When you’re choosing between USPS, UPS, and Fedex for ecommerce shipping, things like tracking, speed, and reliability earn a spot on your radar. But when you’re an ecommerce company shipping parcels in bulk, the rate is also very much at the top of your list.
The “free shipping” facade has placed a lot of pressure on online store owners. Amazon and other large companies have set a high bar to the point where most online everywhere they shop.
In response, some retailers are building shipping costs into their product so they can tout the “free” aspect. Others are offering flat-rate shipping and only passing on some of the cost to their customers. No matter what’s in your shipping strategy, finding a reasonably priced shipping partner can be worth its weight in gold.
How We Chose the Best Ecommerce Shipping Options
Choosing the cheapest e-commerce shipping with the three biggest logistics companies in the U.S. is a bit complex. Rates are constantly changing based on demand and time of year (e.g. shipping is more expensive during the holidays). Lead times and distance also affect the price.
So when you ask vague questions like “What is the cheapest e-commerce shipping option?”, you’re not going to get a clear answer.
That’s why we explored multiple scenarios to help you choose the cheapest option based on specific parameters. We compared shipping rates from USPS, UPS, and Fedex to see where your money will be best spent.
Here’s our take on choosing an ecommerce shipping partner based on price alone.
Best for Flat Rate Shipping: USPS
UPS doesn’t offer flat-rate shipping, so it comes down between Fedex and USPS. Each company offers multiple options, so we compared a few of them.
USPS Small Flat Rate Box
- Dimensions: 8 5/8″ x 5 3/8″ x 1 5/8″
Ideal for: Small electronics, documents
Fedex Small Box
- Dimensions: 8-3/4″ x 2-5/8″ x 11-1/4″
Ideal for: A book, a small stack of magazines
Cost: Starting at $9.95
USPS Medium Flat Rate Box
- Dimensions: 11″ x 8 1/2″ x 5 1/2″ or 13 5/8″ x 11 7/8″ x 3 3/8″
Ideal for: A pair of shoes, office supplies
Fedex Medium Box
- Dimensions: 8-3/4″ x 4-3/8″ x 11-1/4″
Ideal for: Notebooks, 1-2 articles of clothing
Cost: Starting at $12.95
USPS Large Flat Rate Box
- Dimensions: 12″ x 12″ x 5 1/2″
Ideal for: Laptop computers, medium-sized gifts
Fedex Large Box
- Dimensions: 8-3/4″ x 7-3/4″ x 11-1/4″
Ideal for: Board games, soccer balls
Cost: Starting at $20
Even though two out of three of Fedex starting prices came in lower, USPS gives more overall value.
Their boxes are bigger compared to Fedex.
Plus, Fedex’s “flat rates” are still contingent on destination and delivery speed. So, there’s a chance you’re paying more than what’s listed here.
Best for Lightweight Packages: USPS
When we say lightweight packages, we’re talking about packages under one pound. This is often the case for small-scale e-commerce shipping companies who are shipping single or small items.
If you’re basing your decision on price alone, USPS wins hands down. A package weighing less than a pound can be transported across the country for less than $10 using USPS Retail Ground. And if you’re shipping something even smaller and more lightweight (under 13oz) you can use USPS First Class mail to save even more.
For comparison, a package of the same size and weight with UPS or Fedex would be closer to double this amount.
Best for Heavy Packages: UPS
One of the downsides of using USPS for package shipping is they cap their weight limits at 70 pounds. Many large packages exceed this amount, so USPS simply isn’t an option.
Aside from their flexibility in handling large packages, they also have superior tracking. Since large packages are often synonymous with expensive, their tracking can actually save you a lot of money if there’s a hangup with delivery.
Best Overnight Shipping Option: UPS
Any overnight shipping is going to cost you quite a bit more money. We ran a few tests using online shipping calculators for UPS, Fedex, and USPS.
According to UPS, it would cost $47.80 to overnight a medium-sized package valued at $50 from New York to Atlanta.
A comparable-sized package with USPS would cost roughly $63.30 using the same New York-Atlanta route.
Using the online calculator for Fedex, the cheapest overnight option is $95.63. Even their two-day shipping option is higher than UPS.
With no other factors considered, UPS takes the cake on cheapest overnight shipping.
Best 2-Day Shipping Option: USPS
When you look at the prices for two-day shipping, you might wonder how Amazon can afford to offer it for free — on every Prime order. It’s not cheap, no matter how you slice it.
We used the same parameters as our overnight shipping comparison: a medium-sized package (about 5 lbs) traveling from New York to Atlanta.
If we chose Fedex, we’d be paying a minimum of $41.49. (Fedex has multiple options for 2-day shipping, depending on the time of day the item will be delivered.)
For UPS, the price for a real two-day delivery is $50.85. However, in our calculation, this put the delivery date on a Saturday, which could drive up the price. If we’re sticking to just normal business days, the earliest delivery would be Monday, where the price drops as low as $16.15. This is pretty cheap, albeit not technically two-day shipping.
Last but not least, USPS charges $15.50 for a Medium Flat-Rate box delivered via Priority Mail 2-Day. However, it puts our delivery date on Monday, which isn’t technically two days based on our calculations.
All else aside, USPS wins the two-day price war this time.
Final Thoughts on Choosing Ecommerce Shipping
Cost is one of many factors that go into choosing an ecommerce shipping partner. There’s also a matter of insurance, reliability, tracking, package weight, desired delivery date, pickup scheduling, and the type of item you’re shipping. For example, high ticket items may benefit from UPS’ robust tracking system, while food and perishables may fare better with Fedex.
No matter which carrier you choose, Zenventory now takes care of all your shipping needs from a single interface and makes it easy to identify the best real-time pricing available right at the time of shipment. Schedule a demo to see how Zenventory can bring balance and clarity to your shipping processes.