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August 27, 2019

USPS vs. FedEx SmartPost vs. UPS SurePost

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?

How Do These Services Work? What Do They Do?

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

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.

How Does It Work?

FedEx SmartPost follows the following workflow:

  1. Packages are either picked up or delivered to a FedEx location for shipment.
  2. Packages are sorted and consolidated at a FedEx facility, then forwarded to the terminal that services the delivery address.
  3. After arriving at the destination terminal, the SmartPost packages are forwarded to the local USPS office.
  4. USPS vans deliver the packages to ship-to address.

Benefits of SmartPost for Online Retailers

FedEx SmartPost is a fantastic option for online retailers. 

Cost Savings

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:

  • $4.40 per package (Residential Delivery Fee)
  • $4.40 per package (Delivery Area Surcharge)

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.

Daily and Weekend (Saturday) Delivery

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.

Shipment Tracking

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.

Drop-off is Simple

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!

Delivery to P.O. Boxes

USPS delivers to every residential and business mailing address in the United States. P.O. boxes included. 

FedEx SmartPost Delivery Times

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). 

Other Considerations 

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:

  • Collect on delivery
  • Money-back guarantee
  • Declared value
  • Signature Proof of Delivery
  • Evening or appointment delivery
  • Hazardous materials service

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

FedEx SmartPost rates are not terribly complicated to calculate. Pricing depends on two major factors.

  • Zone (distance from shipment point)
  • Total shipment weight
  • Whether or not the package is going to a destination in the non-contiguous United States (Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and so on).

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

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.

Benefits of SurePost for Online Retailers

Cost Savings

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.

Daily and Weekend (Saturday) Delivery

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.

Shipment Tracking

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. 

Shipment Drop-Off

With UPS SurePost, you can drop off shipments at any staffed UPS store. 

Delivery to P.O. Boxes

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. 

UPS SurePost Delivery Times

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. 

Other Considerations

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.

UPS SurePost Mailing Classes and Rates

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. 

UPS SurePost Mailing Classes

Unlike FedEx, UPS is very, very clear on the specific requirements necessary to qualify for each mailing class.

  • SurePost Parcel Select: 1 lb. — 70 lbs. Shipment must be packaged in a corrugated box, poly bag, padded bag, or dedicated shipping tube. The package cannot be more than 130” in combined length or girth or exceed 60” in any dimension.
  • SurePost Parcel Select Lightweight: 1 oz. — 15.99 oz. Shipment must be packaged in a corrugated box, poly bag, padded bag, or dedicated shipping tube. 
  • SurePost Bound Printed Matter: 1 lb. — 15 lbs. Shipment must be packaged in a corrugated box, poly bag, padded bag, or dedicated shipping tube. The package cannot exceed 108” in combined length and girth. The shipment must contain only permanently-bound materials and sheets where 90% or more of the content consists of bound, printed matter.
  • SurePost Media Mail: 1 lb. — 70 lbs. Shipment must be packaged in a corrugated box, poly bag, padded bag, or dedicated shipping tube. Much like UPS and their SurePost Bound Prtiner Matter, SurePost Media Mail may only contain specific content. Here, packages must contain forms of media — advertisements, books, CDs, tapes, and so on.

UPS SurePost Rates

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.

Benefits of USPS for Online Retailers

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

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.

Daily and Weekend (Saturday) Delivery

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.

Shipment Tracking

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.  

Shipment Drop-Off

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.

Delivery to P.O. Boxes

USPS is the only shipping service that delivers directly to PO boxes. 

USPS Delivery Times and Rates

USPS delivery times vary based on the mail class.

  • Priority Mail Express: Guaranteed overnight delivery to most locations. Best suited for letters, documents, and objects up to 70 lbs. Rates start at $25.50.
  • Priority Mail: 1-3 business days. Rates start at $7.35
  • First-Class Mail: 1-3 business days. This is the best option for mail up to 13 oz — rates start at $0.55 per stamp.
  • USPS Retail Ground: 2-9 business days. Rates are zone-priced and include package weight. Rates start at $7.35; shipments can be up to 70 lbs.
  • Media Mail: 2-8 business days. Rates start at $2.75; maximum weight of 70 lbs. You can only ship books, printed media, videos, bound matter, and digital media with USPS Media Mail.

So, What's Best?

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.

About Eniture Technology

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.

Interested in learning more? Check out our free guide, A Beginner's Guide To E-Commerce Shipping and subscribe to our blog!

A Beginner's Guide To E-Commerce Shipping


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