It’s one of the great debates: FedEx Smart Post vs. UPS SurePost vs. USPS. Which one of the “Big 3” is the best option for an online retailer? What are the differences--relevant differences, that is—and what factors should you consider when making this decision?
SmartPost, SurePost, and USPS all work to address the same issue: delivery to customers. For many customers—especially those that shop online—shipping is a major concern. Customers, particularly younger ones, want their products delivered as soon as possible (and preferably to their door!).
The customer-facing side of shipping is known as “last-mile delivery.” This is the portion of the transportation workflow where goods are moved from transportation hubs to the customer’s door. Services like FedEx Smart Post and UPS SurePost use their own shipping networks to get packages “close” to customers. Then, they partner with USPS to make the final delivery.
FedEx SmartPost is one of the courier company’s shipping methods aimed at retailers. SmartPost is an excellent option if you’re looking to save money on expensive residential shipping costs.
FedEx SmartPost follows the following workflow:
FedEx SmartPost is a fantastic option for online retailers.
Residential delivery—“last-mile delivery”—is where retailers incur a majority of their shipping costs. Using FedEx to send shipments directly to residential addresses is expensive. For example, FedEx charges the following for residential deliveries:
Note that the Delivery Area Surcharge (DAS) only applies to deliveries to remote areas and can be incurred by both commercial and residential addresses. DAS surcharges apply to residential rural, super rural, commercial rural, and commercial super rural zip codes.
As a general rule, SmartPost is an effective, economical option for high-volume shipping. This service incurs none of the above charges. USPS handles the residential delivery — FedEx (and you) are off the hook for additional fees.
As FedEx SmartPost uses USPS for residential delivery, you can enjoy the benefits that come with weekend delivery. FedEx SmartPost delivers packages 6 days a week, Monday-Saturday.
Every FedEx SmartPost shipment comes with a 20-digit tracking number. This number becomes available once your package is processed by FedEx. After FedEx hands the package off to USPS, the tracking number is converted to a USPS number.
Note: You may notice that the FedEx tracking number reports the package as “delivered” during the hand-off from FedEx to USPS. This is normal — once the USPS tracking number activates, all is well.
SmartPost allows you to drop off packages at any staffed FedEx location. Even better, you don’t need to separate your SmartPost and non-SmartPost packages.
Note: Do not drop off FedEx SmartPost packages at USPS offices!
USPS delivers to every residential and business mailing address in the United States. P.O. boxes included.
Delivery times with FedEx SmartPost typically range anywhere from 2 to 7 days. Delivery time can vary based on the distance between the origin point and the delivery address.
SmartPost only delivers to addresses within the United States. That includes Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, and all other U.S. territories. SmartPost also delivers to military Army, Fleet, and Diplomatic Post Offices (AFO/FPO/DPO).
FedEx SmartPost caps package size and weight at 70 lbs., 130" in length plus girth.
If you choose to ship with SmartPost, it’s worth mentioning that you are unable to request the following:
Of those, signature proof of delivery is perhaps one of the most important. SmartPost does not allow for signature proof of delivery. If signature proof is important to you or your customers, you may should consider an alternative shipping option.
FedEx SmartPost rates are not terribly complicated to calculate. Pricing depends on two major factors.
As a point of reference, the cost to ship a 1 lb package to Zone 1 is $7.85. Shipping a 10 lb package the same distance would run you $14.30. Shipping a 1 lb package to Hawaii or anywhere in the non-contiguous United States would cost a minimum of $18.38.
UPS SurePost is the UPS alternative to FedEx and its SmartPost program. With SurePost, retailers reap many of the same benefits as they would with SmartPost. The main difference: SurePost delivers packages to the nearest USPS office, whereas SmartPost drops them off at the nearest USPS regional hub. For that reason alone, you may see slightly faster delivery by using UPS.
UPS SurePost offers significantly reduced shipping rates for retailers and businesses. As is the case with FedEx SmartPost, by partnering with USPS, the shipper avoids the residential delivery fee and the destination area surcharge if they would otherwise apply. The end result? Cheaper "last mile" delivery with savings for everyone involved.
Regular USPS mail service delivers on weekends. If you choose to ship with UPS SurePost, your customers can expect regular weekend (Saturday) deliveries. Most importantly, Saturday delivery comes with zero extra cost.
UPS offers integrated shipment tracking alongside USPS. Once your UPS tracking number is live, you and your customers can follow that number all the way to delivery. Unlike FedEx, UPS SurePost allows the use of a single tracking number — there is no need to change tracking numbers between UPS and USPS.
With UPS SurePost, you can drop off shipments at any staffed UPS store.
UPS SurePost will process and deliver shipments to anywhere in the United States, including PO boxes. Traditional UPS service does include PO Boxes, but the partnership with USPS for local delivery means SurePost will go wherever you need it.
As a general rule, UPS SurePost transit times are the same as FedEx SmartPost. Delivery times with UPS SurePost typically range anywhere from 2 to 7 days.
SurePost partners with USPS for local delivery, so actual delivery times will be in line with regular mail service.
UPS SurePost is an excellent option if you ship a lot of products regularly. SurePost is cheaper than regular UPS Ground Service. By using USPS as the local carrier, the company saves a great deal of money.
Similar to FedEx SmartPost, rates for UPS SurePost depend on a combination of distance and weight. UPS also offers different rates depending on the mail class.
Unlike FedEx, UPS is very, very clear on the specific requirements necessary to qualify for each mailing class.
The base rate of SurePost is slightly more expensive than FedEx SmartPost. Pricing is unlikely to be a major factor when deciding between the two services.
USPS offers numerous shipping services for businesses. Many online retailers think that USPS is limited to letters and mail, but the postal service offers a full suite of business parcel shipping options.These include Click-N-Ship Business (and Business Pro, for larger operations), Priority Mail, and many others.
USPS occupies an interesting middle ground between SmartPost and SurePost. On one hand, USPS Priority Mail is fast and efficient. On the other hand, shipping via Priority Mail can be expensive for larger (heavier) packages.
Cost savings between UPS, FedEx, and USPS depends on the package in question. As a general rule, USPS offers the most competitive rates for lightweight mail. Heavier packages might be better off with SurePost or SmartPost.
USPS offers regular daily and weekend (Saturday) delivery. USPS is obligated by law to serve every residential and business address in the United States, including the overseas U.S. territories and AFO/FPO/DPO locations.
USPS offers two types of tracking options. USPS Retail Tracking—the little green one form—is available when shipping an item in person. Online tracking is included for free all on mail classes.
USPS offers shipment pick-up and drop-off services on-demand (for a fee, of course). USPS also provides free package pickup — you’ll submit a request online, but your regular letter carrier will pick up your packages during his regular route.
USPS is the only shipping service that delivers directly to PO boxes.
USPS delivery times vary based on the mail class.
Take your pick! The best shipping option for you will depend entirely on what you're shipping, how often you ship, where you're located, and your client base. Bear in mind, many of the above rates are negotiable — depending on the volume your shipments, of course.
Take the time to work with each of the three providers and analyze their rates and services in detail. You may find one provider more willing to cut a deal on your pricing.
Eniture Technology specializes in helping e-Commerce merchants grow by providing useful information, digital marketing services, off-the-shelf apps that solve common problems, and custom programming services. Please contact us if you need help growing your online business or implementing the concepts presented in this blog post.
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