With the rising cost of, well, everything right now, it’s important you do your research before making any costly decisions – especially if you’re a small business figuring out your shipping strategy for the first time. 

These days customers expect fast, cost-effective (or free!) shipping options at checkout, so figuring out the most efficient and cheapest ways to ship a package can involve a lot of time and energy. To help make things easier, we have put together a simple guide to shipping costs, types, and carriers so you can simply compare rates and find the best deal for your business plan and shipping strategy.

The cheapest way to ship a package: A beginner’s guide

Shipping costs are hugely important because they influence whether a shopper buys your products or not. Ecommerce research group, the Baymard Institute, found that nearly half of all online shoppers abandon their carts due to extra costs (such as expensive shipping and taxes). So, keeping prices low will undoubtedly benefit your business—but how do you ensure you have the best shipping rates every time? 

The cost of shipping depends on several factors; the weight and size of your package, how fast it needs to be delivered, and the distance. Before you’re able to calculate shipping costs accurately, you will need to measure the dimensions of your package and find out its weight.

Types of shipping options

There are several types of shipping methods to consider depending on your location and how quickly you can get a package to its destination. 

  • Flat-rate shipping: The shipping price is not connected to the weight or size of the package. Customers will pay the same flat rate for every order based on a selection of generic package sizes.
  • Free shipping: The vendor covers the shipping cost as part of the overall purchase.
  • Real-time carrier rates: This is when the exact shipping rates that carriers charge are automatically calculated at checkout, taking into account the dimension, weight, and distance.
  • Local shipping: An item is packed and delivered straight to the customer without using a shipping service.
  • Pick-up: The customer picks up their package from a select location.
  • International shipping: Used when you ship a package to another part of the world.
  • Same-day delivery: The order arrives the same day the customer makes the purchase.
  • Overnight delivery: The order arrives the following day the customer makes the purchase.
  • Expedited shipping: Any method of delivery that is guaranteed to arrive at its destination faster than other regular delivery methods.

As there is no one-size-fits-all shipping strategy for every business, any of these can be included as part of your shipping options at checkout. Some (like flat-rate and free shipping) are great because they help manage expectations and provide transparency, while others put speed over cost and ensure the package is delivered as quickly as possible.

How to choose the right provider

Within the U.S. there are many carriers offering different rates based on various requirements. Shopify Shipping in the U.S. has exclusive savings deals with the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), UPS and DHL Express and many other providers can be integrated through Shopify’s countless apps. Shipping rates depending on your requirements and location.

Shipping providers update their service costs every year—usually in January—in line with inflation, taxes, and surcharge. It’s important to stay on top of changing shipping rates to protect your bottom line and not come across any costly surprises.

Below we have compiled a list of shipping calculators with ecommerce shipping rates for some of the largest and most popular shipping couriers so that you can compare pricing and options. If you’re a Shopify merchant and based in the US or Canada, you can pay for USPS, UPS, DHL Express, Canada Post, and Sendle shipping options and receive pre-negotiated rates. See example rates here.

 Each provider will offer different options based on distance, size, and weight, which will affect the price of each delivery. For this article, we will be focusing on the cheapest way to ship a package generally. However the prices below are estimates. Alternatively you can compare shipping prices and save up to 88% on all associated carriers through Shopify Shipping.

What is the cheapest way to ship a small package?

A “small package” tends to constitute envelopes, packages, or poly mailers that weigh less than 4.5 lbs. Each carrier will have its own guidelines on what is considered “small.” Most carriers will offer basic guidelines to choose from.

The list below highlights the cheapest way to ship a small package domestically, based on a package that is 6 inches in length, 3 inches in height, 1/4 of an inch in thickness (6 x 3 x 0.25). The package weighs up to 5 lbs.

 

What is the cheapest way to ship a large package?

What is considered a large package varies greatly from courier to courier. Below are the max package restrictions for each of the major shipping companies:

  • USPS: Packages must not weigh more than 70 lbs. In most cases, packages may not be more than 108” in total length and girth.
  • UPS: Packages can be up to 150 lbs. Packages can be up to 165” in length and girth combined.
  • DHL Express: Don’t accept shipments with more than a total weight of 3000 kg or any measurement exceeding 300 cm.
  • FedEx: Packages ship up to 150 lbs. Up to 108″ in length and 165″ in length plus girth. 
  • Sendle: All standard-sized parcels need to be under 864 cubic inches, under 20 lbs, and have a combined length and circumference of 108” or less, and sides cannot exceed 22″ to be fit for Sendle.

The list below is for a standard heavy package (up to 35 lbs) and 12 ¼ inch x 12 ¼ inch x 6 inches.

Provider

Service

Time

Prices start at:

USPS

Priority Mail – Large Flat Rate Box

1-3 Business Days

$19.20 Commercial Base

UPS

Flat Rate Shipping – UPS Simple Rate

1-5 Business Days

$19.60

DHL Express

Chicago to NYC using DHL Express Calculator 

1-3 Business Days

$146.53

FedEx

FedEx One Rate

1-3 Business Days

$24.20

Sendle

Sendle Standard

1-3 Business Days

$19.50

What is the cheapest way to ship packages internationally?

Many couriers work out their international shipping costs according to global import zones. Shipping to Canada will always have the cheapest international shipping rates, increasing the further a package needs to travel. Having said this, the price of international shipping will vary dramatically depending on which country you live in and which country you’re sending your package to.

 

Best rates for 2-3 day delivery

  • For lightweight packages, USPS First Class has the cheapest shipping prices, which start at $4.50 for 2-5 day delivery. 
  • For larger packages, USPS Priority Mail is also the most affordable, with prices starting at $8.70 for 1-3 day delivery. 
  • First Class only covers packages up to 13 oz. USPS’ Flat Rate boxes are the best value for money, as you can ship items up to 70 lbs for a relatively low flat rate.
  • If you are transporting goods to Canada, FedEx also offers a One Rate box similar to the USPS Flat Rate boxes. FedEx small boxes start at $12.05, with extra large packages going up to $39.10 for three-day delivery.

Best rates for next-day delivery

Next-day delivery is your best friend when you don’t have time on your side and need to ship your products as quickly and safely as possible. All major couriers offer next-day delivery options, but USPS is still the cheapest, with regular pricing starting at $26.95

UPS Next Day Air Saver also offers a competitive next-day rate, delivering by the end of the following day at prices starting at $29.66. FedEx Standard Overnight starts at $31.22 for next-day delivery if the location is within 150 miles.

Save on shipping costs with Shopify Shipping

Shopify vendors can now slash their shipping costs with Shopify Shipping, making it faster and easier to fulfill orders. You can manage products, customers, inventory, and shipping all from your Shopify dashboard in one place. You can purchase shipping labels, print multiple labels at once, and quickly get bulk orders out the door. Merchants can save up to 88% on shipping costs in the U.S. and send products around the world with confidence.

Shopify Shipping gives you pre-negotiated discounts on rates from USPS, UPS, and DHL Express, making it easier to offer free or flat-rate shipping to customers at checkout. You can also reach international customers easily with automatically generated customs forms and discounts on international shipping.

While USPS does have the cheapest service overall, it has struggled in the past couple of years to keep up with demand. As a result, other shipping companies are offering an alternative service that might be more reliable—which might be worth spending a little more money to guarantee.

Tips to keep shipping costs down

Although negotiating rates and researching couriers will help you create a successful shipping strategy, there are a handful of tips and tricks small businesses can use to help keep shipping rates low and not let it become a burden to your success.

  • Use the right-sized packaging – you do not want to be shipping air all over the place, so reduce the size and weight of your packages by choosing boxes that fit your merchandise well. 
  • Be economical about materials – cardboard is heavy, so replace that with a poly mailer or other lightweight packaging where possible. Other lightweight options are air pillows, packing paper, bubble wrap, foam inserts, Versa Pak wadding rolls, and excelsior. 
  • Use flat-rate shipping where possible—flat-rate shipping will almost always be the best value for money, especially for domestic delivery. Flat-rate shipping means that you can predict prices more accurately. No matter what kind of parcel you have or what dimensions or weight it is, the price will always be the same.
  • Offer local delivery and pick-up. By far, the cheapest delivery option is local delivery, or even better, pick-up. For small businesses, a local delivery service is a great way to connect with nearby customers, drive sales, and provide a great customer experience. 

Working out the cheapest way to ship a package might come down to trial and error to begin with, especially as you become accustomed to all the options, delivery methods, couriers, and where the majority of your sales end up coming from. However, once you have a solid shipping strategy in place and shipping costs that work for both you and your customers, you’ll start to spend less time fulfilling orders and more time growing your business.

Discover Cheaper Shipping with Shopify



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