Small business owners have several high-quality options when it comes to shipping orders. In those options, however, lies a good amount of indecision that near-every small business owner likely faces before settling on one carrier over the other. On the surface, each carrier performs the same task but, especially for small businesses, there are more than a few reasons why one carrier may be a better fit for your products or your customers. Each small business owner weighing the pros and cons of the primary domestic postal carriers in the United States is bound to treat certain pros and cons with different gravitas. Therefore, if a certain carrier appears to suit your needs best, investigate on the carrier’s website or speak to one of their merchant representatives, as several postal carriers are ready to work out specific deals with small business clients.
Often the Cheapest: For small businesses who ship small or infrequent packages, the USPS will likely have the best deal for you. First Class Mail postage applies to most packages under 13 ounces and if you are shipping books, media like CDs, or educational materials, Media Mail postage is an admittedly slower but genuinely unbeatable deal starting at $1.91 if posted with commercial pricing.
Free Pick Ups: The USPS offers free, unlimited pick-ups for any number of parcels which is a deal you will not find with any other carrier. If parcels already have postage attached, the USPS will pick up your packages at nearly any domestic address.
First Class Mail for Letters: If you are shipping parcels small enough to fit in an envelope like stickers or novelty stamps, the USPS is undoubtedly the most convenient means to ship your product. If your product weighs less than 13 oz and is small enough to fit in a standard envelope, it is worth investigating if you can take use First Class mail for letters. For the price of a USPS Forever Stamp or Extra Ounces Stamp, you can ship your product to nearly any address (even internationally).
Generally the Slowest Carrier: While USPS shipping speeds have notably increased in recent decades, they still lag considerably compared to other carriers. For example: packages shipped from USPS Parcel Select are guaranteed to reach their destination within 7-days nationally while UPS offers 4-day maximum shipping for the same size parcels. The same can be said when compared to premium carriers like FedEx and DHL. That slower speed, of course, comes hand in hand with lower prices.
Limited Tracking Information: USPS tracking updates only show the most basic “proof of scan” tracking updates which can be especially unhelpful if a package is delayed; services like media mail can sometimes go unscanned for several days at a time. If your customers expect a premium amount of tracking information or you would like to use tracking information in a mix with your own customer support, USPS may prove insufficient compared to other carriers.
Comparably Poor Customer Service: While the USPS will happily flood their customer service webpage with links and resources, getting the information you need when a package goes missing can be incredibly frustrating with the USPS. Intercepting a package with USPS is famously like trying to catch a salmon going downstream; even if you get it to happen, it’s more likely good luck rather than good service.
More Expedient Shipping Options: Small businesses who partner with UPS can take advantage of the carrier’s several quick delivery options like same-day shipping. While these services are generally more expensive, that shouldn’t matter unless your business offers free shipping. Giving your clients the option for overnight shipping can both help those clients in a pinch and help your business appear more reliable.
Heavy Parcel and Freight Accommodations: Unlike the USPS whose weight limit for most mail is 70 pounds, UPS lets merchants ship items up to 150 pounds with some further exceptions as well. Those exceptions being freight delivery. It is exceedingly simple to get a quote from UPS for freight services which can be incredibly helpful if you have foreign offices or frequent foreign orders.
Pick-Ups Cost Money: Even if UPS is attractive to your business for speed or weight accommodations, any kind of financial advantage to using this carrier will shrink if you plan on scheduling pick-ups at your business. UPS charges $6.80 for same-day unscheduled pick-ups and $5.80 for scheduled future pick-ups. Having an efficient shipping schedule, however, could make this cost much less of a burden.
Higher Shipping Cost Than USPS for Similar Services: Unless you are taking advantage of very specific shipping methods like UPS Express Critical or Next Day Air, UPS offers services that are near-identical to their USPS counterparts; the only difference is that USPS is consistently a touch cheaper. Here’s a general breakdown: UPS Ground currently starts at $8.76 and delivers within 6 days to any domestic location. USPS Retail Ground starts at $8.50 and delivers within 7 days domestically. While $0.26 is a small difference, that difference reflects the minimum price for both carriers, so that space will only widen as the size, weight, and distance to your destination increases.
Top-Notch Parcel Tracking: Any business that has worked with FedEx in the past will likely rave about both the simplicity and level of control possible in the carrier’s parcel tracking system. From a merchant’s account, businesses can monitor packages in real-time and even hold packages in transit if a customer cancels an order.
Premium Customer Service: There must be something about companies with the word “Express” in their name because like a certain “American” company which shares the word, Federal Express has a comparably hands-on and empowered customer service team. FedEx is very enthusiastic about their Quality Driven Management (QDM) system which is the mantra behind both delivery and customer service in the company.
Volume Rate Deals: While UPS also deals in freight services, FedEx has an even more robust group of shipping options, several of which can be lucrative to small businesses. For example, non-urgent deliveries and less-than-truckload deliveries can fill unused truck space for a discount. Also, quotes can be determined on a case-by-case basis meaning your shipping deal can be tailor-made specifically to your capacity.
Smallest US Retail Presence: Compared to the USPS and UPS, there are fewer physical FedEx locations in the United States, and they are especially sparse in rural areas, meaning that drop-offs and other services are more likely to be inconvenient for small businesses compared to other carriers.
Complicated Pick-Up Pricing: Taking advantage of FedEx’s pick-up services to your financial benefit is much harder than when working with UPS or USPS. If you would like to schedule a regular stop for FedEx Ground pick-up, their policy is that pick-ups cost “$15.50 or $31 per week: Based on whether the previous week’s total charges on FedEx Ground, FedEx Express and FedEx SmartPost® are over or under $75.” Further, same-day, next-day, and future pick-ups scheduled individually are all $4 per package.
Robust International Shipping Options: DHL has simply the most robust options for shipping parcels to Europe, South America, Australia, Asia, and even large sections of Africa. If you have customers, or a large portion of orders shipping to non-domestic customers, having DHL as a shipping option is both a convenience for you and the customer, as DHL is consistently one of the most efficient carriers when passing customs.
Free Pick-Ups: Back again! Standing side-by-side with the USPS, your small business can schedule pick-ups with DHL for no additional fee. DHL, however, will not accept furniture, household goods, or personal goods at pick-ups; in essence, don’t use DHL instead of movers when you change offices.
Impressive Money Back Guarantee: U.S.-based paying merchants are subject to a full money-back guarantee for shipments that do not meet their destination or even deliver late. This guarantee, of course, does not extend to unusual customs delays or inaccurate shipping information-related delays.
Even Smaller US Retail Presence: Unless you are in a major US city, you may have genuine trouble finding a brick-and-mortar DHL location. This, however, will not affect your eligibility for DHL pick-ups, but if you ever need to speak to a representative in person or use in-person services, you may need to make a day of it.
Several Surcharges: As to be expected with a carrier that focuses on international mail, there are several surcharges for small business owners which could affect their interest in partnering with DHL. For example, packages shipping to Afghanistan, Belarus, Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Russia, and Lebanon from locations international to those countries are subject to a $30 Exporter Validation surcharge. Further, countries that DHL determines to harbor a higher risk for their mail carriers are subject to a $20 surcharge. DHL’s list of high-risk locations is regularly updated to reflect international discourse.
Several Solutions, but Only One for Your Business
In the United States, we are lucky that each of our primary carrier options are reliable enough to consistently deliver packages. Finding the best value for your business is as basic as closely analyzing each carrier’s systems and finding the one which best synergizes with your own. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of the above carriers and it is more than conceivable that one carrier could be a financial watershed for one business and an unnecessary expense for another. Finding the right carrier for your business may also include getting in direct contact with the carriers you are most interested in; some carriers like FedEx are known for making deals for long-term clients.