Welcome to Shipping School Domestic Shipping 101
I'm really excited for today’s episode as it’s the first part of what is going to be a brand new shipping series, ONELIVE SHIPPING SCHOOL. We’ll be covering a variety of topics, starting with the basics, like how to choose a carrier and service, all the way to how improve shipping efficiency from an operational standpoint, and the nuances of the key players in the industry.
Today’s episode is Domestic Shipping 101. We’ll go through the main domestic carriers, typical service options, how shipping rates are calculated, shipping materials that you should be using, and essential tools for improving your shipping department.
Main Domestic Carriers: USPS, FedEx, & UPS
USPS (United States Postal Service) is a great and often under-utilized carrier option. They offer two main services – First-Class Mail and Priority Mail. The First-Class service can be used for packages anywhere from 1-16oz, so anything over a pound would need to be booked with Priority Mail. Both of these services have a transit time of 1-3 days. Within priority mail, you also have a few options like using cubic tiers and flat rate mailers – these are going to be especially beneficial if you sell small but heavy products.
FedEx and UPS are the other main domestic carriers. While USPS is often the best option for light-weight shipments, using FedEx or UPS is generally going to be more cost effective when shipments are over 5lbs. Additionally, these carriers are going to have more extensive service options. Ground Service is the standard service for both of these carriers and has a transit time of 1-5 days, but usually averages 3 days. The Ground service is the most cost-effective, but in today’s world, your customers may be expecting a quicker service that gets them the product within 1-2 days. In this scenario, and also if you ship perishables, you may want to utilize FedEx and UPS’ express services. Both carriers offer options for 2-Day delivery, Standard Overnight delivery, and even First Overnight, which gets the package to your customer by 10am the next morning. You may also want to ship with FedEx and UPS if your products are of a high dollar value. While USPS has proven to be very reliable, FedEx and UPS are definitely easier to get in touch with if you ever do have an issue with a shipment.
In addition to these main players, there are also several regional carriers like LaserShip, which focuses on the east coast, and Lone Star Overnight, which is services the southwest region. If your customers are located in the same region that you ship out of, then using regional carriers in addition to the main carriers we mentioned, may be a great option for your shipping department.
Recap: USPS is best for lightweight non time-sensitive shipments. FedEx and UPS are better for products that weight more than 5 pounds or are time-sensitive.
How Rates are Calculated: Zone, Weight, & Surcharges Ship Zone is determined by the carrier and is the distance between the origin and destination addresses. If you’re shipping within your state or region, you may have a zone 2 or 3 shipment. If you’re shipping across the country, it’s probably a zone 8 shipment. The higher the zone, the higher the ship price.
Weight is calculated two ways: Actual & Dimensional weight. Actual Weight: the total weight of the shipment, to include the product and packaging. Dimensional Weight: is a metric to calculating how much space a shipment occupies, which can be calculated by multiplying LxWxH / dim divisor. For example, FedEx’s standard dim divisor is 139, but may be higher if you work with a shipping partner, like ONELIVE, who may have been able to negotiate a higher dim divisor, yielding a lower dimensional weight. It’s important to calculate both of these weights as the carrier will charge based on the greater of the actual vs dimensional weight. A higher weight yields a higher ship rate.
Surcharges: charges that may be added to the regular ship rate. Every shipment will incur a fuel surcharge, which is usually around 6%, but there are other shipment-specific charges that may be added to your ship rate. For example, delivery area surcharges for rural addresses, peak surcharges around the holidays, or address corrections if a label address is incorrect.
Together, these three factors (zone, dimensional or actual weight, & surcharges) will determine your rates. To get rates, you can approach the carriers directly, or work with a shipping partner, like ONELIVE.
Essential Shipping Tools: Packaging Materials, Scale, & Platform
Packaging Materials: The first thing you’ll need is packaging materials. The carriers can often provide you with these, but in some instances, you’ll want to order your own custom box sizes to optimize how you pack your products, and you may even want to look into custom branded materials. If you ship things like non-fragile accessories or clothes, polybags are a great option as they don’t add any weight or bulk. If you ship perishables, be sure to research what types of cold packs or dry ice you should use.
Scale & Measuring Tape: Once you have your packaging materials, be sure to get a scale & measuring tape for weighing and measuring your shipments. This will ensure that you’re shipping platform has the correct information and can select the best rate.
Label Printer: You’ll also need a label printer for printing ship labels. While you can use a regular printer, 4”x6” zebra labels will look professional and fit better on small packages.
Shipping Platform: The single best way to improve shipping efficiency, is to use a great shipping platform. ONELIVE’S proprietary platform, Parcelcast, is a powerful shipping tool for your shipping department. After you enter yoru shipping information, uou can easily compare carrier rates and see transit times, allowing you to pick the best service for your customer. You can also set shipping rules to automate which services are used for certain shipments. The platform also allows you to customize tracking emails and packing slips, ensuring that your branding is consistent and delivering an incredible customer experience.
Please feel free to email me directly with any questions firstname.lastname@example.org or go to onelive.com/start.