A Comprehensive US Shipping Carrier Comparison

US Shipping Carrier Comparison

A Comprehensive US Shipping Carrier Comparison

Shipping parcels within the US is a practice as old as the country itself. Why is it so complicated? That’s a tough question to answer, but our goal in this and subsequent posts is to explain the nuances of working with each US shipping carrier.

By the end of this series of articles, you should:

  1. Be able to identify which carriers and service levels are likely ideal for your business
  2. Understand how carriers charge for their services
  3. Understand the hidden fees carriers charge
  4. Be ready to explore creative solutions by combining different carriers and/or service levels to achieve the customer experience you’re hoping for, at an expense you can afford

The US shipping carrier landscape

There are three primary shipping carriers used by e-commerce brands, and one “other” category:

  • The United States Postal Service (USPS)
  • FedEx
  • United Parcel Service (UPS)
  • “Other” includes smaller regional or niche carriers, as well as other unique hybrid offerings such as DHL E-Commerce and Pitney Bowes where USPS typically handles the last mile for delivery.

Let’s dive into each carrier’s offerings. First up, we’ll start with the US Postal Service. In our next posts, we’ll take a closer look at FedEx, UPS, and others. If you prefer the shortcut version of this analysis, you can download our one-page US shipping carrier comparison table.

USPS Overview

First Class Parcel

Technically, First Class Parcel is similar to sending a stamped letter. However, starting many years ago, First Class Parcel shipping now includes door-to-door tracking. Let’s dive in…

This tracking is nearly as detailed and confidence-inspiring as FedEx and UPS, but sometimes you will notice slightly fewer updates in transit.

Speaking of which, time in transit is 2 – 6 business days, including Saturdays.

Pricing is ideal for shipments that weigh less than 1 pound (16 ounces), running between $4 – $7 USD, depending on the exact shipment weight and customer location. In fact, First Class Mail is not an option for parcels weighing over 1 pound. Anything over 1 pound must ship via Priority Mail or Express Mail, when using USPS.

You may notice USPS often advertises 13 ounces as the maximum for First Class Mail, but anyone who signs up for a typical account with a postage provider like Stamps.com, ShipStation, Shippo, etc. (or works with any 3PL) will be able to leverage First Class Mail up to 1 pound (16 ounces).

Rush Order commonly recommends First Class Parcel for lightweight and lower value items. Although First Class is an incredibly reliable service, the slightly less granular tracking detail and historically negative consumer perception of USPS generally sway Rush Order clients away from USPS for higher value shipments. “Value”, as used in this context, refers to both real and perceived value by end customers. Public perception of USPS has improved over the years, but the Postal Service’s well-documented financial woes persist in the news lately and continue to drag on the brand.

USPS Priority Mail is a great affordable option for most shipments in the 1 – 5 pound range. Above this range, the pricing tends to be expensive relative to other options.

Priority Mail time in transit is a very quick 1 – 3 business days anywhere in the US, again including Saturdays.

Priority Mail costs range from roughly $7 – $10 below 5 pounds, again depending on customer location.

One very nice thing about using USPS is there are no unpredictable and downright obnoxious surcharges to deal with. The price you see for First Class Mail and Priority Mail is the price you pay. For comparison, FedEx and UPS will assess a multitude of surcharges for things like address corrections, recipients living outside of “normal” delivery areas, fuel, any many more. Here’s the exhaustive surcharge list for 2022 from FedEx.

USPS Express Mail is less commonly used by Rush Order clients, mostly because any shipment important enough for fast delivery is usually routed through FedEx or UPS for day-definite overnight or two day delivery.

Express Mail is a 1-2 day service (usually overnight), but it still feels a little less certain than the options from FedEx and UPS. Express Mail can also be just as expensive as FedEx and UPS.

Ground, Parcel Select, Media Mail, and other domestic mailing services are offered by USPS, but we won’t go into detail on those here, mostly because they are rarely used by hardware product and e-commerce shippers (i.e. Rush Order’s typical clients). These are bargain offerings and may be worth a look for lower value items.

USPS can export your shipments internationally. As of this writing in September 2022, door to door tracking is available when shipping from the US to 45 other countries around the world where “ePacket service” exists.

When exporting, First Class Parcel is available up to four pounds (up from 1 pound domestically). Priority and Express offerings exist as well.

Keep in mind the ePacket country tracking is not the best. This door to door tracking includes a “hand off” between USPS and the mail carrier in the destination country. The USPS is not delivering door to door, but the 46 ePacket countries (it’s 46 when including the US) have an agreement to deliver each other’s shipments and provide tracking updates with varying degrees of accuracy and precision. Time in transit can also vary widely by USPS service level and destination country.

So, similar to using USPS for domestic shipments, Rush Order only recommends USPS International for relatively low-value, lightweight shipments.

Here is the exact list of the 46 ePacket countries, including the US.

  1. Australia
  2. Austria
  3. Belgium
  4. Brazil
  5. Canada
  6. Croatia
  7. Denmark
  8. Estonia
  9. Finland
  10. France
  11. Germany
  12. Gibraltar
  13. Great Britain
  14. Greece
  15. Hong Kong
  16. Indonesia
  17. Hungary
  18. Ireland
  19. Israel
  20. Italy
  21. Japan
  22. Kazakhstan
  23. Latvia
  24. Lithuania
  25. Luxembourg
  26. Malaysia
  27. Malta
  28. Mexico
  29. Netherlands
  30. New Zealand
  31. Norway
  32. Poland
  33. Portugal
  34. Russia
  35. Saudi Arabia
  36. Singapore
  37. Spain
  38. South Korea
  39. Sweden
  40. Switzerland
  41. Thailand
  42. Turkey
  43. Ukraine
  44. United Kingdom
  45. United States
  46. Vietnam

Lastly, if you can avoid it, do not ever walk into a US Post Office to purchase postage. You will pay a heavy retail price. By leveraging tools mentioned above like Stamps.com, ShipStation, and Shippo, or by hiring a 3PL, you’ll instantly save money by taking advantage of the USPS “Commercial Rates”.

Please contact us if you need help obtaining USPS rate tables.

In summary, most Rush Order clients shipping domestically and internationally with USPS do so with First Class Parcel. USPS usually comes into play when our clients desire the cheapest shipping method possible and First Class Parcel is usually the cheapest option available within the USPS service levels.

In our upcoming posts, we’ll take a closer look at FedEx and UPS. In the meantime, While many nuances exist, the Rush Order team prepared this basic comparison guide for your US domestic shipping options. Please review and contact us if you have any questions. No obligation. We’re happy to help.