not helpful. But a link to the Shipping and Delivery Information did prove fruitful.
Pottery Barn ShippingInfo
On the Shipping and Delivery Information page, users could input a ZIP code to find out the shipping cost.

Pottery Barn could have been more upfront early on in the process. Rather than just saying that a flat-rate delivery applied to the product, it could have included a Calculate flat-rate delivery link to the rate calculator. Better yet, embed a location field within the product page itself and show the fee for users who enter their ZIP code.

In contrast, Restoration Hardware did a good job of communicating the additional delivery on the product page. The page provided a baseline delivery price and it even allowed shoppers to enter a ZIP code to see a shipping-charge estimate on the product page, before committing to the purchase.

Restoration Hardware Detail Page
Restoration Hardware indicated the lowest starting price for furniture delivery ($199) and also allowed customers to enter a postal code to get an exact value.
Restoration Hardware In Stock
Because the item was in stock at a nearby location, the price for delivery was confirmed at $199 after entering the ZIP code.
Restoration Hardware Shipping
The Unlimited furniture delivery page (that the product page linked to) displayed a breakdown of how delivery fees were priced by distance. This kind of transparency is reassuring for shoppers making large purchases.


Although, from a design and implementation perspective, it’s easiest to just wait until the checkout flow to tack on delivery rates and fees, this practice is problematic for shoppers. Flex your problem-solving muscles and integrate these charges into the browsing portion of the workflow, so consumers are fully informed before starting checkout. Combing through many products to find the perfect one only to find out that the price is more than expected derails purchases and makes consumers frustrated with your website and your company.

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