Shipping is a critical part of every e-commerce business. Not only do you need to be sure your products reach your customers promptly and in good condition, but you also have to figure out which carrier and service will be most economical to meet the customer expectations for delivery. Implementing a multi-carrier shipping strategy definitely helps get your packages from point A to B, but could you be writing off an important option?
In recent years, the United States Postal Service (USPS) has emerged as a top contender for e-commerce businesses, but many businesses remain hesitant to add the USPS to their carrier mix. The government-sponsored carrier isn’t known for having the best customer service and there have also been complaints about its tracking capabilities. On the other hand, UPS and FedEx, the “Big Two” carriers, are often preferred over USPS businesses due to their in-person service, more expansive insurance options, and less expensive rates for large parcels.
While USPS may not have all the advantages of its competitors, it definitely has improved over the past decade by adding a number of benefits.
USPS Can Save You Money
The USPS is one of the most affordable carriers available for e-commerce businesses. In fact, it’s often the cheapest option available when it comes to small, lightweight items under five pounds. Since the USPS is a government-run carrier, it isn’t as constrained by the same rules that most private carriers, such as FedEx and UPS, encounter. As a result, USPS can offer lower rates on these smaller items.
For example, your options for shipping a 0.5 pound, 8 x 4 x 2 inch package from LA to NY would look something like this:
USPS Priority Mail: $13 - 2 days
USPS First: $6 - 5 days
UPS 2nd Day Air: $31 - 2 days
UPS 3 Day Select: $27 - 3 days
UPS Ground: $14 - 4 days
FedEx 2 Day: $34 - 4 days
FedEx Express Saver: $33 - 5 days
FedEx Ground: $21 - 6 days
Here, you can see that USPS is not only cheaper than the Big Two, but the shipping time for Priority Mail is also considerably faster.
Now, let’s up the size and weight of the package to 13 x 9 x 2 inch and five pounds. Here’s what we get:
USPS Priority Mail: $17 - 2 days
UPS 2nd Day Air: $55 - 2 days
UPS 3 Day Select: $42 - 3 days
UPS Ground: $20 - 4 days
FedEx 2 Day: $51 - 4 days
FedEx Express Saver: $42 - 5 days
FedEx Ground: $26 - 6 days
USPS’s fastest option is still less expensive than both UPS and FedEx.
USPS Provides a Larger Network than Most Carriers
The USPS delivers almost half of the world’s mail, reaching more than over 163 million homes and businesses in the US. That is a lot of addresses, which provide businesses with plenty of potential customers to reach.
USPS is also the only carrier that can get to every door, mailbox, and PO box in the country. This is because the USPS is obligated by law to deliver to all US postal addresses. And the USPS’s capacity doesn’t stop there – when it comes to shipping internationally, USPS has multiple options for businesses ready to open up their products to a global market.
It’s Important to Not Put All Your Shipments In One Basket
The perfect carrier simply doesn’t exist, and while you may have a preferred carrier that you use most of the time, it’s important that you know about the advantages that come with competing carriers, such as FedEx and UPS, as well as when to use a particular carrier.
We frequently hear these three common themes from e-commerce businesses when it comes to shipping: reliability, speed, and price. Unfortunately, no one carrier is going to provide all three of these in a way that benefits a business in every scenario.
For example, when it comes to affordable expedited shipping, or shipping alcoholic products, FedEx may be the more favorable option. For businesses that need to fulfill international orders or competitive pricing on large parcels, UPS is typically better. For merchants who ship domestically and primarily deal with small items, USPS is the carrier to use. Regional carriers, like Ontrac and LSO, can also be great for meeting last-mile parcel delivery needs.
However, you may find that sometimes rates for FedEx are suddenly higher than usual for rushed shipping, making it beneficial to pivot to UPS. Or if you happen to be shipping a medium-sized package thousands of miles away, USPS could be more cost-effective. You ultimately have to weigh the pros and cons of each carrier in order to make the best decision for your business.
Don’t Let a Bad Experience Keep You from Delighting Your Customers
While we always hope for the best, sometimes things just don't go as planned. If you've had a negative experience with USPS in the past, that doesn't mean you should keep it out of your carrier mix altogether. Just as your business is evolving, so are the carriers you use. Technologically, USPS has come a long way.
Some of their improvements on the innovation side include an enhanced Package Processing System (EPPS) that can sort through 25,000 packages/hour, optical character recognition technology that can read almost 98% of all handwritten letters and 99.5% of machine-printed mail, and the world’s largest gantry robotic fleet that can move 300,000 mail trays/day. USPS is also continuously making adjustments to improve its on-time delivery performance, with the average time for mail and packages taking 2.4 days.
The last decade has shown that USPS is striving to be a best-in-class shipping carrier. Its unique attributes, like shipping to every address in the US and improved delivery options, speed, and cost should encourage you to consider USPS as you curate a balanced carrier mix.
Mikel Richardson is Vice President of Product at ShipHawk. Mikel is an expert in the development of fulfillment and logistics SaaS solutions that are changing how SMB and mid-market companies approach cloud based inventory and fulfillment to scale their businesses. Your questions are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out ShipHawk’s platform or schedule a call now.
This article originally appeared in the July/August, 2022 issue of PARCEL.