Shipping Carrier Breakdown: USPS, UPS, and FedEx
So you want to ship from home. Which carrier is right for you? How do you choose? For those who are unsure where to start, we’ve compiled a handy guide to three of the most popular shipping carriers.
Each of these major players – USPS, UPS, and FedEx – spend millions of dollars to gauge your opinion and gain your trust when it comes to shipping your package, from sponsoring Nascar stock cars to shelling out big bucks for Super Bowl ad campaigns. While they cannot all be the best carrier for your next shipment, there is one that is sure to be the right fit for you.
Of course, you’ll want to choose a carrier that helps create customer loyalty through the shipping and receiving process, so be sure to choose a shipping company that’s speedy enough for yours and your customer’s needs – even better if the carrier offers top-notch tracking!
Read on to find the best fit for you and your customers:
The United States Postal Service delivers more mail to more addresses and to a larger geographic area than any other postal service in the world, and no other organization is as accurate in terms of mail delivery as USPS. They have been delivering mail to American homes for nearly 200 years, so in terms of longevity you can’t beat them. But USPS is not without its faults. In their recent survey, Neighborhood Parcel found that that tracking shipment and delivery estimates can be inaccurate, particularly for international mail. Consumers also dislike USPS’ loss and claim processes and lack of customer service options.
Value and Pricing:
USPS wins the Best Value for Small Parcels category with its Priority Mail service that generally delivers in two to three days nationwide. For parcels under three pounds, Priority Mail consistently beats UPS and FedEx in terms of rates and delivery times. (Note, though, that UPS and FedEx Ground rates tend to beat Priority after the five-pounds-and-above marker.)
USPS averages the best overall rates for shipping everything from flat mailers to packages up to 70-lbs. However, shipping rates are based on many factors including size, distance traveled, and service speed. The type of delivery location, home or business, also factors in since both UPS and FedEx charge more for home deliveries.
Along with Priority Mail, USPS also offers a complete range of parcel and mail services, including:
- First Class Mail and Parcel
- Priority Mail
- Priority Express
- USPS Retail Ground
- Media Mail
- Special services including Certified Mail and many others
The US Postal Service has Post Office locations everywhere nationwide. Additionally, postage can be purchased and shipments can be dropped off at most retail mail centers. If you purchase and print your postage or mailing labels online, you can leave items for pickup with your daily mail. Or, if you have a number of parcels for pickup, or ship in volume regularly, you can set up free one-time or repeat pickups on USPS.com.
You can print both postage and shipping labels right from your computer using USPS.com. Or, if you need to print USPS labels in volume or set up a dedicated shipping station, try a shipping rate-comparison tool. It even works with most ecommerce platforms. Of course, you can also go into any Post Office and use their self-service shipping kiosks to print labels or get assistance at the counter. Most retail mail centers handle all types of USPS shipping, too.
USPS once charged a fee for package tracking but it’s now free for all services, even First Class Mail. Tracking barcodes print on your package labels if you purchase and print labels online, and you can even sign up to receive tracking updates via email.
USPS has locations everywhere nationwide and clerks are always on-hand to assist with shipping. They generally try to resolve your delivery issues too, but if a lost package is not in the facility, they don’t have much power to fix the issue. However, they can initiate a claim for you. You can call the toll-free number or go online to initiate a lost or damaged package claim and get the insurance ball rolling.
Along with tracking, USPS really has improved its insurance offering, too. USPS now insures Express shipments for $100 and Priority Mail for $50, with no added fees. Additional amounts and insurance on other shipping and mailing services can be purchased to cover up to $5000.
UPS has established itself as the primary package carrier in the United States, according to Neighborhood Parcel. Up until the 1980s, their core business was package delivery via Ground and Air. UPS is well-known for freight and ground shipping, and are highly recommended for heavy and bulky packages..
UPS cut its teeth in ground shipping and its parcel delivery network and record of on-time service tops the industry. UPS shipping services cover a complete range of business needs, from standard ground services to overnight time-critical deliveries, including:
- Next-Day Air Saver
- Next-Day Air Early AM
- Hundredweight – discounted multi-parcel shipments
Boasting more than 63,000 locations worldwide, it’s easy to find a UPS drop-off location. In addition to UPS service centers and numerous UPS Stores in shopping centers, you can also ship via UPS at popular business retailers such as Staples and Office Depot.
UPS does also offer pickup service, for a fee. You can schedule a one-time pickup or, if you’re a regular business shipper, you can add daily or selected-day pickups to your account for a weekly fee. If you’re a daily shipper, UPS will pick up all of your shipments: Ground, 2-day, Next-day, at one time. This differs from FedEx which requires you to request Ground and Express pickups separately based on what you’re shipping that day.
For packaging, UPS does provide a few free envelopes and mailing boxes (note: these are only for Express services). For Ground shipments or to ship Express items that don’t fit in their limited box assortment, you’ll need to purchase packaging.
Every UPS package label includes a shipment tracking number and scans are collected along every transition stage, pick up through delivery. You can follow the entire journey of your shipment through email updates or by checking tracking history within your online account or UPS shipping software. Every shipment is automatically insured up to a $100 value and additional insurance can be purchased for declared values up to $70K for domestic shipments.
You can manage customer addresses, track shipments, and print labels from your computer using UPS.com. But if you’re a volume shipper and primarily use UPS, the free UPS Worldship software will streamline your shipping process. Or if you want to get the best shipping rate on every package, use a shipping rate comparison tool to compare UPS rates against USPS and FedEx, and print labels for all three. UPS Stores and UPS service centers can take care of your shipping needs in person, as well.
UPS has a crystal ball for finding lost packages, according to Fit Small Business. If they don’t locate a missing package, they’re pretty fast at paying a claim. Expect at least a 7 to 14 day inquiry period, but if the package is not recovered, they push the claim through within one to two weeks. If you’re shipping a valuable item, photo-document the packed item before shipping to guard against accusations of improper packaging when seeking a damage claim. Or better yet, take it to a UPS Store and let them pack it for you.
Federal Express’ slogan is “When it absolutely has to be there overnight.” Running with that campaign allowed FedEx to establish one of the best overnight delivery services in the business. Neighborhood Parcel recommends FedEx as the best carrier for time sensitive items, with 92 percent On-Time delivery of the shipment as well as a highly accurate tracking and billing system.
FedEx’s name is synonymous with overnight shipping and the company is known for terrific overnight and expedited 2- and 3-day delivery services. But it also has robust ground services. It even has a residential-only ground delivery division called FedEx Home Delivery that specializes in consumer deliveries. FedEx shipping services include:
- Home Delivery
- Express Saver 3-day
- Overnight Priority
FedEx doesn’t have quite as many service locations as UPS, but you can find FedEx drop boxes or mailing locations fairly easily. Like UPS, you can ship via FedEx at many retail mailing centers and at popular business retailers including Staples and Office Depot. FedEx also has drop box locations scattered around most cities and towns to collect pre-labeled flats and small packages.
FedEx charges pickup fees for one-time shipments and, like UPS, if you’re a volume shipper, you can add daily or specific-day pickup services to your account for a fee. Unlike USPS and UPS, FedEx pickups are service-based, so if you’re shipping both ground and express packages on the same day, you’ll have to request two pickups. One will pick up ground parcels, the other will pick up the express packages. This requires a bit more management than the all-in-one pickups from USPS and UPS.
Like UPS, FedEx provides a limited assortment of free packaging for express services, otherwise, you need to supply your own boxes.
FedEx and UPS are neck-and-neck when it comes to tracking capabilities and insurance services, but FedEx does offer more coverage (up to $100K) than UPS through its Declared Value Advantage program. If you’re not shipping high-end goods, their $100 of coverage included on FedEx shipments covers the basics, and you always can purchase more if needed.
Like UPS and USPS, FedEx has a great online Ship Manager tool at FedEx.com. There, you can print labels, save addresses, and track packages. Like UPS, FedEx also has its own downloadable Ship Manager software. If you primarily use FedEx, this is the most efficient way to manage your shipping. FedEx locations and mailing centers like Office Depot and Staples all offer in-person shipping assistance, too.
Here’s another area where UPS and FedEx are neck-and-neck. With FedEx, lost or misdelivered packages tend to be resolved and claims paid within a 30-day period. Just be sure to photo-document the packaging process for anything valuable or fragile, just in case you have to defend a claim.
Most shippers choose USPS for affordable small business shipping. It’s affordable, convenient and offers standard through express delivery services, plenty of locations, free pickup, and much more. Its Priority Mail small parcel rates are some of the lowest you’ll find, according to Fit Small Business. USPS also delivers to post office boxes and other locations like US military bases that are out of reach for UPS and FedEx.
UPS and FedEx compete closely in both service and rates and certainly beat USPS rates for larger parcels and for business-critical guaranteed shipments. FedEx tends to have lower rates, but you have to deal with multiple pickups depending on the services you use each day. UPS picks all of your packages at once, but they tend to be the priciest overall.
Each carrier has its own strengths, and it’s highly likely you’ll come to use all three for your business. We hope this guide helps you get started!