This article goes into an unnecessary amount of detail about the pros & cons of both paying for your shipping, and receiving “free shipping” on those heavy equipment products (power racks, large plate sets, benches, bars, packages, etc.) It is intended for those new to buying strength equipment, or anyone who thinks free shipping is actually free.
You veteran garage gym owners may find the bulk of this article to be old news and maybe kind of boring – which is a good thing. So feel free to skip this one.
When it comes to buying heavy strength training equipment like power racks, plates, bars, and other implements, there are a couple different ways that we as customers get charged for the shipment of these products. Some retailers average out shipping costs of each item then simply add that cost in the price of the product (“free shipping”, or “shipping included”). Others price their equipment at the normal retail price (what it would cost if we just walked into their warehouse), then use real time shipping rates to give us a shipping quote specific to our order and delivery address.
While most equipment retailers do a combination of these two shipping methods (and even have other miscellaneous shipping polices on certain items), the vast majority of them tend to favor one or the other for the bulk of their inventory. The question we have to ask is this: which pricing policy is better for us, the customers? When is “free shipping” a better option than paying for shipping? or vice versa? That’s what I’m going to touch on in this article.
Now to avoid any confusion, let me stress that this article focuses on the heavy equipment purchases, not the small and relatively weightless products like apparel, wraps, shoes, etc. Those items often times do literally ship for free.
“Free Shipping” on Heavy Stuff!
Some retailers offer free shipping on 100% or nearly 100% of their products; including full bumper plate sets, bars, benches, GHDs, dumbbells, and even squat stands and full-size power racks. Like really heavy stuff! Hooray?
Well like I mentioned above the shipping is not actually “free”; the shipping costs are merely worked into the price of the product. Shipping a 250 lb power rack or a 350 lb set of bumper plates is not cheap even if you’re relatively close to the retailer, and it gets even more costly if you’re multiple shipping zones away. There’s simply no way for a retailer to sell this heavy equipment at competitive prices, ship it for free, and expect to be in business the next year. Now your shipping might be discounted when it’s “free”, but it’s never actually free.
Lets say you see a utility bench for $200 and that price includes the shipping. Well you can assume that a portion of that $200 is the cost of actually shipping the bench. You could also safely assume that the amount of shipping embedded into that $200 covers shipping costs to the vast majority of possible destination zones. That is, if the company is in Los Angeles, the embedded shipping cost is probably enough to cover to cost of shipping to the majority of other zones (up to 4 or 5), but probably not all of the rare, worst-case scenarios; such as zone 6 or 7, or Hawaii and Alaska (see sample image below).
“Free shipping” works well more times than not. However, it’s less than ideal if you live in or near the same shipping zone as the retailer because the embedded shipping is likely higher than what it would actually cost to ship the item to you. That having been said, the odds are that on a single item purchase the difference is negligible, and you likely want the item from that particular vendor enough to not care about that small difference.
Free shipping can also start to work against you on large orders that contain multiple heavy items, but I’ll discuss that more in the next section.
It should be mentioned that I’ve almost never seen a product with ‘free shipping’ have what would obviously be the worst-case scenario shipping rate embedded in the price; at least from a reputable dealer. The dumbbell pallet example further down illustrates that indeed it is possible though, so read on.
NO Free Shipping Ever!
Some companies offer no free shipping whatsoever. From the smallest items weighing only a few ounces to the heaviest of power racks and large sets of weights, you pay 100% of the shipping cost. You may wonder why anyone would do this in today’s market.
Well the argument for this arrangement is always that you get the lowest pricing possible on the product and you pay only what it costs to ship the product to you; nothing more. There’s no chance of being overcharged for the shipping since the retailer doesn’t have to attach an additional cost to the product that covers shipping to the majority of potential customers.
So does this work to save you money? Well, Rep Fitness uses this no-free-shipping model, and Rep Fitness has some pretty low pricing on equipment because of this. Depending on the product and your location, paying for your own shipping will usually save you money.
Take the $129 Rep Bench; a product that weighs about 50 pounds. It’ll cost you $30-$40 to ship this product, but that still amounts to a super bench for about $160-$170; significantly less than you’d pay for a comparable bench that has shipping embedded (“free shipping”.) Again, the fact that nothing needed to be added to the product’s price for shipping reasons means that product is priced at MSRP, and not a cent more.
|Rep Bench||Rogue Bench||Vulcan Bench|
|Vendor Based in:||Colorado||Ohio||N Carolina|
|Shipping to West Coast||~$31||~$45||$00|
|Shipping to East Coast||~$41||~$23||$00|
|Shipping to Texas||~$31||~$33||$00|
|Total Cost to Door||~$160-$170||~$200-$225||$199|
*** Keep in mind that this comparison is more about shipping rates than the actual benches, as these benches are NOT complete equals in terms of features, design, or price.
However, when it comes to the heavier, single item orders, the whole ‘you pay the shipping and nothing more’ model can suck if you aren’t in the same shipping region as the vendor. It can cost anywhere from $100 to over $600 to ship a $600 power rack from Rep Fitness, whereas for $800 you can get free shipping from Vulcan to anywhere, or pay a fixed $125 on shipping from Rogue Fitness for comparable racks.
|Rep PR-5000||Rogue RML-3||Vulcan 3×3 Slim|
|Vendor Based in:||Colorado||Ohio||S Carolina|
|Shipping to West Coast||~$250||~$125||$00|
|Shipping to East Coast||~$700||~$125||$00|
|Shipping to Texas||~$135||~$125||$00|
|Total Cost to Door||~$635-$1299||~$880||$779|
*** You can see on this bigger & heavier item that using real-time shipping rate software for shipping & freight quotes does not lead to very good pricing for those who are very far away (the East Coast in this case). Free shipping or the flat rate shipping works much more to the customer’s advantage in this case since the rack is being purchased alone (read on).
Here’s the Catch!
If you’re buying multiple heavy items; say a power rack, a bar, a 140 kg set of bumpers, and a bench, there’s a good chance that the dealer with no free shipping will be cheaper overall than those with free shipping. This is because as you add weight to an existing pallet, costs go up very little; if at all. With the free shipping items every single item has enough shipping embedded in the price to cover shipment of that product all by itself, so you start to overpay (potentially) as you load up that pallet. Look at the next chart if you’re confused.
|Rep Fitness||Rogue Fitness||Vulcan Strength|
|Power Rack (same as above)||$599||$755||$779*|
|140 kg Comp Plates||$750||$915*||$1151*|
|Bench (from above)||$129||$179||$199*|
|Freight (to my TX zip)||$136||$158||$0|
Items marked with an * have embedded (“free”) shipping. Bars used for this graph are the Rep Gladiator, Rogue Bar 2.0, and Vulcan One Basic. Keep in mind that using a zip further away increases all prices except for Vulcan’s. That means Vulcan’s price has the potential to be the lowest depending on your location (since that $2378 is the cap).
Rep has zero embedded shipping so the product prices are low. Getting all of these items onto the same pallet results in a single, only moderately expensive freight charge (although it would still be quite expensive to the East Coast).
Rogue has a mix of paid and free shipping, so the $158 freight charge only covers the rack, bar, and bench (the plates are “free” shipping). Now we can safely assume that Rogue has some shipping embedded in that plate set, which means our total freight charge is $158 for those three items plus whatever is embedded in the plate set. Even if it was only $1 (which it isn’t), the shipping cost is still more than Rep’s (at least to my zip). If the plates didn’t have embedded shipping, this large order would likely be less expensive overall.
Now Vulcan has 100% “free” shipping on every item; which means they all have embedded shipping. This can work to your advantage if you are on the West Coast or maybe even the Midwest (as Vulcan is on the East Coast) but it wouldn’t work well for those close to Vulcan. Now granted, the total price can be brought down in this particular situation by selecting an equipment package, as packages offset a lot of the embedded shipping, but not all possible large orders are package options (plus all these vendors have packages).
The moral of the story is this: free shipping can work to a customers advantage, but it can also cost you. The larger the order and the more “free shipping” that’s involved, the more likely it’ll work against you. On the other hand, the further you are from the dealer when you pay for shipping, the worse that freight cost gets, and “free’ becomes more appealing.
TL;DR – When Should I Pay For Shipping?
You should be okay with paying for shipping if a) the product is obviously priced lower than comparable products that have embedded shipping, and b) the vendor is near enough that you’re shipping rate will be lower than what’s embedded into the other vendor’s product.
You should also consider paying for shipping if you are ordering a large quantity of different items that will all ship together on a pallet. For instance, below is 10 pairs of dumbbells from 5-50 pounds; in pairs (just to illustrate, I realize that sets exist.) Now Rogue doesn’t do free shipping, so you just pay normal retail on the pairs plus the real cost to ship the pallet.
The other one has free shipping, so shipping is worked into every single pair. As you might have guessed, with lots of free shipping products bundled together you kinda get robbed on shipping. Only those living the furthest from the vendor even come close to breaking even – though they don’t actually break even in this case.
|Rogue Hex DBs||Fringe Hex DBs|
|Base Price (5-50’s)||$660||$1134|
|Vendor Based in:||Ohio||Texas|
|Shipping to West Coast||~$270||$00|
|Shipping to East Coast||~$340||$00|
|Shipping to Texas||~$169||$00|
|Total Cost to Door||~$829-$1000||$1134|
Again the use of dumbbells in this example was just to simplify my point. The same would be true if your order consisted of a big set of bumper plates, a barbell, a squat stand, some kettlebells, and other miscellaneous items. When multiple heavier items ship together, it is generally less expensive to pay for shipping than to have blanket free shipping on the order.
After seeing that price difference side-by-side, it kinda makes you wonder how much extra income is made off the “free shipping” over there at Fringe, right? Being in Texas, they are even in a better geographical location than Rogue for shipping across the US. Sketchy!
End of the day, you still have to figure out what’s best for your situation (or location.) Rogue gets some of the best shipping rates in the industry and they pass those low rates on to us. Vulcan does free shipping on most items, but their pricing is typically so good with shipping built in that the free shipping is never an issue. Companies like Rep who charge shipping all the time are great in some situations (items that ship UPS ground, or large orders that load up a pallet) yet not so great in others (big, heavy single-item orders that ship freight; unless you live relatively close.)
When it comes down to it, both free shipping and paid shipping have their pros and cons, and it’s up to you to do your homework and get your quotes.
Tips to Save on Shipping
- If you are making a purchase that needs to ship LTL (freight), try to use that opportunity to purchase any additional items that you may need. Once you pay for a pallet, adding weight does little (sometimes nothing) to the cost. In a way you are giving yourself free shipping on the rest of your order.
- Rogue is one of the only companies that gives us an opportunity once per year to get anything we want regardless of size or weight shipped for only $5, and they do this on Black Friday. If you’re looking at a $500 freight bill on an order and it’s getting close to the end of November, maybe just wait a minute.
- If you’re getting a freight quote that seems excessive, call a carrier yourself and request your own quote. There’s no reason a retailer should have a problem with you arranging your own delivery on a large order unless they mark up their shipping for profit; in which case look elsewhere anyway.
- Many vendors that offer free shipping on weights and bumper plates have a surcharge for the zones furthest from them. This is most common with companies on either coast, and less common with companies that are centrally located. If you’re being subjected to this surcharge, find a closer dealer (assuming that you can match quality).
- If you live anywhere near Columbus (Rogue), Charlotte (Vulcan), San Diego (American Barbell), Denver (Rep), Austin (Onnit), Buford (Pure Strength), or any other major, reputable brand’s warehouse, go pick up your new equipment up yourself (you may need to make an appointment; so don’t just show up.)
- If you live in a rural area, up in the mountains, on an island, or in any other inconvenient area for carriers, your best bet may be to take advantage of free shipping vendors since shipping to you is always higher than normal.
- Best advice ever? Don’t live in Alaska or Hawaii unless you’re made of money.
Understand though… when you need an item with a high level or performance or durability and this product can only be purchased from a small handful of places, you pretty much just have to pay whatever the vendor charges for shipping. Like if you need a power rack on par with a Rogue Monster, well the shipping is just the shipping because you’re not going to get a beast like that just anywhere.
What About the Titans?
If you’re wondering how companies like Titan can offer free shipping on their entire product line while having prices that are competitive with even the weakest of dealers, it is because they’re selling you cheaply-made goods. Cheap labor, cheap materials, cheap everything.
Rep, Rogue, Vulcan, Pure, and all the other legitimate equipment vendors out there are not ripping you off, they just aren’t selling you scrap metal garbage welded together by Chinese laborers making 12 cents an hour. Tell yourself whatever you need to, but the Titans of the world are not “hooking you up”; I can assure you that they are making their profit margins. I can also assure you that embedded in the price of every Titan product is the shipping cost.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and there’s no such thing as free shipping on heavy equipment!
So Should You Pay For Shipping On Strength Equipment?
Yes. You always do. The only real question is how will you pay for it.