USPS VS UPS VS FedEx: Which Shipping Carrier Is The Best?
There's no one perfect shipping carrier. Depending on how frequently you ship and the type and weight of your shipments, you may actually benefit from a mix of USPS, UPS, and FedEx.
Shipping is a difficult problem for any merchant. With three major shipping carriers to choose from — and different priority mail and flat-rate options offered by each carrier — it can be challenging to know which service you should use for your shipments. Which is easiest, fastest, cheapest? Beyond that: Are there really that many differences between UPS (United Parcel Service) vs. FedEx vs. the USPS (United States Postal Service)?
Never fear! We’ve researched the advantages and disadvantages of each of the three major shipping services and asked merchants to tell us about their own experiences with UPS, FedEx, and the USPS.
Keep reading to compare shipping rates and learn what each shipping carrier does well and where they can improve.
Top Shipping Hacks Revealed
Table of Contents
What Is The Difference Between UPS & USPS?
USPS is best when you want to ship small packages out quickly and cost effectively, while UPS is best when you have larger packages and need a worldwide reach.
Comparing UPS VS USPS VS FedEx & Finding The Right Shipping Carrier For Your Needs
We do sound like a broken record, but here’s the truth: There’s no one-size-fits-all shipping option. Different business owners swear by each one of these options and feel spirited about their choice. Ultimately, you will need to weigh your business wants, needs, and costs and see which one fits those needs. Most businesses find it’s best to mix and match shipping options. Read on to see which carrier is best for your business.
What UPS Is Best For & Why
Perhaps you know UPS for its iconic brown trucks and ubiquitous shipping offices. However you know them, UPS (United Parcel Service) is a major player in the shipping industry, specializing in speedy and secure delivery. eCommerce merchants, in particular, love UPS for its reliability and comprehensive tracking system. Despite all this good, however, UPS also has its disadvantages. Depending upon the shipment size, UPS’s services can come at a higher price than those you’d find with the USPS.
Is UPS the right service for your business? Let’s take a closer look at the top pros and cons of the brown van shipping service.
- Guaranteed express shipping
- Often affordable for heavy shipments
- Great tracking
- Can be expensive
- No free package pickup
- Saturday delivery costs extra
Advantages Of UPS For Business Shipping
- It Offers Guaranteed Express Shipping: If you need a package delivered ASAP, UPS is a great choice. UPS provides services such as same-day delivery and next-day delivery. Guaranteed delivery gives you the peace of mind that your packages will arrive on time, keeping your customers happy and your business moving.
- It’s Affordably Priced (At Times) For Heavy Shipments: While the USPS is the cheapest option for light shipments, prices increase dramatically for heavier shipments. If you’re shipping packages heavier than two pounds, you should take a look at UPS’s shipping rates. It may be able to deliver your packages more quickly (and securely) at a lower price. What’s more, if you ship large volumes through UPS, you should be able to take advantage of volume discounts. You have to have proof of your previous shipments, but the discounts are worth the effort.
- It Provides Unbeatable Tracking: UPS offers comprehensive tracking services. Customers can see where their packages are from start to finish. UPS’s detailed tracking gives your customers a sense of security, and it’s also great for you! The UPS can tell you at any point exactly where packages are. It’s unlikely that you’ll lose a package while shipping through UPS.
Disadvantages Of UPS For Business Shipping
While UPS is a great service in many ways, it isn’t perfect. Here are a few areas in which you have to sacrifice if you ship with UPS:
- It’s More Expensive: While this is not true in every case, UPS’s services can be expensive, and its shipping costs are high. There are a few reasons for this, but two of the main culprits are the fees and surcharges UPS adds to its base rates. These include fuel surcharges, extended area surcharges, and more. You should consider these surcharges, especially if you’re shipping internationally, as they can be rather steep.
- There’s No Free Package Pickup Service: Although the USPS offers scheduled pickups free of charge, you’ll have to pay a flat rate for the same service from UPS. While UPS does offer a flat fee for this service (vs FedEx that charges by weight), it’s a bummer that UPS doesn’t provide this service for free the way USPS does.
- There Is No Free Saturday Delivery: UPS is the only carrier on this list that does not offer Saturday delivery as a part of its basic services. This can slow down your shipments by up to two days. Instead, Saturday delivery is offered as a “value-added service.” You’ll have to use qualifying shipping services and pay extra to have your shipments delivered on Saturday.
What USPS Is Best For & Why
The United States Postal Service stands apart on this list as a shipping carrier because it’s an independent federal agency. The USPS bears the unique responsibility of providing postal services to all residents of the United States, pledging that “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” will keep the postal service from delivering letters and packages to American mailboxes (although in my experience, freezing rain/ice does the trick).
USPS is best for small, light shipments and is a good choice for those who need affordable shipping.
While the USPS is not the ideal option for every merchant (or every shipment!), it still is well worth considering as a part of your fulfillment strategy. I would recommend the USPS in particular to sellers who ship a lot of small packages under 13 ounces. Those super-low rates for light shipments are hard to beat!
If you’re shipping to residential mailboxes and PO boxes, USPS is also a good choice.
- The cheapest option for small packages
- Delivers to mailboxes and PO boxes
- Free pickup
- Saturday delivery
- Poor customer support
- Limited tracking
Advantages Of USPS For Business Shipping
There are a lot of things to like about the USPS. Here’s what merchants love most about the postal service:
- It’s The Cheapest Option For Small Packages: Online merchants often want to know what’s cheaper: USPS, UPS, or FedEx? And while there’s no one-size-fits-all shipping solution for every merchant, merchants who are searching for a low-cost shipping carrier should look first to their local post office. The USPS is almost always the cheapest delivery service option for companies that ship small items. The USPS provides the most economical shipping for many packages under two pounds, and it offers especially low rates for shipments under 13 ounces. Let me state it clearly: If you’re shipping products under 13 ounces, you should use USPS. Additionally, many merchants benefit from the postal service’s flat-rate options through Priority Mail. For one price, you can ship products of any weight across any distance; it just has to fit into one of USPS’s flat-rate boxes. If you’re trying to cut costs, USPS may be the way to go.
- It’s More Reliable Than In The Past: While in the past USPS was infamous for misplacing packages or delaying shipments, in recent years, it has significantly improved its reliability and on-time delivery rates. While there are the occasional hiccups, if your concern is lost packages, it seems that fear is now unfounded. Merchants often state that their savings from using USPS more than covers the very few packages that go missing.
- It Delivers To Mailboxes & PO Boxes: The USPS has a monopoly on mailboxes and PO boxes. It’s the only shipping service that does not have to drop off packages at customers’ doorsteps. Additionally, because the USPS routinely delivers across the country, it excels in getting packages to out-of-the-way destinations. If you’re looking for a service that will allow you to deliver your packages along with customers’ daily mail, USPS is the only way to go.
Disadvantages Of USPS For Business Shipping
While USPS is great for many purposes, it is by no means a perfect solution. Here are a few of the downfalls you’ll have to look out for:
- Tracking Is Not Great: While USPS has improved its reliability in recent years, packages still go missing from time to time. The USPS’s less-than-perfect tracking system does not help matters when deliveries are delayed or lost. For better tracking capabilities, you’ll have to look into more expensive package delivery alternatives.
- Poor Customer Service: Merchants report that when packages do go missing, it can be difficult to have them located and to get the refund you’ve been assured. Some other customer service complaints involve lost packages, the fact that the system is hard to navigate by customers, and long hold times. To get the affordable shipping rates USPS offers, it appears you’ll have to sacrifice a bit in terms of customer service.
What FedEx Is Best For & Why
FedEx is an excellent option for merchants who are looking for fast, dependable shipping. In particular, FedEx is great for air shipments and next-day deliveries. FedEx also has a good number of international shipping options to fit a variety of price levels and desired delivery times.
FedEx is best for large shipments, express deliveries, and for merchants who need to track their shipments.
As always, you should compare shipping rates with UPS and USPS to make sure you’re getting the best service for your money.
In the UPS vs FedEx debate, there is no clear winner. Merchants often cite location as their main reason for choosing FedEx over UPS. However, your experience may prove quite different. Regardless, here’s our list of what FedEx does well and where it could improve.
- Good tracking
- Saturday delivery
- Discounts available
- Can be expensive
- No free package pickup
- Fewer offices
Advantages Of FedEx For Business Shipping
FedEx has many of the same advantages that UPS does, including a great tracking system and speedy delivery. Here’s what you can expect from FedEx:
- A Precise Tracking System: FedEx offers customers a robust tracking system. You can view your shipments’ progress every step of the way. Your customers can also use FedEx’s delivery manager to hold packages at a FedEx office or schedule delivery for a specific time.
- Saturday Delivery: Saturday delivery is available at no extra charge when you ship via FedEx Home Delivery. Delivering products just two days earlier through FedEx can make a huge impact on customer satisfaction.
- Discounts Available: Signing up for a personal or business account grants you immediate access to FedEx’s discounted shipping rates. You don’t need to do anything else. If you are selling and shipping products, FedEx recommends that you sign up for a business account (even if you’re a sole proprietor) to gain access to its rewards program.
Disadvantages Of FedEx For Business Shipping
Of course, as you consider FedEx, you’ll have to also keep in mind its downsides. Here are a few of the most notable:
- Higher Shipping Rates: Due to the highly variable nature of shipping costs, it’s impossible to label one carrier as definitively more expensive than another. However, from what I’ve seen with sample calculations, it appears that FedEx often charges more than USPS. Of course, this won’t be true in every case, but it does seem to be a trend. This could be in part due to surcharges, such as delivery area surcharges and fuel surcharges.
- No Free Package Pickup Service: Except for its recurring Express pickup services, FedEx does not offer a free package pickup service. Most pickup services are available for a fee.
- Fewer Offices: There are over 2,000 FedEx Offices worldwide. In comparison, UPS provides around 5,000 UPS Stores. That makes FedEx a less convenient option for many small business owners.
USPS VS UPS VS FedEx Shipping Services
Here is a rundown of all three carriers and their shipping service options.
FedEx Shipping Options
FedEx offers both domestic and international shipping services for envelopes, packages, and freight. View the complete list of services on the FedEx website, or take a look at the summary below.
FedEx Domestic Mail & Shipping
FedEx offers a variety of domestic shipping services within the United States. Here are the main options and the expected delivery times.
|FedEx Domestic Shipping Services||FedEx Delivery Times|
|FedEx Ground:||1-7 business days|
|FedEx Express Saver:||3 business days|
|FedEx 2Day:||2 business days|
|FedEx Standard Overnight:||Next business day|
|FedEx Priority Overnight:||Mid-morning on the next business day|
|FedEx First Overnight:||Morning on the next business day|
FedEx International Mail & Shipping
FedEx offers international shipping options as well, with a variety of delivery times available.
|FedEx International Shipping Services||FedEx Delivery Times|
|FedEx International Ground:||2-7 business days|
|FedEx International Economy:||2-5 business days|
|FedEx International Priority:||1-3 business days|
|FedEx International First:||Early morning delivery in 1-3 days|
|FedEx International Next Flight:||ASAP — next available flight|
FedEx Freight Shipping
Like UPS, FedEx also offers numerous domestic and international freight shipping services, including:
- FedEx First Overnight Freight
- FedEx 1Day Freight
- FedEx 2Day Freight
- FedEx 3Day Freight
- FedEx Freight Priority
- FedEx Freight Economy
- FedEx International Next Flight
- FedEx International Priority Freight
- FedEx International Economy Freight
- FedEx Freight Priority
- FedEx Freight Economy
Contact FedEx directly for more freight shipping details.
Other FedEx Services
Like the other two shipping carriers in this list, FedEx offers numerous value-added services. Here’s a sampling of what’s available:
- Packing services
- Scheduled shipment pickup
- Signature required delivery
- Shipping insurance
- Free Saturday delivery for some services
- Free FedEx Express packaging
For a complete picture of what FedEx can do, view its value-added options.
UPS Shipping Options
UPS offers dozens of shipping services for international and domestic shipping, including express shipments, air shipments, ground delivery, and freight transportation.
For the sake of simplicity, we have listed only the main categories of UPS’s shipping services below. Many of these services include multiple subcategories. For example, “UPS Worldwide Express” includes the following services: UPS Worldwide Express Plus, UPS Worldwide Express Shipping, UPS Worldwide Express Freight, UPS Worldwide Express NA1, and UPS Worldwide Express Freight Midday. If you’d like to view the complete list of UPS’s shipping services, head over to the UPS website. Otherwise, you can view our simplified lists below.
UPS Domestic Mail & Shipping
If you are shipping a package in the United States, here are the main shipping options offered by UPS.
|UPS Domestic Service||UPS Delivery Times|
|UPS Standard:||3+ days|
|UPS Ground:||1-5 days|
|UPS Hundredweight Service:||1-5 days|
|UPS 3Day Select:||3 days|
|UPS 2nd Day Air:||2 days|
|UPS Next Day Air:||Next business day|
|UPS Express Critical:||Same day|
UPS International Shipping
UPS offers international shipping options as well, with several shipment times available. Here are a few of the options UPS offers.
|UPS International Shipping Service||UPS Delivery Times|
|UPS Express Critical:||Same day|
|UPS Worldwide Express:||1-3+ days|
|UPS Worldwide Expedited:||2-3+ days|
UPS Freight Shipping Services
UPS also offers freight shipping services for both domestic and international shipments, including:
- UPS Air Freight
- UPS Ocean Freight
- UPS Freight Trucking and LTL Solutions
- UPS Worldwide Expedited Ground Freight
Contact UPS directly for more freight shipping details.
Other UPS Services
For an additional cost, UPS also offers many value-added services. These include:
- Delivery confirmation
- Collect on delivery
- Delivery change request
- Direct delivery only
- Hold for pickup
- Saturday delivery
- Notification services
- Shipper release
- Customs brokerage
- UPS delivery intercept
- Daily pickups
- UPS returns
Check out the UPS website for the full list of available value-added services.
USPS Shipping Options
The USPS offers a range of services covering domestic mail, international mail, and more. Here’s a quick summary of the services available with the USPS:
USPS Domestic Mail & Shipping
If you are shipping packages in the United States, here are the shipping services available to you.
|USPS Domestic Shipping Services||USPS Delivery Time|
|USPS Retail Ground:||2-8 business days|
|Media Mail:||2-8 business days|
|First-Class Mail:||1-3 business days|
|Priority Mail:||1-3 business days|
|Priority Mail Express:||Overnight to 2 days|
USPS International Mail & Shipping
USPS offers international shipping as well, with a variety of delivery times available.
|USPS International Shipping Services||USPS Delivery Time|
|Global Express Guaranteed:||1-3 business days|
|Priority Mail International Service:||6-10 business days|
|Priority Mail Express International:||3-5 business days|
|First-Class Package International Service:||Varies by destination|
|First-Class Mail International:||Varies by destination|
|Airmail M-Bags:||Varies by destination|
In addition to its shipping services, the USPS provides many other services, which includes the following:
- Free supplies for Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express
- Free shipment pickups
- Ship to military (you can send APO, FPO, DPO)
- Free shipping insurance (up to $100 on Priority Mail Express and up to $50 on Priority Mail)
- USPS tracking
- Certified mail
- Return receipts
- Purchase money orders
- Custom mail, stamps, and envelopes
For a full list of the USPS’s shipping services and more, take a look at its services webpage.
FedEx VS USPS VS UPS: Cost Comparison
This past year has seen surcharges and rate increases in all three carriers. This is especially true in overnight and express services, as customers want/need their products fast and there is a general back-up in the mail service due to the COVID pandemic.
Still, in most situations, the USPS is going to be the most economical option. (By comparison, the USPS rate increase to their ground coverage was by $.20 vs FedEx’s near $1.25 increase.) All prices below are up to date as of July 2021.
If you frequently ship through FedEx, you should consider signing up for an account. FedEx offers both personal accounts and business accounts, and all users of these accounts get access to discounted shipping rates. There are a couple of additional advantages to being signed up for a business account. If you are on the business account, you get access to the FedEx rewards program as well as discounts on some FedEx Office services.
Here is a breakdown of costs for the main FedEx shipping services in the US.
|FedEx Shipping Service||FedEx Cost||FedEx Cost Details|
|FedEx Ground:||Starts at $8.76||Prices based on package weight, size, and shipping zone|
|FedEx Express Saver:||Starts at $17.82||Prices based on package weight, size, and shipping zone|
|FedEx 2Day:||Starts at $20.04||Prices based on package weight, size, and shipping zone|
|FedEx Standard Overnight:||Starts at $29.05||Prices based on package weight, size, and shipping zone|
|FedEx Priority Overnight:||Starts at $31.76||Prices based on package weight, size, and shipping zone|
|FedEx First Overnight:||Starts at $62.76||Prices based on package weight, size, and shipping zone|
Costs for shipping through the USPS vary dramatically, depending on shipping dimensions as well as a package’s origin and shipping destinations. Fortunately, there’s one significant way that you can ensure you’re always getting the best rates with USPS and that is to sign up with a postage solution such as Stamps.com or ShippingEasy to access USPS’s discounted commercial rates. When you purchase postage online through one of these services, you can save up to 46% on the typical “retail” rates. Check out What Is Stamps.com & How Does It Work to learn more.
Here is a breakdown of the costs for the main USPS shipping services in the US.
|USPS Shipping Service||USPS Cost||USPS Cost Details|
|USPS Retail Ground:||Starts at $7.70||Prices based on package weight, size, and shipping zones; lowest prices available in-person at a post office|
|Media Mail:||Starts at $2.89 (Commercial)||Prices based on package weight, size, and shipping zones|
|First-Class Mail:||Starts at $0.55 (Commercial)||Prices based on package weight, size, and shipping zones; best option for mail up to 13oz|
|Priority Mail:||Starts at $7.16 (Commercial); Flat rate*, regional rate, and prepaid pricing available||Prices for flat-rate boxes do not vary based on weight or shipping zones; non-flat-rate box Priority Mail rates are based on weight, size, and shipping zones|
|Priority Mail Express:||Starts at $22.75 (Commercial); Flat rate* pricing available||Prices based on package weight, size, and shipping zones; prices for flat-rate boxes do not vary based on weight or shipping zones|
*USPS offers flat-rate prices for Priority Mail service. With flat-rate boxes and envelopes, weight and destination do not affect pricing. If you can fit it in the box, it’ll ship for the predetermined price.
Contact USPS directly for international shipping costs, or head over to the USPS postage calculator where you can enter package dimensions and origin and destination locations to get a cost estimate for the shipment.
Like the USPS, UPS organizes its pricing into two types of rates. In this case, they are the “daily rates” and the “retail rates.” UPS’s retail rates are the standard rates you can expect as an individual customer coming into a UPS Store. The daily rates, however, are discounted rates that are available to select users. To access daily rates, you need to have a scheduled UPS pickup, have a UPS agreement that provides these rates, and have established a UPS payment account after July 11, 2016.
Here is a breakdown of the daily rates for UPS’s main domestic shipping options.
|UPS Shipping Service||UPS Cost||UPS Cost Details|
|UPS Ground:||Starts at $8.76||Prices based on package weight, size, and shipping zones|
|UPS Hundredweight Service:||Varies||Prices based on the number of packages and their weight, size, and shipping zones|
|UPS 3Day Select:||Starts at $12.35||Prices based on package weight, size, and shipping zones|
|UPS 2nd Day Air:||Starts at $20.24||Prices based on package weight, size, and shipping zones|
|UPS Next Day Air:||Starts at $30.62||Prices based on package weight, size, and shipping zones|
If you’d prefer to just make a few estimates on a shipping calculator instead of digging through the entire rates sheet, UPS makes a cost calculator readily available. Or, for more information on your options for shipping internationally, check out the dedicated webpage.
UPS VS USPS VS FedEx Reviews
When it comes to customer reviews, UPS and FedEx are nearly identical. Both in terms of their one-star status on TrustPilot — 1.2 and 1.5 stars, respectfully — and when it comes to complaints and praises. It’s impossible to call a winner in that fight.
- BBB Reviews: The Better Business Bureau gives UPS an A rating on its site. Out of the BBB complaints, the majority of them were about delivery problems (lost/delayed/stolen items) or issues with a product or service (most of which are complaints about delivery issues, as well). UPS resolves most of the complaints on the site to customer satisfaction.
- Trustpilot Reviews: UPS scores a 1.2 out of 17764 reviews. The biggest complaints on that website are that UPS damaged and delayed packages, screwed up on tracking, and didn’t offer timely refunds. (Many people are also peeved when drivers leave packages out in the rain.) The reviews also are occasionally for specific UPS stores and are not focused entirely on the shipping service.
- Consumer Affairs: With 3689 reviews and an average 3.9 rating, the Consumer Affairs website earns UPS its highest customer score. Business owners like the clear rates and fast turn-around times, customers want attention and care to their packages.
- BBB Reviews: The Better Business Bureau does not rate or review government agencies
- Trustpilot Reviews: USPS scores a 2.5 out of 5 reviews. (Not a significant sample size.) Out of those five reviews, complaints were about delivery and tracking issues.
- Consumer Affairs: With 2091 reviews and an average 3.9 rating, the Consumer Affairs website showcases praise about individual postal workers or offices with outstanding customer services. However, on a larger scale, people complained about the same problems as other shipping services: Lost mail, damaged mail, mail sent to neighbors, unkind postal workers, archaic tracking services, etc.
- BBB Reviews: The Better Business Bureau gives FedEx an A+ rating on its site. Out of the BBB complaints, the majority of them were about delivery problems (lost/delayed/stolen items) or issues of poor customer service. Some problems took multiple people and over three days to fix — which can seem like an eternity when a package is lost in the mail.
- Trustpilot Reviews: FedEx scores a 1.5 out of 21,462 reviews. Again: Damaged, delayed, or lost mail is the frequent message among people leaving a Trustpilot review of FedEx or UPS.
- Consumer Affairs: With 2301 reviews and an average 2.5 rating, the Consumer Affairs website gives FedEx a lower score vs UPS or USPS. It would appear that out of the three carriers, FedEx has the lowest accuracy with hitting its target delivery dates. Although, many of those complaints have happened recently and while using international shipping. (All carriers are experiencing delays due to the ongoing pandemic.)
USPS VS FedEx VS UPS: Finding The Perfect Balance
|Shipping Carrier||Best For|
|USPS:||Shipping small packages, shipping to PO boxes, and free pickup|
|UPS:||Guaranteed shipping, package tracking, and heavy shipments|
|FedEx:||Fast deliveries, package tracking, and Saturday home delivery|
As you choose shipping carriers for your business, it’s important that you don’t limit yourself to just one shipping provider. Most merchants use a mix of two or even three delivery services to offer customers the fastest, cheapest shipping every time.
You may, for example, choose to save on shipping costs by shipping light packages with the USPS and heavy packages with UPS. Or you may ship everything through the USPS, except for expedited shipments, which you send through FedEx. It all depends on your business model, your average order weight, and your shipping destinations.
Are you thinking about using a dropshipping service instead? While there are a lot of potential negatives to dropshipping, many eCommerce vendors have found success dropshipping with Amazon, Shopify, and other shopping cart platforms. (For more information, Shopify has a great webinar on getting started with dropshipping.)