In the world of packaging, size definitely matters. Given the variables at play and the ever-changing, ever-increasing UPS and FedEx surcharges, this can be a very frustrating side effect of small-parcel shipping. However, this is one cost factor that can sometimes be controlled. Perhaps it can’t be fully contained, but it is certainly possible to control this cost enough to ensure shippers know the billed weight of any package they ship. To help with that, shippers should be aware of all the charges that could apply to their shipments. Here’s a good example.

We’re all very aware that, with the most recent rate changes, neither UPS nor FedEx want any of the large, profit-eating packages flowing through their delivery networks. As an example, last year a Ground Commercial package would be subject to a Large Package Surcharge (UPS) or Oversize Charge (FedEx) if it measured over 130 inches in length and girth combined. For 2018, both carriers decided to make what some considered to be a small amendment to their respective rule. The surcharge now covers packages that exceed 96 inches in length as well.

For some, the change didn’t have too much of an impact. On the other hand, there were many companies who were able to negotiate and thereby mitigate what would have been several million dollars in additional charges in 2018. One thing to note is that UPS has gone one step further than FedEx this year with its Large Package Surcharge. In July, UPS will increase its Large Package Surcharge for residential shipments from $80 to $90. Based on the information shown in the current UPS Rates and Services Guide, I think we can all expect that soon it will charge a different Large Package Surcharge based not only on destination type (commercial/residential), but also on a package’s dimensions — that is, whether it exceeds 96 inches in length or exceeds 130 inches in length and girth combined. Be aware of the changes and what charges apply to your shipments.

And That’s Not All…

There are other variables that play a role in how your packages are measured and ultimately charged. Let’s take a look at what we consider the top three variables that can impact how you’re charged for shipping a box.

The first, and probably the most overlooked, is what’s printed on the bottom of that pretty little (or big) box — that is, the dimensions. Many people use these figures to calculate the dimensional weight, which can lead to mistakes and, ultimately, a higher package cost than originally expected. The reason is simple and straightforward. The dimensions printed on the bottom of the box are (normally) the internal measurements for that box. Why, you ask? Well, the dimensions are there to help shippers understand what could fit inside that specific box based on those internal measurements. If you’re unsure about what’s printed on the bottom of your boxes, we suggest you contact your corrugate partner to confirm what dimensions they display on the boxes. You’re normally looking at a whole different set of dimensions when you measure the outside of a package and compare it to what’s printed on the bottom. And the carriers are obviously using the outside measurements of the box when calculating the dimensional weight. Sometimes you may see two sets of dimensions on the box (internal and external). Again, contact your corrugate partner to confirm what they display on their boxes.

The second variable is the type of cardboard that’s used (single-wall vs. double-wall vs. heavy duty). The external dimensions of a double-wall and heavy-duty box are much different than those of a single-wall box. For example, each wall of a double-wall box is usually approximately 1/4” thick, and each wall of a single-wall box is usually around 1/8” thick. Obviously, the walls of a heavy-duty box are much thicker as well. While seemingly small, these differences can add up and make a huge difference in what a small parcel carrier will charge — especially when looking at the most recent Large Package Surcharge rules that we reviewed earlier. The last thing you want is your package to measure in excess of 96 inches in length, or 130 inches in length and girth combined, sinply because you’re using thicker cardboard than what you actually need.

The third variable also has to do with the type of cardboard and what happens when a box is misshaped or malformed in any way. Single-wall boxes are more susceptible to bulging sides due to over-packing/stuffing or being crushed, squashed, squished, etc. Let’s use a 10-pound, 13 x 13 x 13 single-wall box as an example. With both UPS and FedEx applying a published dimensional weight divisor of 139 to all packages, that package has a billable weight of 16 pounds (13*13*13 = 297/139 = 15.80). Bear in mind that almost every UPS facility and many, if not most, FedEx facilities now use automated scanners to measure each and every package. When a box bulges, the measurement of the bulged side is increased or lengthened, and the automated scanner will read a longer dimension.

Picture a straight line and a slightly curved line with the same start and end points. When compared, the curved line will have a longer measurement than the straight line. The scanners could measure that 13 x 13 x 13 package as 13 ½ x 13 x 13. When the dimensional weight is calculated, that 13 ½ will be rounded up to 14. You now have a 14 x 13 x 13 package that has a 17-pound billable weight. Be sure to understand where this could be happening and, if it’s a serious issue, review it with your carrier(s). There are ways to mitigate the impact of bulging sides. The most common is with the adoption of a custom variance. The carrier will input a one-inch variance into the system and, as long as none of the measurements of your packages exceed that one-inch buffer, the carrier will use what you’ve uploaded. However, if any measurement exceeds the one-inch buffer, the carrier will use their measurements. For this solution to work, you will need to enter the dimensions of your packages when manifesting. If you truly want to know the cost of a package and the impact of all the possible charges, and you’re not currently entering the package dimensions, you really need to start.

Bryan Van Suchtelen is Corporate Director, Parcel Rate Services, Lojistic. Prior to joining Lojistic, Bryan was with UPS for over 26 years. With his varied roles at UPS – which included pricing, sales, and Director level sales management – Bryan is equipped with a host of experience and pricing expertise that help drive value for parcel shippers nationwide.