Assuming you ship physical goods to your end customer, at some point you’ll need to figure out how you will be getting your products to their destinations. There are a multitude of different ways to ship packages and it can get quite confusing deciding what the best option is for your online store.
I’ll provide a breakdown of the 3 biggest shipping carriers and when or why you should ever use them. I will rate these 3 services based on following criteria: price and reliability.
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United States Postal Service (USPS)
USPS is by far the cheapest shipping option if your parcel weighs less than 2 pounds. Parcels weighing 13 ounces or less that qualify for first class postage are even cheaper to ship. At the present time, USPS offers 3 main shipping services
- First Class Mail – Arrives within 2-5 business days
- Priority Mail – Arrives within 2-3 business days
- Express Mail – 1 – 2 business days depending on location
If you are on a shipping budget and you typically ship items weighing less than 2 pounds, choosing USPS is a no brainer. If your parcel weighs over 2 pounds and it can fit in a priority mail flat rate box, USPS is a fantastic deal.
The Express mail option is by far the most inexpensive next day delivery service offered in the US. The only problem with Express Mail is that USPS only offers 2nd day delivery to remote locations. So if your customer lives in Podunk, Wyoming, it will definitely take 2 days for your parcel to arrive there.
The low price of choosing USPS to ship your parcels comes at the expense of reliability. Besides Express Mail, USPS does not guarantee the delivery date of any of your parcels. What this means is that you can never predict exactly when a parcel will arrive.
I’ve even had a few cases where a package took over 3 weeks to arrive at the destination. This can be unacceptable to the customer so you have to take into account the risks.
The other problem with USPS is that they provide inaccurate tracking. Sometimes, the tracking only kicks in once your parcel has reached its destination which makes it pretty useless.
You can always negotiate with UPS for lower rates if you ship a large volume of packages. For the purposes of my analysis, I’m going to assume out of the box pricing.
UPS shipping costs tend to be on the higher side. I’m not sure exactly why the non-negotiated prices are so high but I suspect its because UPS is unionized. It really only becomes economical to ship UPS if your package exceeds 3 pounds. In addition to ground shipping, UPS also offers 3 day, 2 day and next day shipping depending on your needs.
UPS is one of the most reliable shipping carriers available. At any time, you can track your package to find out exactly where it is. In my experience, they are almost always on time.
Fed Ex used to only be known for their next day delivery service. For a while now, they’ve been offering a ground service as well at really low prices. Fed Ex is cheaper than UPS and USPS for packages exceeding 3 pounds. If you sign up for an account, you get an additional 15% off shipping right off the bat as well.
As far as I can tell, Fed Ex is just as reliable as UPS if not more so. They also offer detailed tracking of your package every step of the way.
Choosing The Right Shipping Carrier
If price is your main concern, then go with USPS for packages up to 2 pounds. If your package is really heavy, consider using the Priority Mail flat rate boxes if your item will fit in the box.
You can also further reduce your shipping costs by going with a USPS provider called ShippingEasy.com. For almost all of the services that the United States Postal Service provides, ShippingEasy.com can provide you with significant discounts on shipping.
Also, all of the other shipping carriers like FedEx, UPS, USPS and DHL are nicely integrated into a single interface. Check them out as the service is 100% free for up to 50 shipments per month.
Otherwise, Fed Ex is your next economical option. I really don’t see a reason to use UPS at all unless you can negotiate down the prices. I’ve heard that for large businesses, UPS can get very aggressive on pricing.
Since this blog is about small businesses, Fed Ex will most likely be the cheaper option. Make sure you negotiate!
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Steve Chou is a highly recognized influencer in the ecommerce space and has taught thousands of students how to effectively sell physical products online over at ProfitableOnlineStore.com.
His blog, MyWifeQuitHerJob.com, has been featured in Forbes, Inc, The New York Times, Entrepreneur and MSNBC.
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To stay up to date with all of the latest ecommerce trends, Steve runs a 7 figure ecommerce store, BumblebeeLinens.com, with his wife and puts on an annual ecommerce conference called The Sellers Summit.
Steve carries both a bachelors and a masters degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University. Despite majoring in electrical engineering, he spent a good portion of his graduate education studying entrepreneurship and the mechanics of running small businesses.
49 thoughts on “How to Choose a Shipping Carrier (USPS, UPS, FedEx)”
How about DHL? I did a quick check on prices, an DHL was cheaper than UPS Ground.
We actually haven’t checked recently. I’ll check DHL and see how it compares to FedEx and update this post.
Why don’t you also check out USPS tracking and update that.
USPS tracking is now on par with UPS and FedEx.
So I did a few price comparisons of DHL and FedEx and FedEx is slightly cheaper. If you tack on the automatic 15% off you get for signing up for an account, fedex becomes a no brainer. There aren’t as many DHL locations as well which makes it more difficult to do a drop off.
Thanks for this valuable information! I’m going with Fed Ex.
Thanks so much for this blog – at least now I know I made the right choice with Fedex.
Do you happen to know of any economical ways to ship large packages overseas?
Thanks for this! Fed Ex looks like the one to go with. Thank you so much
The USPS regular mail “tracking” function actually hurts more than it helps because it frequently shows that packages have been delivered when they haven’t been (this happens to me more than I care to think about). The packages almost always get delivered within the next 48 hours, but my good friend, who runs a small custom stationery business, says that she often spends that interim dealing with customers who think she’s trying to pull a fast one, or who want a re-ship via FedEx. First she just stopped providing customers with tracking numbers for non-Express Mail packages, and now she does most of her business via FedEx anyway; she said it was more expensive but worth the decrease in headaches, as even with Express Mail packages sometimes didn’t show up for a week and trying to get the USPS to do something about it was like going through the looking glass.
USPS Tracking is hit or miss because the workers will not scan the package into the tracking system about 80% of the time unless you ask them to. (I guess it saves time or perhaps if it gets lost then no record of the package received) I always take my packages to the local office and ask them to scan it into the tracking system. On the destination side, I often know within 2 hours if the package has been delivered. I have had only 1 package destroyed while in their possession, I gave the local Postmaster an earful about it though and he filled out the insurance form for me and apologized – Lord knows they can’t afford to lose any more business.
Most of my customers are so amazed when something I ship arrives within 3 business days of their purchase (2 if the local Post Office is still open when they place their order) that I get people begging me to start selling this and that, so they can buy it from me in the future. That only happens because I have everything ready to go and only a shipping label needed and a short trip to put in the carriers hands. I never have to fear tracking info – it works in my favor. I only ship in Priority flat rate boxes.
You need to speak with a USPS sales rep. They can really enlighten you about your misconceptions.
I can totally relate to your stories especially with Express Mail. I’ve had packages marked as delivered when they haven’t been just so USPS doesn’t have to payout their “Money back guarantee”. USPS is by far the least reliable but their prices are hard to beat.
We’ve pretty much switched over to Fedex for all large orders but still use USPS for small and light packages.
If USPS is “by far the least reliable” how did they rank #1 for most reliable over the 2019 holiday season for on time deliveries. 86% USPS, 80% UPS, and 68% FedEx. Amazon Prime stopped using FedEx Ground over the 2019 holiday season because of being unreliable….just saying.
They all have their faults, it is just the sheer volume that USPS deals with. They deliver to over 159 million addresses, six days a week…FedEx and UPS just deliver packages to a very small number comparatively so you will have less complaints but when you compare apples to apples, USPS shines.
Great review. I have a small e-bay store where I buy, sell and ship large and expensive high end guitars. While my products would usually qualify for USPS Parcel Service, I wouldn’t even think of using this method for shipping anything larger than a shoe box or worth more than a couple hundred bucks. Anytime I receive notice something large and expensive I have purchased has been shipped parcel post, I loose all color and my palms begin to sweat. USPS tracking amounts to no more than a perverse joke. Why even bother. No wonder they are going broke. On the other hand, FedEX, UPS and DHL to name a few have sophisticated tracking software that can follow your shipment portal to portal. They also provide advanced services such as hold for pickup or redirecting a shipment. I agree for small flat rate, express or priority mail USPS is fine but for large and expensive products, leave the transportation to the shipping pros.
I never use USPS Parcel Service. The only time that I did the package took over 3 weeks to arrive. I prefer UPS or Fedex ground for heavier stuff.
Hi, I’m wondering if you can tell me where to get the grayish color plastic self sealing bags ?
I’vereceived a number of items in these bags & they seem great for light weight none breakable items. Thank you
You can order the silver plastic shipping bags on eBay or Amazon.
I’m trying to ship a bunch of tshirts to Denmark and when I look up shipping on the USPS site it’s like $80 a box. But I keep seeing other online stores offering international shipping for like $20. How are they doing it so cheap? With delivery times still generally less than two weeks – I’m guessing they are not using Cargo Freight.
I just did a search on the USPS website and I’m seeing $24 first class international for a 2lb package which should be more than enough for a few t shirts.
Thanks! I actually have more than 100 but at least I know I’m looking in the right place. I’m guessing the $19.95 price are not for bulk orders. That would make more sense. Thanks. By the way – LOVE your blog and will be ordering your class soon. Thanks for all the great info.
I run shipping for a large distributor with many locations. I have found your article to be accurate for the most part but perhaps I can add a few tips to help someone decide. True, USPS is cheaper but the tracking is useless. Having a customer call and ask about an order and having no information simply cant occur so I am ruling USPS out. Of the two biggies UPS and Fed Ex I would say the technology edge goes to UPS. If your a volume shipper both will negotiate but in the end UPS will usually come in cheaper on Domestic services while Fed Ex will come in cheaper on the International side. One thing to remember is both guarrantee their delivery times and if you have a 3PL watching for GSRs you can reduce your overall shipping costs by 2% annually.
Need some automated tool to watch delivery time of each shipment and submit claim within 15 days. Almost worthless effort doing this manually. You can try Lateshipment.com to automate the claim process.
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What is the best shipping carrier to use if I want my package tracked from the US to Indonesia, 8 ounce package, and how do I purchase the tracking. Because I shipped something there last week and the tracking stopped in Chicago how do I now it was delivered.
I’ve been personally thinking for setting up a new online store but I didn’t get from where to start and how can I ships/parcel my products to my customers destination at a reasonable price. Thanks David for suggesting valuable information.
You can save cost upto 12% by claiming refunds for the late deliveries by UPS or FedEx. Even 60 seconds late is eligible for claiming the refund of the full shipping charges. Try Lateshipment.com
Helpful post,,,now days shipping become more risky… need to find proper shipping services company to fulfill users expectations…
Great info, thanks for sharing!
I contacted a company called Segmail (segmail.co) and got amazing deals with FedEx and DHL! Also the service is amazing! Basically they are brokers for this companies and because of the volume they manage they can offer you great discounts!
(619) 784 8886
FedEx BEATS USPS!! Thank you for the great post.
Just wanted to give you some updated information that can help you give people more reliable information. I have shipped with multiple carriers and some of the information is not correct or outdated. All UPS and FX both have the same ground base. The difference is that UPS has retail, published, and negotiated rates Available virtually to anyone that asks. Once you get your auto discount for setting an account you will see them match the published FX. In addition, FX actually has higher air base rates than UPS, but people generally don’t know that because you have to have an account established to even have access to knowing that. All in all UPS can be more competitive if negotiated rates are applied when comparing the two. It’s also a benefit having one driver for all packages versus having a different one appear for air, ground, home delivery, and God knows what else. UPS also has drop boxes that can be used for both air and ground which is convienient for me. DHL may have a lot of pull for international but UPS and FX have a more reliable Svc for international with better tracking ability. They all can get just as competitive. Any small business right now can achieve getting at least 65% off with UPS too. Bottom line negotiate rates will get you much better rates than you can imagine with a reliable service behind it. Leave the low values and less time sensitive to USPS. Another note is UPS also invests more in technology and network than any other carrier so you will most likely have the most up to day tracking, solutions, and services with them. Have you ever heard of mychoice? If not you are missing out. Just google it. If you don’t believe me just call them and ask. UPS have been around for over a century of that says anything.
PCA is not reliable for baggage transport services http://cargoprimeway.com/ always used fairly large size luggage, and very low prices.
I’m kind of weird in the sense that I don’t have an allegiance to a certain carrier. It pretty much comes down to whoever is closer. As long as they have the mailing containers I need, I’m fine.
Fedex SUCKS. Badly. Read the full story here:
Very accurate insights! Like many small business owners, I had to learn and make these assessments that hard way. I was thrilled to stumble upon this blog and gain some affirmation for many of my shipping decisions. I rely on all three carriers, but believe in building a strong account with at least one of the major commercial carriers (Fedex or UPS). In hopes of not repeating some of the previous comments I’d like to add a few tips from my experience operating our cross-border ecommerce business, kreyolessence.com:
UPS: I wouldn’t be quick to discount UPS. We’ve kept our UPS account for three main reasons; 1. Saturday deliveries. When you have a last minute tradeshow, popup shop or simply have an urgent delivery having this option is a lifeline. 2. The UPS Store; Using this in-conjunction with MyChoice, we’ve been able to intercept packages, adjust in-transit shipments or arrange pickup at a store. Additionally, since many UPS Stores are franchises, you can benefit from excellent customer service and flexibility with your local UPS Store owner. 3. Apart from DHL they have stronger footprints in the Caribbean where our business is based.
FEDEX: We’ve been building most of our business with Fedex. We have found them to be the most reliable and best solution for our bulk packages and international shipments. We have vendors in China and have been able to receive small to medium size parcels quickly and efficiently. Customs & Duties are easy for our customers in Canada and in Europe. If there’s a delivery exception or paperwork is missing, we get a call from a rep which is unheard of these days!
I really like the idea to choose a delivery service that offers excellent tracking options. My wife wants to have some important family heirlooms delivered to her. I think that she should look into hiring a service that has a reputable record.
Thank you for sharing. Great content.
I wish I came across this article before. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you so much forgiving this such valuable post one more time.
Hi Steve! Thanks for your comparison, looks like I made perfect choice as stick with FedEx while making shipments across US, in addition I use Ecoparcel when I need European delivery – they are at great balance in price-reliability ( check rates here: https://www.ecoparcel.eu/en/from-italy-to-united-kingdom/ ), integrated tracking system into their web is also great advantage to ensure your customers that shipping is in progress. What is your feedback regarding EU delivery providers? Did you make any research of them? Would be very interested to read it.
Thanks for the awesome information, some people really are not aware of the differences. By now they can choose what’s best for them when sending packages. A better understanding of the services and prices is what we need. Cheers!
Do you know anything about international shipping or have any advice about it?
Timely relevant! Forgot to mention on the lists, Parcelbound! Highly reliable! Out of a list of all forwarding services. I used them shipping my products globally and never been disappoint with the service ever since.
USPS is worthless. There is NO customer service. NONE. I wish I could post a screen shot of my phone’s history proving forty-one (41) consecutive calls to their customer service number, resulting in one (1) actual exchange with a human who told me to call the SAME 800 number when she couldn’t (or didn’t want to) deal with the shipping issue.
Sellers who use USPS rather than FedEx convey an unprofessional impression. It may be cheaper, but USPS employees are held to no standards whatsoever; it’s a government-run bureaucratic farce. A FedEx employee’s behavior is at least monitored by superiors and the corporation’s success is dependent on customer service.
No question this is the place to get this info, thank you all.
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