USPS VS UPS VS FedEx: Which Shipping Carrier Is The Best?
Shipping is a difficult problem for any merchant to work out. 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.
Never fear! We’ve researched the advantages and disadvantages of each of the three major shipping services, and we’ve asked merchants to tell us about their own experiences with UPS (United Parcel Service), FedEx, and the USPS (United States Postal Service). Keep reading to compare shipping rates and learn what each shipping carrier does well and where they can improve. We hope you’ll keep this information in mind as you explore your fulfillment options.
Top Shipping Hacks Revealed
Table of Contents
USPS: Best For Small Packages
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 does the trick).
The USPS is the #1 shipping option for many merchants, especially those who ship small and light products. However, USPS is not perfect for all situations. So when should you use USPS for your shipments? Keep reading to find out.
- The cheapest option for small packages
- Delivers to mailboxes and PO boxes
- Free pickup
- Saturday delivery
- Poor customer support
- Limited tracking
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.
USPS Shipping Rates
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. Prices listed below are up to date as of August 31, 2020.
|USPS Shipping Service||USPS Cost||USPS Cost Details|
|USPS Retail Ground:||Starts at $7.50||Prices based on package weight, size, and shipping zones; lowest prices available in-person at a post office|
|Media Mail:||Starts at $2.10 (Commercial)||Prices based on package weight, size, and shipping zones|
|First-Class Mail:||Starts at $0.389 (Commercial)||Prices based on package weight, size, and shipping zones; best option for mail up to 13oz|
|Priority Mail:||Starts at $7.02 (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.
Below, you’ll find an example of one of USPS’s pricing tables. This one shows the commercial base rates for Priority Mail Express:
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.
The Advantages Of Using USPS
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.
Merchants also save by utilizing USPS’s free packaging materials. Priority Mail boxes are available for free at the post office, and you can even arrange to have them delivered to your place of business.
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. Here’s what Allen Walton of SpyGuy.com had to say about the USPS’s improved delivery rates:
Deliverability is pretty solid. We very rarely have lost packages. Occasionally there are hiccups in their system that make it seem like a package hasn’t moved in days, and that can sometimes cause annoying issues, but getting better tracking means way more money using UPS or FedEx, and those guys have their own tracking issues.
Dr. Eugene Emmer from RehaDesign uses USPS to ship from his store in Europe to the United States. He reports:
In 10 years, only 2 parcels have been lost. Both times, all costs were fully refunded.
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.
Zondra Wilson of Blu Skin Care lists these perks as well. She says:
By far the best option when it comes to price, USPS also offers insured overnight delivery. USPS also delivers to most locations such as post office boxes, has pickup options, a wide array of packaging (some free), and offers insurance for Priority Express mail and Priority Mail as well as tracking for various services.
Additionally, because the USPS routinely delivers across the country, it excels in getting packages to out-of-the-way destinations. According to Jim Milan of AutoAccessories Garage:
They’re definitely the king of the lightweight package, and since they try to prioritize every address equally, they’ll occasionally surprise us with how quickly they can ship something to “the middle of nowhere,” so to speak.
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.
The Disadvantages Of Using USPS
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.
Although Milan from the AutoAccessories Garage emphasized that pricing is an important consideration for his company, he still has a few complaints regarding the USPS’s tracking methods:
…while USPS may often be the cheapest choice, they can never guarantee a delivery date, and rarely if ever provide accurate tracking. This can be very frustrating to our customers, and frustrating for us when we can’t provide more information about a shipment.
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. Here’s what SpyGuy.com’s Walton has to say to that:
Their customer service is garbage. Impossible to find lost packages, and they don’t make it easy for the customer to do the legwork themselves – it’s always on the business that shipped it out. When they put you on hold, it’s just a dead silence for like 30 minutes and you never know if someone will get on the line….Getting refunds is not easy. Sometimes they don’t deliver on time and the process for requesting refunds is antiquated. Really wish they would make it easy.
To get the affordable shipping rates USPS offers, it appears you’ll have to sacrifice a bit in terms of customer service.
When Should I Use USPS?
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 could also be a good choice.
UPS: Best For Larger Packages
Perhaps you know UPS as the company that leaves your Amazon purchases on the doorstep. Or maybe you know it for the iconic brown trucks or 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
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.
UPS Shipping Rates
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. Prices listed below are up-to-date as of August 31, 2020.
|UPS Shipping Service||UPS Cost||UPS Cost Details|
|UPS Ground:||Starts at $8.23||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 $11.67||Prices based on package weight, size, and shipping zones|
|UPS 2nd Day Air:||Starts at $19.19||Prices based on package weight, size, and shipping zones|
|UPS Next Day Air:||Starts at $25.60||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.
The Advantages Of Using UPS
There’s a lot to love about this service, but here are the primary reasons companies and online sellers choose UPS:
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.
The Disadvantages Of UPS
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. To prove the point, UPS just announced an increase in their international peak surcharges as of August 30, 2020.
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.
One of our contributing merchants, Mark Aselstine from Uncorked Ventures, explains how this affects his business:
…our packages are pretty heavy-a standard 2 bottle shipment of wine runs about 7 pounds. Since we often have dozens to ship, we prefer to have them picked up. FedEx charges some extra amount per pound for a pickup in our area whereas UPS charges a flat fee.
In this case, UPS is actually the best option, as it offers the lower pickup fee when compared to FedEx. It’s just 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.
When Should I Use UPS?
UPS is best for shipping large packages and for those who need strong tracking for their shipments.
While UPS isn’t the best choice for small packages, it is a great carrier for large packages (both in size and weight). I’d also recommend UPS to businesses that want to track their shipments carefully. UPS has some incredible tracking capabilities and offers guaranteed delivery on many of its services.
FedEx: Best For Express Deliveries
Honestly, from what I’ve seen and heard from online sellers, there isn’t much of a difference between FedEx and UPS. I know I’m going to get loads of protests about this in the comments section below, but in my opinion, the two are pretty similar.
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
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.
FedEx Shipping Rates
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 the 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. Prices listed below are up to date as of August 31, 2020.
|FedEx Shipping Service||FedEx Cost||FedEx Cost Details|
|FedEx Ground:||Starts at $8.23||Prices based on package weight, size, and shipping zone|
|FedEx Express Saver:||Starts at $16.85||Prices based on package weight, size, and shipping zone|
|FedEx 2Day:||Starts at $19.11||Prices based on package weight, size, and shipping zone|
|FedEx Standard Overnight:||Starts at $24.85||Prices based on package weight, size, and shipping zone|
|FedEx Priority Overnight:||Starts at $25.35||Prices based on package weight, size, and shipping zone|
|FedEx First Overnight:||Starts at $55.35||Prices based on package weight, size, and shipping zone|
To give you an idea of how much these prices can vary, here’s a breakdown of FedEx’s main shipping options by weight and desired delivery time:
The Advantages Of Using FedEx
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 is available at no extra charge when you ship via FedEx Home Delivery. Mark Tyrol, president of Battic Door Home Energy Conservation Products, names Saturday delivery as one of the reasons he chooses FedEx for shipments:
For most other orders we use FedEx. FedEx delivers on Saturdays so some items shipped mid-week that would arrive on Mondays via UPS arrive the Saturday before via FedEx. So we use FedEx for these shipments.
Delivering products just two days earlier through FedEx can make a huge impact on customer satisfaction.
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.
The Disadvantages Of FedEx
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.
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.
When Should I Use FedEx?
FedEx is best for large shipments, express deliveries, and for merchants who need to track their shipments.
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.
As always, you should compare shipping rates with UPS and USPS to make sure you’re getting the best service for your money.
USPS VS UPS VS FedEx: 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 already successfully shipping with one or more of these delivery services? Let us know in the comments which carriers you prefer and why. We love to hear from you!
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.)