This article has been updated to reflect 2020 postage rates
Any e-commerce seller will tell you that it’s very easy to overspend on shipping. This is often not because sellers are careless, it’s because they’re unaware of the options available to them—and don’t have the time to learn. Let’s take a look at some common shipping pitfalls e-commerce sellers face, with alternatives and suggestions that can help you save money on shipping every day.
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 similarly to flat rate boxes. The only real difference is there are three weight tiers (compared to Flat Rate’s acceptance of any weight) and a shipping rate that varies based on the 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.
Below are some examples of when Regional Rate actually beats Flat Rate:
Comparison: Regional vs. Flat Rate (For packages up to 15 lbs.)
Regional Rate Box A
10" x 7" x 4 3/4"
Flat Rate Medium
11" x 8 1/2" x 5 1/2"
|Houston to Miami||$9.01||$13.75|
|New York to Los Angeles||$12.64||$13.75|
|Dallas to San Antonio||$8.04||$13.75|
For further discussion and details, read our article on Regional Rate Boxes. There we go into more depth with specific example prices, a full regional rates table, and provide 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 sometimes even beats Flat Rate on price, particularly on packages that are only a couple pounds and traveling to Zone 4 or closer.
3lb Package, Houston to Miami:
Priority Mail: $9.54
Small Flat Rate Box: $7.65
Medium Flat Rate Box: $13.20
*Rates shown are USPS Commercial Rates, available through ShippingEasy
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, and using shipping software like ShippingEasy can make finding the right combination a lot easier with the best rates. Use this handy Priority Mail calculator to compare rates.
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 USPS 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, take advantage of 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 USPS, as a lot of the benefits of using FedEx and UPS are steadily being matched by the USPS. On top of that, USPS does not have surcharges and delivers on Saturdays for free.
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 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 (USPS implemented dimensional weight across the board this year as well) in June 2019. In some cases, the dimensional weight of a package is higher than its actual weight, and each carrier will charge you 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 recent increases, you will now find savings in packing lighter items in smaller boxes, wherever possible. Size really does matter.
4: Your packaging is driving up your costs
Are you putting everything in boxes? You may want to reconsider, wherever possible.
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 15.999 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.
Where are you getting your boxes and envelopes? Are you purchasing them from a supplies store?
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 it’s great that shipping carriers are trying to help online sellers, it can make understanding and selecting services complicated.
Shipping software helps untangle the options and reduce the time and money you spend on shipping. A robust platform takes shipping and other tasks off your hands so you can get back to what’s important—running your business! Try ShippingEasy free for 30 days to see how much time and money you can save.
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