Many people (a majority?) with internet shops use only USPS and are satisfied with the service. For certain applications, that is really the only prudent choice to be made. However, there are instances where other options should be explored in the interest of customer service and/or cost. Let’s look at the strengths and weaknesses of the two types of carriers.
- Simple to use and access
- Range of services and pricing
- Delivers to all addresses and PO Boxes
- No surcharges
- Free pickup and Priority Flat Rate boxes
I believe generally the best use for the USPS services are for light, lower-value items, certain heavier shipments that fit into Flat Rate Boxes, and shipments to PO, APO*, FPO* Boxes, Alaska, and Hawaii.
UPS – FedEx Ground Pros
- 24 hour, toll free customer service help
- Published, guaranteed delivery dates
- Superior tracking and tracing
- Free insurance
- More likely to meet delivery commitments during peak seasons
- Easier claims process
I believe the best use for the commercial carriers’ ground service is for heavier shipments (3+ pounds) that are delicate and/or valuable. These shipments should be to the continental 48 states. Shipments of any weight over a cubic foot in dimension, and more than five zones (more than about 900 miles) away are also candidates for this service.
Interestingly enough, even with the myriad of surcharges, the commercial carriers’ prices even without discounts are often close or can beat USPS pricing. With available discounts, the pricing is even more competitive. Couple pricing with the distinct service advantages and UPS and FedEx are enticing choices.
In my “Free Shipping Boxes” post earlier I talked about a strategy where not using a Priority Flat Rate Box would actually save money even though you use your own box and the same Priority Mail service. Well, what about an example where a commercial carrier might be a better option than one of the USPS options?
Let’s say your have a five pound residential shipment worth $100 going cross country (Zone 8) to a non-rural address. The item(s) are too large to fit in even the largest Flat Rate Box. Your alternatives are:
- USPS Standard Mail $14.20 Delivers in 5-7 Days, Insurance Extra
- USPS Parcel Select $13.81 Delivers in 5-7 Days, Insurance Extra
- USPS Priority Mail $18.70 Delivers in 2-3 Days, Insurance Extra
- UPS/FedEx Home Delivery $14.10 Delivers in 5 Days Guaranteed and Free insurance
You’d have to look carefully at the commercial option. If the item is worth close to $100 or more, the choice might be easier.
Next up, strategies for using USPS and the commercial carriers.
* Definitions: APO = Army/Air Force Post Office. FPO = Fleet or Field Post Office.