Are you familiar with shipping Zones? Depending on where you’re located, your shipment’s final destination resides in a specific “Zone” numbered from 1-9. Usually, the higher number your shipment’s zone, the further away it is and the more expensive it is to ship (although like with anything in the world, there are exceptions).
With a combination of USPS shipping services and knowledge of changes in shipping rates based on the weight and zone of your shipment, you can select a service that best suits your package based on its final destination and how heavy it is.
Setting the stage
To start off, if you’re thinking about which shipping service is cheapest for a package that is 13 oz. or lighter, there is nothing cheaper than First Class Package delivery from USPS. This guide will be for packages that are heavier than 13 oz.
The three shipping services we’re going to use are USPS Priority Mail, USPS Flat Rate, and USPS Regional Rate. These three are reliable services that all make up for each other’s weaknesses, so we’ll divert to one of the three for each package type example. A quick review of each of these services:
- Flat Rate: No weight limit, ships for the same price regardless of Zone, but needs to fit inside of a specific sized box, or price can go up sharply
- Priority Mail: Price increases per lb. of your package, price increases the higher the Zone number, no sharp dimension restrictions
- Regional Rate: 3 weight tiers, price increases the higher the Zone number, also needs to fit in a specific box, but they are generally larger that Flat Rate’s smaller boxes.
We’ll use examples for 4 types of packages: Lighter packages that travel a short distance, heavier packages that travel a short distance, lighter packages that travel a long distance, and heavier packages that travel a long distance.
Great, now that we have that squared away, let’s see which service type saves you the most money!
Cheapest way to ship lighter packages over a short distance
Packages that need to travel a short distance usually immediately eliminate the value of shipping Flat Rate. Flat Rate is a great service in many instances, but for short distances there is usually something superior, however, the Small USPS Flat Rate Box is a reasonable deal for small packages traveling a short distance, especially if they are on the heavier side. So deciding on a lighter, short distance package we’ll compare Regional Rate vs Priority Mail.
The lightest package type for Regional Rate is under 15lbs. and prices start to increase at a more dramatic pace around Zones 5 and up. For Zones 1-4, if your package is under 2lbs, then Priority Mail is a good choice, and only barely beats Regional Rate in price. If it’s 2lbs-15lbs, Regional Rate is the winner in terms of how much you pay.
Winner for short distance, lighter packages: Regional Rate
Cheapest way to ship light packages traveling a long distance
Contrasting to short distance shipments, for long distance Regional Rate basically eliminates itself from contention, as it loses out to Flat Rate and Priority Mail in most circumstances. For this package type, we’ll focus on Flat Rate and Priority Mail.
One weakness of Flat Rate is that if you can’t fit your package in their Small box, then you have settle on a much higher pricing chart for Medium and Large options. Priority Mail only focuses on the weight of the item being shipped and doesn’t have this limitation.
Once your package passes the 3lb-4lb threshold, the prices start to increase at a rapid rate for the higher Zones, so when your package is within the 4lb-15lb range, Flat Rate can win even when using Medium size boxes. However, due to the freedom of not being limited by the box size gives Priority Mail a slight advantage in this category.
Winner for long distance, lighter packages: Priority Mail
Cheapest way to ship heavy packages over a short distance
If there’s one thing about Priority Mail, is it gets expensive fast as the weight goes up. There are few scenarios where Priority Mail will beat Flat Rate and Regional Rate when the packages start getting heavy.
The smallest box from Regional Rate is comparable to the Medium Flat Rate box. For short distance Zones, Regional Rate beats Flat Rate in most circumstances. If a Small Flat Rate Box can actually hold your heavier item, it can beat out Regional Rate in a few instances, but not many.
Winner for short distance, heavier packages: Regional Rate
Cheapest way to ship heavier packages over a long distance
Finally our last package type, and probably the least common type of item shipped. Bigger, heavier items that need to travel far tend to be on the more expensive end of the shipping spectrum. Without even going over specific examples, this is where Flat Rate shines. “If it fits, it ships” is the line people associate with Flat Rate, and the nice thing about it is Flat Rate doesn’t take the Zone into account when calculating rates, so it ships for the same price to Zone 1 as it does to Zone 9. It’s safe to say that in many cases, Flat Rate wins here.
Winner for long distance, heavier packages: Flat Rate
So there you have it. Regional Rate packages win 2 out of the 4 contests for best service to save money on shipping based on utilizing Zones. This is interesting because there is not a lot of information on Regional Rate out there, and you can only order Regional Rate boxes from USPS.com as they aren’t available at your local post office. All three services give you free box options, although with Priority Mail you can choose to supply your own if you want.
The biggest takeaway here is that knowing more about shipping and how it works, the more chances you have to save money on your business expenses. Know your Zones, weight restrictions, and the unique services and supplies available to you as an eCommerce seller.
Some resources to help you with Zones:
- Find shipment Zone based on ZIP Code on USPS.gov
- Information on Regional Rate Service
- Order Regional Rate Boxes from USPS