EMS: Get Competitive with Free Shipping

free shipping

Image from: free shipping / Shutterstock

Can Versa Capital, who acquired Eastern Mountain Sports this past November, boost the store’s ecommerce business? The New Hampshire-based chain of 69 stores and seller of outdoor gear and apparel is getting crushed by its competitors online. The site had just over 314,000 Unique Visitors in the month of December, much lower than similar online stores.  EMS offers comparable products and their own line of high-quality goods. What they don’t offer: free shipping or free returns.

EMS Competitor UVs

According to Compete’s Fall 2012 Online Shopper Intelligence Survey™, 62% of consumers said they would not have made their most recent purchase if they had not received free shipping. Easy and free return shipping is an additional incentive for online shoppers. EMS’s competitors offer a range of shipping and return deals:

    • L.L. Bean: Free shipping and free returns
    • Sierra Trading Post: Free shipping and free returns
    • Backcountry: Free shipping over $50 and pre-paid return label (deducts $6.99 from the refund)
    • REI: Free shipping over $50, but customers must arrange their own return shipping or bring the products back to a retail store.


EMS’s shipping rates increase with the purchase value and if you do not live near a brick and mortar shop, return shipping is your own responsibility.

How does shipping impact sales? L.L. Bean and Sierra Trading Post, who offer free shipping and returns, had the highest average conversion rates for the past two years, 9.9% and 4.5% respectively in 2012. Backcountry and REI performed similarly to EMS with low conversion rates—all three charge for returns and have minimum purchase requirements for free shipping. Our data makes a compelling argument for consumer savings as an important driver of sales conversions.

EMS conversion rates

EMS has the lowest average stay of the online outdoor retailers. In January, visitors spent on average four and a half minutes on EMS.com. They spend half as much time and viewed half as many pages than visitors to Sierratradingpost.com. Why? Either consumers are finding what they want quickly, or abandoning the site due to an unsatisfactory experience. Based on the low conversion rates, it is likely visitors are going elsewhere. Often EMS visitors immediately browsed competing sites—REI was the top retail destination of EMS’s outgoing traffic in January, with Backcountry and Sierra Trading Posting claiming the third and fourth spots behind Amazon.

EMS page visits

Compete’s data may suggest EMS is losing business to the competition due to its weak shipping offers. Luckily for the brand, their new owner comes with resources. It may be wise for Versa Capital to invest in customer experience and offer more competitive shipping deals to grow EMS’ ecommerce business. Offering pre-paid return shipping levels could be the final incentive a consumer needs to make their purchase—especially if EMS wants to reach customers outside of the Northeast. It will come at a cost, but convenient shipping will make EMS more competitive.

How does shipping influence your online shopping decisions? If you’re an online retailer—how do you balance customer experience and cost? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

About Carro Halpin:
Carro is excited to join the Compete team as the Digital Marketing Co-op for Compete.com, with a focus on all things social media. A third-year student at Northeastern University, Carro is pursuing a major in Communication Studies and a minor in Political Science. She has a passion for digital media. Follow her on Twitter @carrohalpin or connect on Google+