Goulet Q&A Episode 188: Pen Designers, Grail Pen Advice, and Free Shipping

In this Goulet Q&A episode, Brian talks about pen designer input, if grail pens are worth buying, and free shipping.

This week:

  • Cox Farms- family extreme fun times
  • Nutritionist follow up
  • great Q&A feedback from last week, lots of honesty and engagement, thank you
    • real talk about the Monza
    • Visconti nib suggestions
    • video suggestions like showing my team more, dual cam, guest spots, short pen reviews, etc
  • we’ve hired a couple of new folks! new senior inventory specialist
  • gearing up for holidays, always a busy time
  • incredible Jake Weidmann giveaway! today though Fountain Pen Day (Nov. 3rd)
    • collaboration with Jake and Kenro/Montegrappa, unreal pen and print to give away
    • full rules and details on our blog
    • cool story how it all came together
  • look for some Fountain Pen Day deals from us, sign up for newsletter
  • things coming:


Pens/Writing

1) Karl K.- Facebook (20:10)

I am constantly amazed at the new fountain pens appearing on the market. Unusual, creative designs, colors and materials. These are works of art. Do you ever talk to the actual designers of these pens? What do they say?

  • yes, sometimes
  • it really depends on the brand, the smaller the brand the more often I may speak with them
  • Brian Gray of Edison, Nathan of Noodler’s, Karas Kustoms, Nock, TWSBI, some Visconti/Aurora, Monteverde, Conklin, Stipula, Robert Oster I or my team does somewhat regularly
  • larger global brands, less likely (Pilot, Lamy, Faber-Castell, Pelikan, etc)
  • often I’ll talk to US distributors, or people involved somewhere in the creation/marketing/distribution of a pen, it’s rarely just one person (unless it’s an LE) in a larger company
  • it’s a fascinating process, and everyone does it a little differently
  • varies a lot by culture and unique approach and history of the individual company
  • designers are often highly romantic about their ideas, and you can tell when there’s a lot of passion and inspiration behind an idea
  • sometimes they are just way over my head, on a whole other level
  • other times, they are very down-to-earth and are looking for a lot of back-and-forth, feedback from what’s resonating with customers, etc
  • as GP has grown, I’ve found myself in a better and better position to give direct feedback, and that’s equally rewarding and scary for me
  • you realize these designers are really out there on a limb, and the stakes are sometimes very high for them, it’s a fascinating place to be

2) Cam B.- Facebook (26:33)

When you upgrade from steel to gold nibs, are nib sizes equivalent? What differences can we expect?

  • gold vs steel comes up a lot, especially for newer pen users who see such a price discrepancy
  • nib sizes honestly don’t have a whole lot to do with the type of nib material used, it can vary quite a bit from model to model
  • some pens (like Edison) use the exact same nib design with both steel and gold nibs
  • other brands have completely different designs with their nibs, like the Pilot Metropolitan and Pilot VP
  • the grind itself will often be somewhat comparable, all else equal, but the softness of the gold nibs usually make them write wetter/broader
  • the generalizations get so broad here that you really have to take each pen on a per-model and per-nib size basis when comparing
  • this was what inspired the Nib Nook at Goulet Pens, so you can directly compare every single nib size offered

3) potterandpens- Instagram (31:32)

Why is it that pens from different companies feel different even though they have been ground the same way by the same nibmeister? Do different companies use different tipping materials which makes a difference in the feel of the nib?

  • different companies do use different tipping materials, yes
  • nibmeisters I’ve talked to talk about how some nibs grind very quickly and easily, others take much longer bc the tipping is so much harder
  • certainly different nibs are ground to different shapes, smoothness, etc
  • softness of the nib can make a difference too
  • there are a number of factors that can come into play, and if you know what it is you’re looking for, an experienced nibmebster can guide you to what it is you’ll like best
  • if you’re there with them at a pen show this is ideal, because you can test real-time
  • share with them what pens you have that you really like the way they write, and they might be able to match/mimic it

4) Souro R.- Facebook (35:35)

Besides plastic and ebonite, can any other material be used for making fountain pen feeds? Can we ever expect something like an all metal nib and feed unit?

  • it used to be basically all ebonite, until plastic came along as a more affordable alternative
  • I have never seen a metal feed for myself
  • certainly other materials could be used, but given the economy of plastic injection-molded feeds I can’t imaging what would be a “better” alternative than ebonite
  • metal would be very costly to machine, and would not work probably as well as either plastic or ebonite, but would probably be feasible
  • has anyone heard of anything else? I’d love to know

5) hrho1501- Instagram (38:38)

You’ve probably been asked this before, but, if you can afford your grail pen but have a small collection, would you get the grail or focus on exploring more diverse, less expensive pens so as to not plateau?

  • this is a really tough question, and surely will all come down to the individual
  • it probably depends a lot on the situation:
    • What kind of collection are you looking to build up?
    • How expensive is your grail pen?
    • If you don’t actually love your grail pen, how easy would it be to sell/recoup that money?
    • Have you had a chance to actually hold/write with your grail pen first?
  • Minimalists will likely want to pare down the collection and go after the grail pen
  • Acquirers (like myself) will want to walk before running, getting less expensive pens first and building up to pricier models
  • I started out with incrementally more costly pens like the Pilot Custom 74 and Lamy 2000, which were a stretch for me at the time and I loved them, still use them regularly
  • I bought my first grail prematurely, and was disappointed because I didn’t have enough experience and bought something I didn’t know enough about (Pelikan m800 with 1.5mm stub)
  • I waited a long time to get a Homo Sapiens and was able to try it first, and I’ve been using it very regularly since
  • I personally like to build up over time, it’s given me a lot to appreciate as I’ve grown into higher end pens, but others may not want to commit nearly as much time, effort, or money into their pens as I have

6) pedrojo30- Instagram (50:13)
Why pens with inner metal parts can’t be converted to eyedropper?

  • in the short term, you totally could as long as the body is solid, so it’s temping to want to do it
  • you could do it for a while without a problem
  • the problem with most metal pens is their internal components are metals that oxidize, like brass or aluminum
  • they’ll pit, corrode, rust, and oxidize inside
  • it’ll degrade the metal, and contaminate the ink as you’re using it, potentially clogging the pen
  • it will prematurely degrade the integrity of the metal and take years off the life of the pen

Business

7) evelyne.demers- Instagram (56:02)

Will you have a free shipping promotion anytime soon?

  • this has been a hotly debated topic at Goulet Pens recently, and we’re talking about it more seriously than ever before
  • we do have flat shipping rates once you hit Priority Mail with USPS…you may not realize that
  • “there is no such thing as free shipping” – Economics 101
  • In order to ship for free, that money has to come from somewhere…higher product price, less service, less generous returns or replacement policy, less education/engagement, less care in packaging, etc
  • the retail business is not a high-margin business, we do okay but we’re not Scrooge McDuck swimming around in our gold vault
  • we can’t just outright absorb the entire cost of our shipping, we’d go out of business in very short order
  • we’d have to have an order minimum, ideally one that would incentivize those placing smaller, more labor-intensive orders to save up and place larger ones
  • that or we’d need to attract new customers/orders that we’d be losing otherwise
  • we’re in the process of trying to figure out how we’d make that happen without sacrificing too much else, and it’s just not crystal clear to us how to make it work elegantly
  • we have a rule here, “if it isn’t a clear yes, it’s a no”, and it isn’t a clear yes for us right now
  • we’re not naive that most of e-commerce does free shipping, and we’re kind of a holdout, even among the pen retailers
  • very few people view shipping as a value-add, and each year that passes we’re feeling more and more pressure to give away something that has a very real cost in our business
  • this is a tough thing for us here, and we’re making sure we’re being very thoughtful about it before acting on it
  • Seth Godin- “the problem with a race to the bottom is you just might win”
  • I’ve personally ALWAYS sought out to take the approach of adding value rather than discounting cost
  • the ROI on a blanket “free shipping over X dollars” isn’t so obvious to us at the moment, but we are considering it and exploring other more nuanced incentives for free shipping
  • I would really, really love to hear your feedback on this

8) Jeffrey S.- YouTube (1:00:56)

Why did you at Goulet pens decide to only sell fountain pens when all other retailers sell all types of pens? Is that a downside for Goulet since your losing that business to the competition?

  • back when I was making pens under the Goulet Pens brand, it was only rollerballs!
  • I’d always been interested in achieving an enhanced writing experience, as I’ve always been very tactile
  • when I was making pens from kits, I’d replace the stock refill with Parker gel refills or Schmidt 888 ceramic tip gel refills
  • these w ere the best writing pens I knew at the time
  • once I used a fountain pen for the first time, it was really a “where have you been all my life” moment!
  • once I discovered fountain pens, the way they wrote, and the community of people into them, it was clear this was very much a “conversion” type experience for me
  • my big epiphany was that fountain pens were going to become obsolete and die off unless there was a way to educate the next generation of pen fans, and I saw a way that I could help with that
  • I tried making both, but the community just wasn’t there with rollerballs
  • fountain pens just enamored me, and that became my sole focus
  • around 5 years later (in 2014) we all started talking as a team about strategically expanding into rollerballs, in the models of pens we already carried like Pilot Metropolitans, Lamy Safari and Al-Star, and even Pilot G2
  • they started out slow, and got slower
  • by that point, it was evident that with the approach we’d taken for being “all in” on fountain pens had taken root, and that’s really what we were known for
  • we didn’t get too deep into rollerballs before realizing we would suffer more from indigestion than starvation, so we decided to focus and double-down on fountain pens
  • we actually changed our mission statement from “writing enthusiasts” to “fountain pen enthusiasts”, to make sure we held ourselves accountable to that focus
  • it makes things so much easier for us sometimes, it really does!
  • there are very distinct silos in different writing instrument enthusiast communities, and it’s really tough to be excellent in several of them
  • fountain pens, rollerballs, pencils, calligraphy, they’re all very distinct in their own communities and we see so much more potential for us if we focus on fountain pens
  • we may end up leaving some money on the table in the short term, but in the longer term, we feel we will have greater impact by keeping our focus
  • this could change over time, I want to leave myself open to going where we feel called in the future, but we see so much more work to be done where we are
  • we aim to be the #1 fountain pen resource online, and our 100% focus is required in order to achieve that

 

QOTW: How do you feel about free shipping? Not just in philosophical terms, but what is it you’re actually doing when you buy online? Does shipping really make or break it for you? Do you do the math on the total order cost when you shop or does shipping cost just irk you no matter what? (1:13:35)

Write On,
Brian Goulet

2017-10-27T15:33:25+00:00 October 27th, 2017|Goulet Q&A|56 Comments
  • Luis Guirola

    Hi,

    I personally would really prefer if you did free shipping or if you gave , even if on average what you sell was some dollars more expensive. The same is true if you gave some ink sample for every order above a certain value. It feels psychologically “bad” to get an additional charge at the end. And it would feel really cool to get some ‘surprise’ ink sample with each order. Another thing you could implement is a reward program (they have that a penchalet, for example).

    I think it is something completely irrational, but that provides different shopping experience/processes. I think it also changes the way I shop. I believe that when I buy on amazon i do more impulsively, because I just have to do one-click. Just for you to understand: I do NOT buy fountain pens because I NEED them, I buy and collect them as a hobby, and a way of spending my leisure time. When I have to bundle enough stuff into one same order, I tend to rethink whether I really need every single piece I am buying, and sometimes give up on it when I see the total amount in total (it feels stronger to spend $100 every month, than to spend 5 times $25 over the same period). I mean, when I think of ordering from you, I have to get all my stuff together to really think what I need, it is not a ‘casual shopping’ experience. Even if I have more control over the first, I kind of enjoy more the casual shopping experience: it fits naturally in my routine of fountain pen market research-watch videos- keep up with fountain pen the news.

    The same goes with ink samples or rewards program: if I was getting a surprise ink sample with every order, I would feel motivated to shop more often- and because you spend more if you shop more often.

    It is a totally irrational feeling, but I think it could work for you.

    • Sarah B

      I love Goulet pens and attribute my head first dive into fountain pens on your intro videos. However, as a poor grad student, I have not made all my purvhases though you due to shipping. This is especially the case with lower value pens. For instance, there are times when I’ve purchased ink samples and put a cheaper pen in my cart as a splurge. However, I will held back on buying a new pen because it pushed me into much higher shipping and an overall higher cost than I can justify splurging. I would very much support a minimum purchase for free shipping. I would easily throw in a bottle of ink or splurge on something I was questioning to hit that mark. Given the higher price point of a lot of pens, you could even do a 100 minimum and I believe it would still be an incentive.

  • I hate to pay more than actual shipping and packaging. If an item is thrown in a $1 mailer and shipped for $4.50 to me, I get irked when I’ve paid $7.50 shipping. That’s more an eBay thing than Goulet — I think we all know nothing at Goulet is just thrown into a $1 mailer!

    I don’t like paying actual shipping and handling, either. As a customer, I like to see at least a subsidy of shipping if not free shipping. There have been times over the years when I have chosen a “flighty” competitor over Goulet because of free shipping over $25 even though I’m in Virginia and they’re cross country from me. Amazon is a real killer, though. Their Prime shipping terms really spoil a consumer. I shop them first for everything, though for pens I then usually shop retailers I support second and have an ethical self dialogue. I don’t really buy nearly what I once did in any case, but I still try to spread my hobby cash around while making it stretch.

    I think a free shipping tier over x dollars is the best option for most small merchants, even if it’s got to be $75 or $99.

  • Ted A

    Shipping gets factored in.
    Brian’s first video said the Monteverde Monza is not the Jinhao 992 rebranded. With a $15 bottle of ink, that I have on my list to get, is thrown in the Monza is $1. I’m tempted because a dollar isn’t a big cost. But then I have to add $8.95 in shipping so the pen now costs $9.95. If it’s the same as the 992 which was vastly overpriced at $1.79, I have to rethink. And the ink which is what I really want goes back on the shelf to wait for an order that will spread the shipping cost better.
    I have actually added and subtracted items in my shopping cart to try to get the most bang for my shipping fee. E.g. If I add an item that kicks shipping up to the next level. Is it worth it? Maybe not and I’ll take it back out. If I subtract an item that I’m on the fence over, does that reduce the shipping? If so I won’t order that item.
    I can tell you with absolute certainty that charging shipping has cost you some sales. Now whether the loss was significant enough you will have to decide, but shipping does have an effect on sales.

  • Seth Kazarians

    I used to be more sensitive to the lure of free shipping, but nowadays, I do tend to consider “the whole package”. As in, I’ve seen instances where free shipping (especially with Amazon Prime) was just rolled into the item price, which made it more expensive overall, especially if I was buying lots of items that suffered from that.

    I’m perfectly ok with Goulet Pens just passing the shipping cost on to us, as that lends me to trust that your pricing isn’t hiding that cost to me.

  • jane pilecki

    Great Q&A! QOTW: Free shipping is nice. But ultimately, it’s not free. We are paying for it in the price of the items, or a lesser quality of packaging, or longer shipping times. I hate having to gather enough things in my shopping cart to get to the free shipping level. So I joined Amazon Prime. That costs money, but I get the convenience of not having to have a minimum amount to qualify for free shipping, and the order arrives in 2 days. There is value for me in that. As for Goulet pens, I honestly feel that there is value in the shipping charge GPC charges. Quality packaging, accurate orders, Priority shipping via USPS, and no packing peanuts. Plus, I know that GPC pays its team members well, provides excellent benefits, and cares about the team members quality of life and work. By paying for shipping, I am supporting that. The money to ship doesn’t come from the team members’ salaries or benefits. And there are enough people doing the job making it a good work environment for them. That helps make orders accurate, and ensures timely shipping. If shipping went to $15/order today, I would still pay it. But I would just take more time gathering items in my shopping cart. I think the flat shipping rate is a tremendous value. A huge order is just $9 or whatever. My preference is for you at GPC to keep doing things the way you do. I love everything about the company. You c are about your customers, your team, and doing a great job, among other things. That is worth paying for shipping.

    • Tom Johnson

      Jane, you said exactly how I feel, and said it superbly. There is no such thing as free shipping, the cost comes from somewhere else as Brian explains. If you save money on shipping, someone else is paying for your savings. And it may be you paying in product costs or lower intangible services. You cannot have it both ways.

      I think the way Goulet Pen Co. handles it now is the right way. I have never ordered from another source because I could save several $$ over the cost of ordering from Goulet. Brian and Rachel – you guys have earned my trust and loyalty. I don’t even compare prices or shipping costs on anything you sell.

      • jane pilecki

        Thank you for the nice compliment!

  • Betty

    Shipping isn’t free so I have no problem paying for it. I know that I as the consumer will pay for it some way. I do hope that the amount I’m charged is the actual shipping cost of the retailer.

  • Krystal Brannon

    I agree with points of each comment so far. Shipping does factor in but not as much for me as probably other folks. I will play the game on sites that offer free shipping with a threshold incentive – adding and removing items to see what the price difference is. Most of the time, especially for things like clothes, I end up paying for shipping instead of meeting that threshold because I don’t want to buy just to buy. The only time this is different is for hobbies (like fountain pen inks or yarn) where I know I will eventually use whatever extra I’ve purchased to hit that magic “free shipping” threshold. And I too am a member of Amazon Prime but mostly because I’m impatient and want things quickly – it is less about “free” shipping than speed of shipping (obviously not “free” since I pay the yearly membership fee).

    If a site offers free shipping or free shipping over a certain amount, fantastic! I may take advantage of it. But if they don’t and I want the product (or it’s with an SMB I want to support), I’ll just be more thoughtful with my purchases and use a wishlist until I have enough items to make the shipping cost feel worth it to me.

    Is there a magic number for you at Goulet that makes the labor and the shipping materials used to so beautifully package our purchases seem more worth it?

  • Mark Wutka

    Before I mention anything about shipping, I have to say that I chuckled at what you said around 47:18. I know you were trying to say that you wanted to shorten the learning curve, but you said: “and you’ve got a long, long life ahead of you enjoying fountain pens, so I wanna try and shorten that life”.

    I don’t have a single answer about shipping, except that I generally don’t go looking for free shipping. Perhaps if I was trying to choose between two orders and shipping was the only difference, I might go with the free one. But, I also appreciate good service and independent companies, so it is worth it to me to have to pay a little more for the order in exchange for good service. There are times where the product is cheap and shipping is expensive that I may order more things so that shipping isn’t as big a percentage of the cost.

    • Lisa Vierra

      That slip amused me too

  • Tom Johnson

    Free shipping has no appeal for me here. I’m with Jane below. As you said Brian, there is no free shipping. Stay the course, it is working very well. I’ve been a happy customer for over 4 years and never gone to any other retailer to buy items that you sell.

  • Mary H.

    Personally, I hope that you don’t go to free shipping. I shop at Goulet because of the incredible value I receive in addition to the products I buy from you such as your very instructive videos, excellent tools on your website for comparing inks, nibs, etc., the marvelous care you take in packing your products for shipment. And your shipping costs are quite modest. But most of all, I feel that you have established a relationship of trust with your customers. Not to mention your excellent customer service which I experienced recently. So I much prefer to buy from you. I fear that if you go to “free” shipping you will have to cut back on some or many of the things that you do so well now.

  • Kak_arctic

    I’m gonna say first that I watches almost all of your Q&A but does not place order with you guys frequent enough. One of the biggest reasons why I don’t shop at Goulet pens as much as I should have is the shipping cost.

    I almost never buy a relatively cheap pen, for example a lamy safari, from Goulet, because the shipping for that 20 dollar pen would be almost half of the pen, it just doesn’t make sense to me! And I can easily get a lamy safari with free shipping from somewhere else.
    When I do put an order with Goulet, it is usually an order with either one of a kind product you can only find at Goulet. Or is it an order with a fairly large value (like buying many items at the same time), so that I can justify the shipping fee.
    For me, the shipping cost alone, does not really matter that much to me. It is the total cost for the same product that matters most. It just so happens that when cheaper products are considered, places that offers free shipping gives me a cheaper total cost than Goulet.
    I would even buy a bit more product to hit free shipping line than just paying the shipping cost. For example, if I only want to buy a $30 pen. There are two places that sale that pen. One of the place offers free shipping at order over $45, the other says shipping cost is $10. I will pick up another item around $15 and make the total over $45 and get the free shipping. This $15 item may be something I am interested in, but not necessarily something I know I want. I would still buy it, because to me, that’s extra items I can get. Shipping is just money I spent. That’s how I look at it.

    All in all, I would really love to see some kind of free shipping from Goulet. It does not need to be free shipping for all, all year round. But just free shipping during special holidays, or over certain threshold.
    I think with that kind of offer, I would shop at Goulet a lot more than I currently am.

  • Lisa Vierra

    Free shipping! Free shipping? So, if you are giving something to me free, exactly how is it getting paid? Since you don’t have fountain pen fairies delivering pen and ink out of the goodness of their wee hearts, then I’m paying somehow, somewhere or giving up something else. Free shipping is a gimmick. I have never not bought something because of the shipping cost, unless I think the shipping cost is inflated. That happens sometimes on sites like Etsy. What of Goulet value added experiences would I willing to give up to make up for the free shipping? None.

    On the other hand, my pen buying is a guilty pleasure, a way I treat myself or my friends It’s an area in which I’m not seeking economy. Perhaps if we were talking bulk diapers or toilet paper or Kraft Mac and cheese, my answer would be different. After all, those folks aren’t vending an experience as well as a product, nor are they giving me value elsewhere. Well, maybe the Mac and cheese is an experience…

  • Karl Kunkel

    I personally like the $50 mark as the point the customer gets free shipping. The retailer is getting a sizable order, and the customer is not feeling the sting so much. I find that I allow an order to accumulate to a certain size, about $80, before I place a Goulet order. So, my orders are less frequent. For online retailers who offer the $50 mark for free shipping, I find that I order more often and that sometimes they are more impulse items that I don’t fret about after the order, I.e., not that much buyer remorse.

  • Uniotter

    This was a great Q&A, even more than usual. There seemed to be a bit more energy in it, and Brian looks great. I’m almost tempted to change my diet if that’s what it does for you (except that I couldn’t possibly eat game meat…I barely like the taste of the stuff that’s not good for you!). It was especially fascinating to hear about crafting and re-crafting your mission statement. I think it would be good for me to set a goal like that, even if I’m not in business for myself. It keeps you on the right track, I think.

    Anyway, re: free shipping. I am aware retailers must be subsidizing the cost somehow, even if it is in raising the product cost. But somehow it does seem more “worth it” to get free shipping. I do much of my shopping on Amazon because of that. And I will add items to my “cart” in order to qualify for the free shipping, even if I didn’t intend to buy them in the first place. I don’t add things I wouldn’t want to buy anyway, but I will purchase them before I had planned to, or buy them from Amazon instead of the local drug store, in order to make the minimum purchase price required.

    Another place I purchase from is the Book Depository (which was acquired by Amazon in 2011). They offer free shipping to almost anywhere in the world, and I use them for all my books, even if they don’t provide the niceties of gift wrap or even messages about who the book comes from. If I purchase a gift from them I have to let the recipient know to expect it. They don’t even provide any kind of tracking, which has been inconvenient at times. But if you let them know a book hasn’t arrived, they simply ship another. I’m not saying this because I think it’s a business model Goulet could adopt (I think their economies of scale must be how they can do it). I just want to let you know all the stuff I’m willing to give up because of that free shipping.

    One more thing that doesn’t really apply to Goulet, since you use the USPS: I won’t buy from retailers that ship free to the continental US, but not to Alaska or Hawaii. I realize they’ve made a business decision about providing a benefit to the majority of their customers and not the small minority who live where it’s more expensive to ship. Providing the same price across the board would mean some states are subsidizing shipping to others (though I think it would be a small amount, spread out over 50 states). And they choose not to do that. However it rankles and makes me feel like a second class citizen. I live in Hawaii, and it’s part of the USA, so treat us that way! I would think Alaskans feel the same — either we’re all Americans or we’re not. Don’t treat us like some of us are more American/valuable than others!

  • Laura B.

    Goulet Pens does charging shipping right. The quickest way to make me abandon a cart is to hide the shipping costs. The second quickest way is to bill me shipping rates based on dollars spent. Goulet is loud and clear on their shipping costs and have prices based on actual product ordered. I do like free shipping, who doesn’t? Paying for shipping slows my shopping a little, I have to decide if the $40 of ink samples is worth $46 for me. I keep a wish list and a small group of friends always ask each other for add one before we place an order.

    • MP

      Well said, Laura. I agree.

  • Marie Everett

    I don’t at all mind paying shipping. Your customers service makes it well worth it in my book. There is a caveat though. If I am making a smaller purchase of items that have low risk of problem and they are all available at another place I shop that offered free shipping with a low minimum I make my purchases there. Unless, of course, I’m dying for ink samples. Then I pay the shipping. So I guess the true answer is that it depends.

  • Mike P

    The shipping doesn’t really bother me because of the value you provide beyond the value of the products I buy. Plus, as you mention, free shipping will have to be paid for somehow and that will distort your pricing. However, you could create a Goulet Prime option. Figure out average shipping cost per customer and charge a comparable annual fee for free shipping. With this option, you have the use of that money today (e.g., for investment); the time value of money will make those dollars today worth more in the future, so that a $25 Goulet Prime charge may be actually worth $35 in shipping later. I’m sure you know all of this. You have to get something for the shipping. Amazon doesn’t give it away for free; Amazon Prime is a cost to the customer – it’s a bargain, but still a cost. Just a thought…I appreciate your company. Mike

  • Ryan K

    Lots of comments on this post! Tough subject on shipping as well and one every growing business has to deal with. From a customer point of view, I have ordered several small Lamy and Pilots from Amazon because of the next day and sometimes same day free shipping for the the small “on a whim” purchases. It’s rough to justify $9 shipping on a $13 pen order when that could be a bottle of ink. However, anytime I was putting together a bunch of items I would always use Goulet, especially for ink. I don’t think I’ve had a purchase at Goulet under $100 as I just keep adding inks and small stuff.

    Recently, my thoughts on this has changed though. I ordered my Conklin Carbon Nighthawk through Goulet because it was a special purchase and I wanted it done right the first time, and it was. Goulet only had that pen left in a medium nib so I also ordered an additional nib in fine and added to the purchase comments if they would swap the nibs for me as I normally break things. They did. Their customer service and ongoing education through the website and constant Q&A’s is at least worth the extra bit of shipping.

  • Zwaluw

    I’m coming at this from a completely different angle probably, because I’m an international customer. And the shipping costs often stop me from ordering at Goulet because in general I’m paying customs dues on top of them. 20 dollars shipping for 60 dollars in pens and ink is doable but I’ll be charged 20-60 euro’s on top of that. And the moment I order above 150 dollars I’m paying import taxes as well, so making larger orders only makes things worse.

    So yes, less shipping/free shipping would make me happy and I’d gladly pay for it, except doing international free shipping is probably not doable to begin with…

  • MP

    To be totally honest, shipping is a factor for me. I’m pretty loyal to Goulet; I’ve never bought anywhere else yet, and if I do, it will probably be to buy something you guys don’t carry. However, I don’t buy from Goulet as often as I might because of shipping. I tend to hold off until I have a larger order, and I wait to do group buys with my sisters so that we can split the cost of shipping. Sometimes this means my enthusiasm wears off for some products that I then don’t purchase or I wait for the holidays and let my family buy me stuff. This is all probably better for my wallet, but I do probably spend less with Goulet as a result. I have other hobbies besides fountain pens and limited dollars, so everything counts. In no way do I let a small shipping fee affect where I purchase, but I do purchase less often and probably less overall because of the shipping cost. While free shipping is nice, I care more about whether or not you lose customers to those who do offer it. I don’t want that to happen. Thanks for listening to us on this, and keep up the great work. Just got my Goulet order that I put in on Thursday night. 😀 Much happiness!

  • AnneP

    Frankly, I’m an impulse buyer type, and the shipping does prevent some impulsive spending at Goulet. Which means $9 shipping is great for me and my wallet, but probably not for you.

    However, I love how Goulet runs. If changing your shipping policy changes anything else you do, I’d say don’t bother. I still buy there, and my sisters buy there, and we find excuses to gift each other things from Goulet and add in a few samples or a notebook or nib or all 3 for ourselves. Frankly, it’s not that much of a barrier–we end up batch buying and splitting the shipping. However, I don’t want some of your customers to defect to retailers with free shipping, so…I don’t know.

  • Lesley Schultz

    QOTW: Ooh, the eternal shipping debate. With the advent of Amazon Prime, (which technically isn’t free shipping) it seems like that shipping charge for me is maybe slightly more annoying. Does it prevent me from buying online from retailers who don’t offer it? Not usually, the only time a shipping charge makes me think twice is if it seems excessive for what is being shipped. Example- for some reason a pair of socks I was buying for a gift (good wooly ones) was about $10. The shipping charge for some reason (normal shipping, not overnight, etc) was going to be $7. That to me is excessive, and I sought out another retailer. Goulet in my opinion has never been excessive in your shipping charges, so I’m going to buy from you as long as you have what I’m looking for.

    I will also freely admit to buying more if I am close to a free shipping threshold amount. Lands End in my opinion is famous for this with a $50 purchase. A lot of things I buy from there are in that $30-$40 range. With shipping it would take me to $50 anyway, so sometimes I purchase an additional item to get me to the free shipping threshold. I find I often like the challenge of figuring out what items I need to make the lowest free shipping threshold.

    Ultimately you all need to do what is best for the future of the business!

  • peter hofmann

    QOTW: Free shipping is one of these “tricky” questions. First of all I am most likely an “outlier” as I live in Canada and thus have to deal with exchange rates etc. of course the shipping portion gets added to this so it makes the overall purchase more expensive.

    Having said the above though, I still prefer to shop at GPC because of the customer service I get when (or if) an issue arises; also when doing research on a pen the amount of detail that is provided on the site via the pictures is fantastic, and when comparing the same product to other on- line retailers there is just no comparison. Add to this the weekly Q&A and the cost of doing business add’s up quickly.

    In my opinion I do not mind being charged for shipping. I would rather pay for shipping than lose Q&A’s, the instant response I get from my chat session, and the highly detailed pictures, and the variety of products that GPC carries.

  • _s_s_miles

    QOTW: For me, I’m going to use Amazon as a reference, because I use them quite a bit, and their “prime” membership DID actually change my habits. I use to save up all of my needed items until I got to the free shipping level, because I could afford to wait on most things, and since time = money, I was willing to wait for the added value to me not to pay for shipping. When Prime was introduced, I snatched that up immediately. The $99/year privelege of knowing I nonlomger have to think about how much extra something is going to cost with shippping fees is worth it, and that’s before any of the other added features.

    So if I were a Goulet, I would seriously consider offering a subscription based yearly fee for free shipping, with the possibility of throwing in some added bonus feature like getting a 24 hr head start on placing orders on hot new items, or guest interview videos that aren’t made public to the masses, etc… That’s my 1/50th of a dollar, anyway.

  • David L.

    I am perfectly fine with no free shipping. I automatically add $8 to my total. No, I am not anywhere near California ;). I may actually prefer to pay for shipping, because without doing so, the guarantee that my purchased items will come safely to me may no longer be existent. With Amazon’s free shipping, some things I have ordered came in damaged. I do not order pens, ink, or paper from them. That is reserved for the GPC exclusively.

  • James Hyde

    I’m not trying to diminish in any way the health issues Rachel has been going through. God bless her. But I’m going to go out on limb here and say that if any of us went to that nutritionist, we’d all be diagnosed with a litany of health issues. But not to worry! The nutritionist would gladly take us on as clients and take care of us. Get a second opinion Brian.

  • Otherview

    I think you guys do great work and I enjoy purchasing from you. Shipping doesn’t make or break the purchase for me but has an impact. As a niche supplier, I don’t expect free shipping from Goulet Pens. However, a promotion every once in a while offering free or reduced shipping might entice me to finally order the Visconti Van Gogh I’ve had my eye on for so long. As someone else said, much of the game in sales is psychology and buyers aren’t always rational. Reducing shipping charges either on a special occasion or once you cross a dollar threshold may tip the scale. Or, a special club where you earn points based on sales that then entitles you to a discount on shipping or free ink samples might also feel like a reward to loyal customers. Add me to the group that abhors shipping costs based on the cost of merchandise; please continue to reflect the actual cost in your fees rather than something more generalized. And thanks for asking for feedback – that’s yet another way you demonstrate your concern for your customers.

  • Bargain Hunter

    I often order elsewhere when the products I need are available because I typically order over the free shipping limit. Say for instance I want to buy a mid-level Pilot Falcon SEF I can place the order at Goulet for $152 (plus ~ 9$ shipping) or I can place my order at Jetpens for $150.50 (and be comped the shipping because my order is over $25). Really a no brainer. And this is most often the scenario unless I am unable to find the product elsewhere then I bite the bullet and pay for shipping via Goulet. I am more likely (as are other bargain shoppers) to go with the shop that ships for free.

  • Ragamuffingurl

    I have purchased from other sellers because of free shipping at a certain level or because they offer a discount code or because I know I will get a free ink sample, etc. And prices are comparative to Goulet. I don’t want to go into all of the philosophical thought on it. This is just the truth about my spending habits. I will not buy from the more expensive online retailers that cost more than Goulet. I won’t name any names here. I also like to give the underdog a chance so when I can I will purchaser from them. And yes, free shipping under $50 will entice me purchase the amount needed for free shipping if that is $25, $30, or $40. I will on occasion save up until I can hit the threshold. After all, that’s the free market and capitalism at work. And yes, still I buy from Goulet when there is something they have that I want that I can’t find anywhere else for a better price.

  • Katrina Goh

    I think you guys are fantastic and I love supporting what you do by trying to buy from you. Free shipping is not a deal breaker per se, but It definitely has impact! Living in Canada, it is difficult to justify buying from the states with the current (sad) exchange rate and shipping cost while also risking being charged duties on top of it. With other retailers, I definitely end up buying more just to hit the free shipping minimum, so I definitely would encourage you to do maybe a $200 minimum for free shipping, or whatever will make it “worth it” for you as a business. I desperately want to do all my pen and paper-related business with you and free shipping (with or without a minimum) would definitely not hurt!

  • Heather Deans

    Paying for shipping is normally a deal breaker for me if the amount of my purchase is low. If I just want a medium and fine goulet nib to use in my already purchased Ahab, then I’m not going to pull the trigger. I will bite my nails and wait until there is something else that I’ll need, or until I buy someone a gift to purchase everything all together. And with those more bulk purchases, shipping doesn’t bother me as much. It’s when I’m wanting one item or a couple small nibs, that it really churns my gut to pay for the shipping. And little accessory purchases I do not jump on, for the sole reason of the cost of shipping not being, in my mind, equitable to what I’m getting. Maybe there is some magical shipping cost algorithm out there, or individual items have individual shipping costs, and more than three items have a bulk rate shipping. I have no idea. But I do love Goulet as a company and I am super excited for its growth and development. I love that each shipment I do get is personalized and goes above and beyond. It is an excellent experience and quality that you guys are already giving to people.

  • Marty Backe

    A catalog business that I purchase from, periodically offers free shipping for orders greater than $35. I often use those opportunities to stock up on various items that I wouldn’t otherwise buy because of the shipping cost. They seem to offer the free shipping every few (3?) months, and it’s active for a couple of weeks.

  • yen

    Shipping is definitely a factor as I live in Australia and as much as I want to buy from Goulet, the cost of international shipping makes it prohibitive. I don’t expect free shipping, but I would love for you to explore more postage options to bring the cost down.

  • Bob Howe

    QOTW:
    When I hold up my beautiful new pen from GP, the shipping cost is all forgotten. Mind you, my order to Australia has to be a certain amount, to justify shipping. But it’s always worth it, because it’s a friendly business, with great & quick service, a very interesting, informative website that also provides education, tips & specials. Even bottom of the shelfs! The ocassional special helps to make up for the shipping. I don’t expect free shipping; after all, they’re running a business! I think for the overall experience, it’s worth it (definitely).

  • Rich Fisher

    I agree with several people that a price point for free shipping may be the way to go. I also like the idea of a free ink sample, as that might lead to an ink sale, or for those who have never tried your samples, it might encourage sample sales. I will say this, the last pen I ordered was a Twsbi Eco, and it was packaged with such care, invoiced and a note and a small pop was not done lightly. Your shipping care is above and beyond the normal experience in online packaging. Do not change that amount of care, no matter which way you decide. It is the main reason to do business with you.
    The Q and A is another reason, the total number of videos is equal to a complete course in Fountain Pens, Writing materials, and maintenance, and they are furnished at no charge!
    Rich Fisher

    • Lydia At Goulet Pens

      Thank you, Rich. I am very glad to hear that our orders packed with a “slightly ridiculous amount of care” have made their mark for you. We strive to make sure every order arrives safely and with small touches to remind our friends that our team as a whole cares about them and their pens.

      • Rich Fisher

        You know it is true. Anyone who has ever ordered from Amazon, gets decent prices, free shipping (for annual fee of $99) and their order tossed (yes, tossed) in a box with a couple of swollen pouches of air. Goulet, on the other hand, your box is full of TLC, and THAT is the difference…Thank you Lydia, for being one of the elite team at Goulet!

  • jeanette sclar

    Shipping is always a consideration for me….wish you had a “wish list” function so I could maximize my order to offset the cost of each item I want. My little post-its tend to be lost in the clutter. If I could consult a wish list for all the other things I want, I’d be more likely to order when I am lured by the call of something new.

    • Lydia At Goulet Pens

      We actually do have a wish list feature, jeanette. If you make an account on our site and log in, you will see the wish list link in the top corner of the page and you can add items to your wish list by clicking the little hearts by each product on their product page or in the list pages

  • Quin Johnson

    I like your site and your company but often I have had to pay $20 shipping for just a few bottles of ink. I head over to say jetpens, which I know isn’t a mom and pop store, and I spend over $25 and can get free shipping and their prices are comparative. So a lot of times the pure cost of your shipping has sent me looking at their site or others. If you could possibly knock down the price of your shipping to something more reasonable I would be aiming over here more often, but right now I am trying to make my dollar last and $20 can get me another bottle of ink elsewhere.

  • Lacey

    Shipping cost is a huge factor for me as well! Unless I order tons of stuff to justify that cost, I shop elsewhere. I HATE paying for shipping for some reason! I realize this is not logical… but yes, it very much affects where I choose to shop.

  • Daniel Dubnicki

    Shipping cost is definitely a factor when it comes to buying things online, and it does influence the way I shop to some extent.

    For instance, if I just want to buy one or two bottles of ink, chances are I’ll buy from Amazon, since I get free two-day Prime shipping; if Amazon doesn’t have the ink but GPC does, I’ll put it in my Goulet cart and save it for later when I make a larger purchase at Goulet.

    In essence, having to pay for shipping sort of naturally leads me to make larger, but less frequent, purchases from GPC, as opposed to smaller, more frequent purchases from Amazon. I will often wait until I am buying a pen or close to $100+ worth of products before purchasing from Goulet because of the shipping cost. By that time, though, shipping cost is not really a factor, since it’s not like shipping is going to be half the price of the products I’m buying (like it would be if I were buying only one bottle of ink or a few samples), so offering free shipping over a certain dollar amount (e.g., $50) would not incentivize me. I do occasionally purchase from other online stationery retailers if they offer products you do not carry or can offer me a significant discount on a pen, but I have never chosen to buy from other online stationery retailers over GPC based on shipping alone.

    Lastly, I recognize all of the value you bring to the fountain pen community, and I owe my discovery of fountain pens to you, so I would not want you to take resources away from fountain pen education (FP101, Goulet Q&A) simply to save me a few bucks on shipping every once in a while.

  • Shannon Beaman

    Shipping. It’s don’t irk me in her real. I generally shop around as any frugal person would, but my aim is to find a products ‘price-point’. From there I parse out my orders based on the companies I patronize. So the deal for me can come down to shipping, but my practice already lends itself to bundled ordering which helps both myself and the supplier with shipping costs. Bottom line is the best ( and maybe the only) true vote we have anymore is our dollar. Small businesses are the back bone of our nation and I do just that, vote with my dollar. So, I’ll continue to ‘shape’ my shopping carts at the businesses I patronize and in the end we both win… I get a product that I’ve put thought into without impulse and the supplier gets an order with 5-10 items that’s easier to fill from a labor perspective; that way we both win on shipping. After all, shipping is an overhead cost for someone. I think you all do a magnificent job.
    Semper Fidelis, Shannon

    • Lydia At Goulet Pens

      Thank you very much, Shannon. This makes complete sense and I appreciate your honesty and the amount of thought you put into ordering.

  • Michelle Morin

    I am very price-sensitive when it comes to all things fountain pen – after all, this is entirely a luxury purchase – so even though I love shopping Goulet and love the values apparent in the way Goulet is run, I will *always* go with Amazon or other retailers if the identical or even a comparable item (e.g. a variety of Traveler’s Notebook refill) is priced lower and/or with free shipping elsewhere. The only reasons I would buy from Goulet when a cheaper or free-shipping comparable is available elsewhere are (a) if I happen to be bundling a small item with something else I can only get from Goulet, or (b) if I am buying something I’m concerned risks counterfeiting or quality control problems if I buy on eBay or Amazon (e.g. a Lamy Safari, given the known plethora of knock-offs of that pen flooding the Amazon marketplace). I would be even less likely to buy from Goulet if the educational resources went away. Those resources are what keep me loyal despite Goulet’s prices reliably being a few dollars higher than just about every other retailer’s prices. Basically they are the price for my goodwill, since I don’t understand why — shipping costs aside — the same products are so often more expensive on Goulet’s site then elsewhere.

  • Ben

    I don’t mind paying for shipping. I like price to be transparent, and if we got “free” shipping that cost would have to “hide” somewhere. I find that your shipping prices are fair: less for smaller items and more for larger. Amazon ships things with no care — you guys take care and I know I can reach out and get a human if anything goes wrong. Do what you have to do, but I’m okay paying for shipping. Of course, I live in the U.S. so it is not as ruinously expensive as those out of the country.

    • Lydia At Goulet Pens

      Thanks for the honest feedback and support, Ben! 🙂

  • elusiveOwl

    Shipping is a huge factor for me, especially as I’ve discovered that shipping to Australia from Goulet Pens doubles the cost, sometimes more. Coupled with conversion rates, a seemingly reasonable order of $100 turns into $250+.

    I understand the cost of shipping is necessary, but it has deterred me from actually purchasing what I want from Goulet Pens especially as someone wishing to transition to fountain pens in preparation for University. Free shipping promotions may be a bit large to ask, but perhaps a X% off promotion on it?

    I’d love to buy from here but I just can’t justify the cost.

  • Pam R

    Excellent question! Shipping is a factor for me, but then it all depends. I like Goulet Pens and respect what you are trying to do. I love the care you take in packaging, the note, the little lollipop included, the incredibly fast turnaround. A huge factor is that the shipping prices seem fair, based on the size and weight of what I’m buying. I dislike companies that charge shipping by order price, no matter the total size of the order. I end up feeling cheated (why should shipping be three times as much for a $150 pen than a $10 pen, when they are the same size to ship?). When I’m considering an order, I’ll check out Amazon, and if the price is similar, I’ll order from Goulet knowing that I’m going to pay a few dollars more because of the shipping. I also know I’ll get what I really ordered, and that you’ll help me out if there is a problem (which there has never been, by the way).

    If you offered a deal where free shipping would come with a minimum order, I don’t know that it would change my buying much in a way that would help you. I would definitely hold off until I reached the minimum, but then I might feel like I was spending too much money on my extravagance and just bag the whole thing.

    It’s mostly the personalized service that makes me feel like I want to be a loyal customer. So my advice is, whatever you have to do, don’t lose that!

  • Catherine Flusche-Gillikin

    On free shipping:

    I work for a relatively small print shop and we UPS a ton of stuff for our customers. Pretty much everything we ship is by the pound UPS and a 1 lb package is $7 (it goes up marginally from there). I just bought some Platinum Preppy pens today and was wondering about a free shipping promotion for the holidays, but didn’t see one. Then I actually placed my order and shipping was a little more than $4.

    Given the care that goes into the packaging from Goulet and what I know from all the personal mail I send, I know y’all aren’t charging for “handling”. In other words, I’m extremely comfortable with your current shipping prices!

    Having a free shipping threshold does make me bundle up my purchases, which will mean I’m more likely to buy more than I originally intended. So if you’re looking for more impulsive purchasers, there ya go.

  • K Lee

    I think the reality is that while everyone who buys from you wants to support you, you’re missing out on a large number of other people who would also purchase from Goulet because of shipping–not just cost, but time. If you aren’t going to compete in terms of shipping costs, then I think you should compete on the time it takes an order to reach people.

    Whenever I buy from Goulet, my package will take at least a week no matter the items, so it doesn’t feel worth it to buy a converter and some ink samples at that point, or even a new/cheap pen if the shipping costs will just double the order cost. Not saying you have to take the loss and offer free shipping, but I don’t think it’s a binary issue and probably why the question keeps getting asked. I will say that I would buy more and more often if there was reduced/free shipping after a certain dollar amount.