Online retailers sneak in shipping fees

Zalando DC in Poland
Mike Mareen /

Zalando now charges a "distance fee" to customers in the Benelux for packages coming from further afield. The free shipping trendsetter is retracing its steps, and others will follow.


Goods coming from afar

Zalando does not just deliver free of charge anymore: the online platform has quietly introduced shipping costs for certain products, also in the Benelux. It concerns goods coming "from further afield", the e-commerce player explains to Belgian newspaper De Standaard. "We have expanded our range, and the additional supply gets stored in logistics centres that are further away. For those items, we charge 3.90 euros," said spokesperson Sarah Thomas. 


In 2018, the German company already introduced a 3.50 euro shipping fee for the first time. It was applied to orders under 25 euros, but only in the Italian market. By 2019, customers in about half of all European countries had to pay an additional fee. Now it is up to (parts of) the Benelux.


Pressure on the no-cost narrative

It heralds the end of the for-free era, as retail experts have long predicted. As e-commerce has become a mature and well-established channel, the need to open up the market by promising free delivery is disappearing. There is also increased pressure, especially at times of crisis, on the "growth without profit" narrative that has made the e-commerce giants so big. Therefore, it is time to (partially) pass on the increasing logistics costs to the customer.


Two years ago, still claimed that "free delivery would not end so quickly." The online store is now trying a different, more cost-efficient approach using a subscription model: similar to Amazon Prime, customers can get unlimited free delivery for 9.99 euros a year.  Otherwise, they face a delivery charge of 2.99 euros for small orders under twenty euros. Such a subscription model is also a way of securing customer loyalty. In the future, more and more online retailers will try to compensate for the high logistics costs this way, hidden or not.