8 Tips To Get The Cheapest Shipping Rates
Life hacks are life savers. Just a few years ago, I didn’t know I could use a walnut to fix scratched wood or that I could hold all my loose cables together using bread-bag clips. Life hacks can turn a complex problem into a simple one, and a simple problem into no problem at all.
In the spirit of hacking life, I set out to discover a few tricks that make life easier for online sellers, particularly in regard to shipping. I started by asking real merchants to contribute with their own insights on shipping. And I was pleased with the results!
Keep reading to learn how SMB owners and master shippers fulfill orders efficiently and inexpensively.
Table of Contents
Pack Lighter & Smaller
It should go without saying that large, heavy packages cost more to ship than smaller alternatives. However, did you know that a large pillow can cost more to ship than a 25-pound dumbbell?
Now that private carriers like UPS and FedEx use dimensional weight to calculate shipping rates, determining shipping expenses can be even more complex than before.
A good rule of thumb is to package your products in the smallest possible dimensions. That means using as little packaging material as is safe for your items. You don’t want a durable box and paper filler to add extra weight if your product would be just as secure in a padded mailer.
What’s more, packaging a product in an oversized box increases the risk that your product will be damaged in shipping. It also increases the amount of money you’ll have to spend on filler material.
So, here’s how to save: Order a large selection of shipping supplies that can fit a variety of sizes and shapes. If you’re already using FedEx, you can use FedEx Office’s free shipping supplies.
Use (Enough) Quality Packing Materials
In the shipping world, cheap is not always cost-effective. Packaging your products with insufficient padding can be a costly mistake.
According to Caleb Ellis of Maple Holistics, spending more on packaging materials actually reduces overall spending for his company. He says:
At Maple Holistics we’ve optimized our shipping in terms of quality and costs in a number of ways over the years. Notably, we realized that although an added expense in the immediate sense, packaging our products in a bubble bag within their shipping envelopes or boxes would actually save us money in the long run in that it would help to diminish human error and mishandled packages on the part of shipping companies.
By ensuring that their products are secure, Maple Holistics reduces the amount they spend each year refunding purchases and resending products.
USPS Is Cheaper For Lighter Packages
Merchants and shipping experts alike are quick to recommend the US Postal Service for SMBs. And they all but demand you use it for light shipments.
The USPS is the cheapest way to ship products under 13 ounces.
Let me say that again for emphasis.
If you’re shipping a package that weighs less than 13 ounces, you should send it through USPS.
Over the years, the USPS has gotten a bad reputation for losing products and delaying deliveries. However, the merchants who recommended this carrier were quick to recognize that this problem is now largely in the past.
According to Mike Lindamood from Lamood Big Hats:
If you ship lightweight items such as hats, orders under a pound, then USPS first class is the best and cheapest method to use. Merchants are often hesitant to use USPS because of lost orders, but since we started business in 2004 this has reduced dramatically. While they still do lose a package once in a while, the money you save in shipping will cover the cost of any lost packages that have to be reshipped.
Sarah Whittington, Owner of TheSmoothestore.com (an online store that specializes in dachshund gifts) gave similar advice regarding USPS. She says:
Occasionally, I use UPS, but hands-down USPS has the overall best commercial rates for small/mid-volume shippers, and surprisingly great service! Mastering USPS boils down to the difference between 1st class package (under a pound) and Priority Mail (PM) shipping (over a pound) in the US.
Let’s talk a bit about those differences.
First Class Mail and Priority Mail are similar in many ways. Both services are affordably priced and will deliver your shipments within 1-3 business days. Whittington is right that the primary difference between the two services is that First Class is great for shipments under a pound (or 13oz in some cases) and Priority Mail will handle shipments between 1lb and 70lbs. However, Priority Mail includes a couple of additional features that you should also consider:
- Priority Mail provides free boxes. You can even have these boxes delivered to your place of business.
- Priority Mail includes free $50 insurance on qualifying packages.
So, although Priority Mail is a bit more expensive, you can at least benefit from the added perks. However, if you’re shipping products heavier than one pound, it would be in your best interest to also look into pricing with UPS and FedEx. You may find cheaper rates with these services.
Get Free Packaging Materials
One excellent way to save on shipping is to reduce the amount you spend on packaging supplies. There are quite a few avenues you can take to cut these expenses, but here are my three favorite tips for getting free supplies:
Ship With Priority Mail
Using Priority Mail lets you take advantage of USPS’s free boxes. This is great for a few reasons.
Firstly and most obviously, you don’t have to purchase any of the boxes you send through Priority Mail.
Secondly, you can save a few of these boxes to use with other non-Priority Mail shipments. Although the USPS does not look kindly on merchants who order loads of boxes and never ship with Priority Mail, they don’t mind if you smuggle away a spare box here and there. Cut up these boxes and use them as dividers and filler in other shipments.
Go Dumpster Diving
If you aren’t afraid of getting your hands a little dirty, you may be able to benefit from the cardboard recycling of neighboring businesses. Grocery and retail stores produce a shocking amount of waste, and much of it includes reusable packaging materials. Why not help them get rid of that waste and help out the environment at the same time?
Dan Greenleaf from Greenleaf Business Management employs recycled packaging materials of this kind in his own business model. Here’s his suggestion:
For other boxes and packaging materials, like bubble wrap, brown paper, foam, etc., ask some local retail companies if you can raid their dumpsters. Find out when they get deliveries so you can do your picking early.
While recycled and cut-up materials may not look the nicest, they can certainly reduce the amount you spend on your shipments. You’ll have to consider if looks or expense are more important to your brand and make a decision from there.
Use FedEx’s Free Shipping Supplies
Take advantage of FedEx Office’s free shipping supplies and DIY design and printing services for marketing materials. If you need a few extra hands, look into FedEx’s packing and design services for assistance.
Click the link below to learn how you can order free packaging materials and design and print your marketing inserts at your local FedEx store.
Ship With Bubble Mailers
While we’re on the topic of shipping materials, let me share with you everyone’s favorite shipping material…
Bubble mailers are the perfect way to send those less-than 13oz products through USPS. If your products (like clothing or books) don’t need much padding, try sending them with a bubble mailer. It’s a light, inexpensive packaging method, and merchants absolutely adore it.
Look Into Last-Mile Delivery
If you often send shipments through UPS and FedEx, and you’re looking for ways to cut down on fees, you should consider using last-mile delivery options.
With services like UPS SurePost and FedEx SmartPost, you can send packages without incurring residential surcharges. Your chosen carrier will simply drop off packages at your customer’s local post office, and the USPS handles the neighborhood delivery.
Using these services will add an extra day or so to your delivery time; however, they will also make your shipments cheaper by eliminating residential surcharges.
You’ll have to weigh the merits of speed and cost as you decide when to use last-mile delivery services.
Ship With Multiple Carriers
While USPS is my first recommendation for many merchants, it is by no means the only shipping carrier you should use. Although USPS works well for small packages, pricing dramatically increases for larger shipments. What’s more, the USPS does not provide the best tracking methods or delivery speeds.
It’s in your best interest to ship with at least one other carrier in addition to USPS. I recommend UPS or FedEx. By using multiple carriers you can better select the correct service for each shipment. In addition, customers will have the option to choose between shipping speeds and prices.
Chris White, the CEO and co-founder of Shinesty, had this to say about using multiple shipping carriers:
We approach our shipping strategy by giving our customers options and using programatic shipping rates (advance shipping manager is the software we use) that can get as close to the exact rate as possible. In terms of options we always offer a “cheap and slow” option which uses USPS and is just like it says, cheap and slow….When it comes to UPS and FedEx we’ve found their levels of service to be fairly equivalent. Because we notice no discernible difference in service, we pit them against each other once a year to see who will offer us lower rates. As our volume grows, these companies generally are able to offer better prices every six months or so.
Automate With Software
For many online sellers, juggling multiple shipping carriers is a necessary part of fulfillment. However, without the right software setup, using more than one shipping carrier can be a pain.
For this reason, we recommend merchants look into software solutions that specialize in shipping. This kind of software will import your orders from one or more selling channels, automatically calculate shipping rates for multiple carriers, and simplify purchasing postage and printing labels.
Here at Merchant Maverick, we research and test software systems to help you decide which are the best fit for your business. Here are four of our favorite shipping solutions at present:
ShippingEasy is a web-based dashboard that lets you process orders from multiple sales channels. All your orders import automatically, and you can select shipping options and buy postage in just a few clicks. Setting up shipping rules lets you simplify the process even further. ShippingEasy gets high marks for ease of use and customer service and is a good choice for businesses looking for a simple shipping solution. ShippingEasy also integrates with more than 50 other software apps, and may be able to save you up to 46% on USPS shipping rates. To learn more, read our full review.
ShipStation is one of the most commonly used shipping solutions, perhaps due to its wide range of integrated software. All of the most popular eCommerce solutions, marketplaces, and carriers are already integrated into the software. Darren Schreher, Digital Manager for INTO THE AM and iHeartRaves shared with me his experience with ShipStation:
We utilize ShipStation to ship over 250,000 packages a year. Before ShipStation, we utilized multiple programs for shipping that were slow and required shippers to select options manually. This meant that the people creating labels needed to have knowledge of all the different carriers/services and memorize which ones were cheapest. Also, when communication between the multiple programs we used failed, we were left unable to ship orders completely. ShipStation allowed us to streamline the shipping process with Automation Rules/Mapping, tags, and batching orders. Using the automation rules, as orders are imported we have tags applied that correspond to the different shipping carriers that we use.
ShipStation is a great solution for merchants seeking to integrate not only their eCommerce platform but also their accounting and inventory management systems. As always, take a look at our full ShipStation review to learn more.
Stamps.com is different from the solutions above in that it only connects with one shipping carrier: USPS. Using Stamps.com, merchants can purchase and print shipping labels from the USPS. Users can also schedule package pickups, process orders in bulk, and print packing slips. Stamps.com also gives users access to discounted shipping rates. If you’re looking for a simple solution that makes shipping through USPS a little easier, take a look at Stamps.com. Read our review for more information.
OrderCup integrates with over 30 software programs to let users connect their software systems with ease. OrderCup provides much of the same functionality as ShippingEasy. OrderCup is available for a reasonable price (based on your order volume per month) and is great for merchants who ship products across the US/Canadian border or within Canada. Read our full review for more information.
Did We Miss Anything To Get Cheaper Shipping?
We hope this list gave you ideas for new and improved shipping strategies. You may be just a few bubble mailers away from shipping success!
We tried to include the most widely applicable shipping hacks in this article, but we know we may have missed a few good ones. If we skipped over your favorite shipping strategy, tell us about it in the comments below. Let us know how you’re hacking life!