Updated 4/5/2017 to reflect new postage rates
If there is one thing with shipping that’s easy to do, it’s spend more than you need to. Too many online sellers overinvest in shipping because they’re unaware of the options available – and don’t have time to learn them. I’ve highlighted some common shipping pitfalls with alternatives and suggestions to save money.
1: You use a Flat Rate Box for everything you ship.
Flat Rate Boxes are a simple way to ship. If you can fit it in the box, it ships at the same price every time. However, before you adopt this method universally across all of your shipments, there are some cases where another option might be less expensive.
Alternative 1: Regional Rate Boxes
Regional Rate Boxes work very similar to flat rate boxes. The only real differences being there are three weight tiers (compared to Flat Rate’s acceptance of any weight) and a shipping rate that varies based on distance the package will travel (broken down by shipping Zones). USPS provides the boxes for FREE and if your shipment is headed to Zone 1-4, you’ll find this option can typically be cheaper than Flat Rate Boxes.
Some examples of when Regional Rate beats Flat Rate:
For more information, read our page on Regional Rate Boxes to learn more, view more example prices, check a regional rate table, and links to order Regional Rate Boxes from the USPS.
Alternative 2: Priority Mail
Priority Mail from USPS is often the cheapest way to get a package to its destination in 1-3 days, tracking included. When your packages are lighter, Priority Mail often beats Flat Rate on price, especially when the package comes in at 4 lbs. or lighter.
3lb Package, Houston to Miami:
Priority Mail: $11.65
Small Flat Rate Box: $7.15
Medium Flat Rate Box: $13.60
In this example, Priority Mail beats Flat Rate if your shipment is too large for a Small Flat Rate Box. There are many combinations and variables that determine the rates, so using shipping software like ShippingEasy can make finding the best rate a lot easier.
2: You’re using FedEx SmartPost and UPS SurePost
Some online sellers leverage SmartPost and SurePost for deliveries. These two services start off using FedEx/UPS, but for the “Last Mile” utilize the United States Postal Service to deliver the package to your customer’s door. There are many advantages to a setup like this, including the ability to reach any US address, utilize the strengths of each service, and give shippers lower price shipping options.
However, despite these services satisfying a need for low cost shipping, many online sellers are migrating their packages from start to finish to the United States Postal Service, as a lot of the benefits of using FedEx and UPS are steadily being matched by the USPS.
Some USPS services that rival or beat SmartPost and SurePost on features and price:
- USPS Parcel Select: The closest service to SmartPost and SurePost in terms of features. Has the benefit of being able to ship heavy items as well.
- Priority Mail: There are instances where USPS Priority Mail can be more cost effective than SmartPost and SurePost while offering a similar features.
Also, when comparing services, keep in mind USPS has improved their package tracking capabilities.
3: You aren’t considering dimensional weight changes
If you’re shipping with UPS and FedEx at all this year, then you’ve probably noticed dimensional weight is considered across all shipments, including ground. In some cases, the dimensional weight of a package is higher than its actual weight, and with the rules introduced this year, you’ll pay the higher of the two. You can find the dimensional weight of a package with our Dimensional Weight Calculator and compare it to the actual weight of your package to see if you’ll pay a higher cost.
How to make sure you’re not overspending: Measure and weigh your packages.
Given the changes, you will now find savings in packing lighter items in smaller boxes, where possible. Size really does matter.
4: Your packaging is driving up your costs
You’re putting everything in boxes.
Alternative: Poly Mailers
If you are shipping something fairly lightweight and not fragile, using a box might be overkill to package the item. Poly mailers (the grey envelopes made from polyethylene film) work great for lowering package cost. They don’t require any type of air-pouch or packing peanuts to pad your item, and if they are lighter than 13 ounces they will likely qualify for USPS First Class shipping. Some worry their items will get damaged without a box, but it’s worth considering what is being shipped. Unless it’s genuinely fragile, these mailers offer solid protection and are water, puncture and tear resistant. For those items requiring a bit more protection, you might try padded poly mailers. You can buy them for pennies online.
You’re buying your boxes and envelopes
Alternative: Get free supplies from UPS, FedEx, and USPS
UPS, FedEx, and USPS offer free branded boxes and envelopes. Whichever package type you ship with the most, make sure you stock up on supplies to avoid buying things you can get free. You can actually order these free supplies and have them delivered to your home, office or warehouse. You need a UPS/FedEx account to take advantage of their free supplies, but USPS items can be ordered directly from their site with a valid address.
Everything adds up when it comes to shipping, so if you’re spending $1 per box on your own boxes, getting free boxes from the three major carriers can significantly reduce your overall shipping spend in the long run.
Shipping can be complicated and expensive, and little costs sneak their way in at every step of the process. The major carriers all continuously update their services based on the unique needs of e-commerce sellers. Though this is great news that shipping carriers are trying to help online sellers, it can make understanding and selecting services complicated. I always recommend shipping software that can help to untangle the options and reduce the time and money you spend on shipping. It really does help online sellers get back to why they got into e-commerce in the first place – to sell stuff!