Practical Ecommerce

Comparing UPS, FedEx, and USPS: Which is Best Now?

Shipping costs are an ongoing challenge for ecommerce merchants, who compete head-to-head over free shipping and seek to avoid shopping cart abandonment. Given this competitive environment, knowing which carrier is best can be a huge advantage.

In March, L.L. Bean announced that it would begin offering free shipping on every order, all the time, regardless of the total amount spent or the weight. This bold and customer-pleasing move has a significant number of merchants offering free shipping in many more circumstances, and by some estimates 75 percent of online retailers will offer some form of free shipping this holiday season. Since UPS, FedEx, and the United States Postal Service (USPS) all want to get paid for their services, rates become vital to merchants.

Separately, Forrester, the analysis firm, has reminded us of another shipping-related challenge for online retailers: Something like 44 percent of abandoned shopping carts are dumped because the customer deemed the shipping costs to be too high. Given that overall cart abandonment rates rose to 75 percent in the first six months of 2011, according to SeeWhy, the conversion and remarketing firm, retailers need to do everything they can to lower shipping costs.

Shipping Costs

To determine which service had the best rates, I compared published rates for eight destinations for a 2-pound package (Wrangler jeans) and 12-pound package (White’s Elk Guide Boots), both shipped from Caldwell, Idaho 83605. The destinations are: New York 10001; Boston 02109; Orlando 32801; Pine Bluff, AR 71601; Des Moines 50301; Devil’s Lake, ND 58301; Seattle 98101; and Santa Barbara 93108.

For the USPS, I looked at “Priority Mail” only. For FedEx, I reviewed “Home Delivery,” “Express Saver,” “Two Day,” “Overnight,” and “First Overnight.” For UPS, I looked at “Ground,” “Three Day,” “Two Day,” “Next Day,” and “Next Day Early.”

Comparing Shipping Rates: USPS, FedEx, UPS

New York 10001 Boston 02109 Orlando 32801 Pine Bluff 71601 Des Moines 50301 Devil’s Lake 58301 Seattle 98101 Santa Barbara 93108
White’s Elk Guide Boots, 12 lbs.
USPS Priority $34.39 $34.39 $34.39 $29.96 $26.33 $23.36 $17.04 $23.26
FedEx Home Delivery $12.77 $12.77 $12.77 $11.44 $9.71 $10.68 $8.12 $8.67
FedEx Express Saver $50.27 $50.27 $50.27 $43.34 $39.16 $30.51 $24.85 $28.40
FedEx Two Day $67.15 $67.15 $67.15 $55.04 $50.28 $42.08 $32.66 $39.96
FedEx Overnight $107.11 $107.11 $107.11 $104.71 $101.16 $94.36 $83.59 $92.23
FedEx First Overnight $150.91 $150.91 $150.91 N/A $143.87 $132.36 $122.06 N/A
UPS Ground $22.64 $22.64 $22.64 $20.57 $17.96 $19.20 $15.32 $16.22
UPS Three Day $56.37 $56.37 $56.37 $50.96 $46.17 $37.11 N/A N/A
UPS Two Day $83.33 $83.33 $83.33 $80.77 $75.13 $54.04 $37.05 $50.50
UPS Next Day $133.89 $133.89 $133.89 $130.99 $126.43 $107.56 $103.06 $104.42
UPS Next Day Early $159.23 $159.23 $159.23 $15.33 $151.77 $117.25 $138.40 $114.11
Wrangler Jeans, 2 lbs.
USPS Priority $9.37 $9.37 $9.37 $8.36 $7.86 $7.16 $5.58 $7.16
FedEx Home Delivery $7.12 $7.12 $7.12 $6.68 $6.74 $8.34 $6.21 $6.33
FedEx Express Saver $19.41 $19.41 $19.41 $15.60 $15.34 $14.54 $12.37 $12.42
FedEx Two Day $24.79 $24.79 $24.79 $23.76 $21.81 $18.84 $14.08 $16.72
FedEx Overnight $55.02 $55.02 $55.02 $52.84 $50.78 $47.98 $42.14 $45.86
FedEx First Overnight $90.40 $90.40 $90.40 N/A $85.59 $79.98 $75.74 N/A
UPS Ground $13.76 $13.76 $13.76 $10.76 $13.25 $15.57 $12.35 $12.59
UPS Three Day $25.48 $25.48 $25.48 $20.63 $22.23 $20.75 $20.01 $23.14
UPS Two Day $32.72 $32.72 $32.72 $28.39 $29.24 $26.28 N/A N/A
UPS Next Day $69.25 $69.25 $69.25 $63.50 $64.13 $56.60 $53.58 $53.47
UPS Next Day Early $104.60 $104.60 $104.60 $98.84 $99.47 $61.28 $88.92 $58.14

I also specified in all cases that I would be shipping to residential address since this is normal for online retailers.

In six of the eight cases, FedEx Home Delivery was the least expensive option. For the two nearest destinations, USPS Priority Mail, which is significantly faster, was the least expensive option. So if a merchant is going to offer free shipping, FedEx Home Delivery is worth checking out.

For the fastest of overnight services, FedEx was again the low cost service most of the time, although UPS had better rates to Devil’s Lake, and offered service to all of the locations, while FedEx did not.

In the end, FedEx generally had the best shipping prices.

Packing Material

All of the carriers offered free boxes for some of their premium shipping services. For example, UPS provides Two Day and Next Day boxes. But far and away, USPS had more free-box options. Moreover, those boxes were for its Priority Mail service, which was less expensive.

Boxes are not cheap, in fact, some can cost $1 each or more; getting free packaging is not small thing.

In terms of free packing materials, advantage USPS.

Customer Service

For the first time in years, UPS has outscored FedEx on a customer service survey. In June, the American Customer Satisfaction Index released a report giving UPS a 4 percent gain to a score of 85, while FedEx dropped 2 percent to a score of 83.

Recently, UPS has also done better at delivering on time (about 91 percent) versus FedEx (about 88 percent), although FedEx tended to be faster overall. In the past, UPS has tended to trail FedEx, while USPS tended to be the butt of a joke.

In short, for customer service, it’s a tie between FedEx and UPS.

Software

All major carriers now offer software and APIs for order processing and integrating, respectively. Generally, all three services work well and are very functional. I found FedEx’s software and API to be the easiest to work with, but this is a purely subjective response.

So, for software, here again we have a tie.

Which Carrier Is Best?

Each carrier has a lot to offer. For example, USPS Priority Mail is an excellent choice for fast, low-cost shipping, and USPS is the only carrier that does not charge extra for Saturday delivery or that can service post office boxes.

UPS had the largest ground fleet with an estimated 101,900 trucks (or “package cars,” as the company calls them).

FedEx was the leader in prices, and the most green, with 329 hybrid vehicles, 19 electric vehicles, and 406 alternative fuel vehicles.

So, which is best? The bottom line is that it depends on what you ship, where you ship it and what packing-materials needs you have, if any. It depends on your customer service needs, and your sensitivity to environmental issues. The best solution for your ecommerce business may not be the best for mine. It depends.

Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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Comments ( 49 )

  1. ebaylady July 18, 2013 Reply

    This article is completely inaccurate and biased!

    I have been selling on Ebay for over 10 years. I always compare shipping rates to find the lowest cost for my buyers.

    USPS is consistantly the cheapest and fastest way to ship both domestic and international!

    • ML September 12, 2013 Reply

      I too sell on Ebay both domestic and Intl. Call me skeptical but in this day and age I would lend more credence to your statement with an example or proof, So much mis-information “TRUST NO ONE QUESTION EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE”

  2. lmcintire November 8, 2011 Reply

    A fact correction: UPS has the most alternative fuel vehicles operating with more than 2,200 — Not FedEx.
    Go to http://pressroom.ups.com/Media+Kits/Environment to learn more.

  3. Armando Roggio November 8, 2011 Reply

    @Imcintire, I did not say that FedEx had the most, but rather they were the most green. As a percentage of total vehicles they are ahead of UPS.

  4. Liam Skye November 9, 2011 Reply

    I can’t duplicate those rates using the shippers’ online rate calculators. The FedEx rates I get are much higher than those reported in the story, also the USPS Flat Rate Priority rates are much lower than the rates reported (which seem to be correct for packages that don’t fit into the Flat Rate Boxes).

  5. Guy Lacorte November 9, 2011 Reply

    all the rates are compared to USPS priority rate, their ground service parcel post would be much cheaper, there is no comparison to USPS express service. These numbers do not show an accurate comarison with the post office and other shippers

  6. David Cary November 9, 2011 Reply

    It is interesting that only one product of the USPS was compared, but several of both the UPS and FedEx were used.

    I think this skews the comparison of several of the results. Priority mail is basically the USPS version of "two day", so it makes it compare favorably with the others.

    Why do I think this may be more of an advertisement "documentary"? Because the research is thus flawed when you don’t compare apples and oranges completely.

  7. Ron Weber November 9, 2011 Reply

    What an incomplete biased article. You are now "the butt of a joke"

  8. Stephan Roode November 9, 2011 Reply

    Save yourself the headache of trying to figure out who the lowest fair carrier is, ABOL Software has a multi-carrier solution that will do the math for you.

  9. Samuel Wheatley November 9, 2011 Reply

    There is one fact that everybody needs to know about, UPS and FedEx ship their cheaper paying parcels/packages through the US Postal Service; that is how they keep their costs down.

  10. Armando Roggio November 9, 2011 Reply

    @Liam Skye Do you mind if I ask what you are using for the origin. I just did a couple of spot checks and I was able to reproduce the results.

  11. Armando Roggio November 9, 2011 Reply

    @Guy Lacorte. You are correct that I only considered Priority Mail from the USPS. I actually tested both Parcel Post and First Class Mail. But I cannot recommend Parcel Post under any circumstance because of several very poor service experiences, and my 12 pound item would have been to large to go First Class Mail.

  12. Armando Roggio November 9, 2011 Reply

    @David Cary You are correct that I only measured a single service from the USPS. I am actually a fan of flat rate boxes from the USPS, but they only work when the product fits. I make the choice not to consider them because of that restriction. When I do the comparison again I will be sure to show those figures, but specify that not all items will fit.

  13. Armando Roggio November 9, 2011 Reply

    @Samuel Wheatley. Yes. Both do use first class mail for small light items. But I think there are other factors that help them keep costs down too.

  14. Armando Roggio November 9, 2011 Reply

    @Ron Weber. Sorry I upset you.

  15. Liam Skye November 9, 2011 Reply

    @Armando R. I’m using the FedEx rate calculator https://www.fedex.com/ratefinder/home?cc=US&language=en and I’m getting a different set of rates.

    I also used the UPS.com calculator and I got the same results that you reported.

  16. Liam Skye November 9, 2011 Reply

    @Armando R. I just had a thought – are you accessing commercial rates from FedEx? I don’t have an account with them so the rate calculator will not display them to me.

  17. Ron Weber November 9, 2011 Reply

    Didn’t upset me… I just like truth in reporting. 1 USPS service, versus all of UPS and FedEx services? Plus you didn’t include Flat Rate services at all

  18. Armando Roggio November 9, 2011 Reply

    @Liam I am logged into my FedEx account. @Ron Weber, I understand. As I mentioned in another comment I did not include the other services because of limitations in terms of package size etc. But I personally do these comparisons often, and I will be sure to include more data. Also, I would like to include rates from EquaShip, I am very interested in their service.

  19. SouthWind November 10, 2011 Reply

    I think this was a fair comparison. I also would not recommend Parcel Post to anybody, I have had only bad experiences with it.

    While it’s correct that products like Fedex SmartPost are delivered by USPS, it’s also interesting to note that Priority Mail is moved between terminals by Fedex cargo jets.

  20. kathywmn November 10, 2011 Reply

    We just compared. UPS is about to release "SurePost" which will compare to FedEx "SmartPost" (Home Delivery Residential). UPS SurePost will also work through the USPS and have a comparable rate to SmartPost. That would’ve been the deciding factor for us prior to knowing about SurePost, but now the two seem even again. We continue to try USPS and continue to have problems with tracking, lost/damaged pkg, etc., so we’ve ruled them out except for an occasional flat rate box.

  21. Jeff Oster November 10, 2011 Reply

    Thanks for jump starting the conversation about shipping costs, Armando.

    The majority of our shipping is a pound or less. UPS and FedEx can’t touch the rates for USPS Priority for a pound or less. Delivery is track-able and shipping boxes are free.

  22. Bobby Cintolo November 10, 2011 Reply

    This is a great article that will surely be helpful for a number of eCommerce merchants. I get asked this question all the time. Thanks for the info.

  23. quicksilver1024 November 10, 2011 Reply

    You’re missing one of the most popular delivery services: First-Class delivery from USPS. It is by far the most economical service from USPS!

    • Steven December 20, 2013 Reply

      So true! Under 13oz, and even Media mail can’t compete [when sending books, etc.].

  24. millhaus November 11, 2011 Reply

    as a carrier I wish that when people who test us they would do it right , there are many different flat rate envelopes and boxes, not only the higher priced priority box, And of course UPS would take credit for delivering all those packages, at my office alone UPS drops off 200 pkgs a day that it wount deliver this happens at every office nation wide, the PO keeps all records of this subtract this # from UPS count, fedx also drops off everyday, WHY because we are better and cheaper

  25. CarroBarrato November 12, 2011 Reply

    "White’s Elk Guide Boots, 12 lbs". I believe you forgot flat rate shipping for USPS that significantly changes your rate estimates: 10.95 Priority Mail®
    Medium Flat Rate Box 13-5/8" x 11-7/8" x 3-3/8" 11" x 8-1/2" x 5-1/2" or
    $14.95 Priority Mail®Large Flat Rate Box12" x 12" x 5-1/2"23-11/16" x 11-3/4" x 3" $12.95 to APO/FPO/DPO. Thanks you.

  26. Gator November 12, 2011 Reply

    This retailer obviously has a special deal with FedEx. I see that the two-pound jeans ship for 9.37 to zone 8 (NY) with USPS Priority. The FedEx Home Delivery cost, without a special deal, would be 10.40 (at this given time, their fuel charge is constantly changing). The results in this article are misleading. If you you can get a deal UPS or FedEx, that would be the way to go. Otherwise, USPS Priority will be the best value for your money for packages 2-3 lbs and under. Not to mention the 2-day shipping turn around for all zones.

  27. John Lindberg November 24, 2011 Reply

    I am in the fulfillment business and we ship thousands of packages every day, but I have to admit that even with the special software and the experience of our shipping teams, even we sometimes have trouble with rate shopping between UPS, FedEx and USPS.

    There are lots of problems, but a big one is ever changing UPS and FedEx fees and surcharges. The fuel surcharge percentage, which presently is running 8.5% for ground and 14% for air, can change every 30 days and special fees like the delivery area surcharge vary by individual zip codes.

    Even the base rates vary drastically by delivery zone which can yield an advantage for one carrier for a specific combination of weight, distance, but the next combination of variables may be better for a different carrier–for the same package weight.

    And there are wild cards like use of USPS flat rate parcels, media rate, postal consolidators that can provide zone skip savings, UPS and FedEx services that partner with the USPS for last mile delivery and more.

    In spite of this complexity, we have learned that smart rate shopping is vital in keeping fulfillment costs in budget and making free shipping terms possible for our clients.

    For online merchants who are interested in the details of rate shopping, a good starting point is the delivery guides which are posted online at…

    [http://images.fedex.com//us/services/pdf/Service_Guide_2011_Survey.pdf](http://images.fedex.com//us/services/pdf/Service_Guide_2011_Survey.pdf)

    [http://www.ups.com/media/en/daily_rates.pdf](http://www.ups.com/media/en/daily_rates.pdf)

    [http://pe.usps.com/cpim/ftp/manuals/dmm100/dmm100.pdf](http://pe.usps.com/cpim/ftp/manuals/dmm100/dmm100.pdf)

    John Lindberg – President
    EFULFILLMENT SERVICE INC

  28. allstarjd74 December 6, 2011 Reply

    One of the previous comment writers hit it spot on- USPS flat rate priority options are the best way to go for non-urgent items (which is 99% of ecom sales). I agree parcel post is a nightmare and should be avoided at all costs but most items/orders will fit into priority mail flat rate boxes and as far as I know there’s no weight limit on domestic shipments.

    When I’m shopping online as a customer, there’s nothing more displeasing than companies who insist on shipping even the smallest value item via UPS or FedEx with rates starting around $5. This is most relevant in the media market. DVDs, CDs, books, etc. can be shipped for as little as $1.75 with delivery confirmation using USPS online first class mail rates.

  29. Mark Ting February 9, 2012 Reply

    Armando really useful article (And alot of hardwork went into it!), but there is an easier way to compare the rates. I run a site called ShippingEasy.com that compares rates automatically and gives a single way to connect all of the courier companies into your shopfront. Plus no carrier account needed to get better rates. That way you can focus on customer service, rather than complex shipping tables. Mark.

  30. Cristina Sierra February 15, 2012 Reply

    Mark – just tried using your site but I received an error. Is it currently working?

  31. Kevinfdn June 19, 2012 Reply

    Remember it’s not always about price… UPS and FedEx are two very different companies. For example… UPS offers flex parcel, insuring your product shipments at invoice value and thus, protecting your profit. Where is your equivalent service, FedEx?

  32. Richard Seiler September 5, 2012 Reply

    I noticed that the author of this article mentioned that he was an ‘Online Retailer’; that right there would make ALL the difference in the world as to what you pay with whom, the more the business ~ the more the discount.
    If you have an account with either UPS or Fed-Ex; that may make a difference to!!

  33. shocked January 14, 2013 Reply

    15.91 to send 1.4 pounds 420 miles. so i call bs on the 9.37 rate. last time i use fed ex, rates up when gas goes down, figures. i knew i shouldnt have asked for the lowest rate……………………..

  34. Joe Schneberger May 20, 2013 Reply

    More than once FedEx has raised the rate quoted on line after I printed and shipped the item then I get billed more than I had paid at time of printing label and yes weight was correct each time. Just hiked up the price. Never us them again.

  35. Albert Maruggi September 11, 2013 Reply

    this is where the web sucks, here is an article comparing shipping rates, percentage of vehicles that are green, and other information that is likely no longer relevant and it’s still listed as a popular post. Why?

    Because people don’t read the date? Because popularity is based on clicks of the headline? There is absolutely no reason you can give me that this article now nearly 2 years old has any relevance to a decision you can make today.

  36. Anderson September 13, 2013 Reply

    Great Article! Great timing too as we were just compiling some similar comparisons ourselves to be sure our preferred shipping method was still the best. We have a Yahoo store which integrates automatically with UPS, but, we still prefer the extra step to ship via FedEx. This is a very helpful add on to our research.

  37. Tony Sanchez September 29, 2013 Reply

    Dude?! You only reference the most expensive USPS price! I happen to know that USPS delivery is the cheapest, irregardless, you aren’t giving objective information!

  38. Steven December 20, 2013 Reply

    Don’t forget FedEx SmartPost, which uses FedEx contracts out with USPS. You are buying ground USPS but FedEx will deliver it to their hubs for dispatching and then it will be delivered the rest of the way. On their website they show the hubs, so consider it if Home Delivery by FedEx is not an option that you’re wanting to pay for. It’s usually 3 to 4 dollars less than Parcel and standard USPS, and has free tracking if purchased online [just like USPS].

  39. Stan December 24, 2013 Reply

    Price isn’t as important as service USPS and UPS have never lost a package for me Fedex has lost 3 and today failed to deliver an overnight package that it’s own tracking says was in the local delivery hands by 10AM this morning. I hope they haven’t lost it by the day after Christmas, 2 days late.

  40. Susan December 30, 2013 Reply

    Adding to Stan.
    I always prefer UPS, because of the quality, not the price. But now I get even better price from UPS. Check ShipiingRates.cc, they giving competitive rates for UPS. But USPS too often fail to deliver on time. You paying less up-front, but when you loose you customer, it turns out to be much more expensive.

  41. Rusty January 22, 2014 Reply

    I been selling on eBay for while. For a long time, UPS was the most expensive, while Fedex while cheapest for package deliveries. Lot of sellers would quote buyers with UPS, but would ship with Fedex instead to siphon off the difference. I think beginning in 2014, UPS lowered their price on eBay (not sure about retail price) to compete better with Fedex. I have yet to see a single destination where UPS is cheaper than Fedex. Now Fedex has come out with SmartPost, which is even cheaper than USPS flat rate shipping, albeit slower. Not a lover of Fedex, I just love to save money, thats all.

  42. Linda May 6, 2014 Reply

    FedEx has a reputation of not delivering packages,,, Guess what I’ve been one of those victims.. sad to say. I’m trying to locate a package now they said was delivered on 4/15/14.. No door tag, nothing. ijs

  43. RJ June 1, 2014 Reply

    Look at the carriers when they deliver to your house. UPS and FEDEX are hustling. USPS carrier has no sense of urgency.

  44. Christina Ellis June 11, 2014 Reply

    Did you know that Freight+ Software allows you to rate shop and ship UPS, USPS, FedEx, and LTL. It integrates with your accounting system to pull customer and order information and also sends advanced e-mail to customer with tracking info. Also, Freight+ automates SEDS. See us online at http://www.frtplus.com.

  45. Inna Sanders July 15, 2014 Reply

    Inna Sanders
    I been shipping all the clothes from my store using USPS and thought it was the cheapest way until I found a site that lets you print USPS labels and then drop it off at USPS stores or have USPS drivers come pick it up. Anyway I got 15% off International USPS Priority and 20% off USPS International Express. So it’s a big difference and when I called I was told that if I do x amount a month I can get even better rates. Even the first class rates was by about 10-13% lower than anywhere else. Domestic flat rate boxes were less than USPS online and less than ebay. The link to get the 15% off USPS international priority and 20% off USPS international express is https://vipparcel.com/registration?code=LUYF. Without it you just going to get 10% and 15% off. Their domestic are pennies lower the USPS online but they only offer 6 services. First class is anything under 16oz, usually what I use for smaller stuff. Best thing would be to call them. It’s a small company so ask to get transferred to Peter Repik. He is the guys that handles everything for us. Tell them what your business is shipping and depending on the volume they can give you discount up to 30% off USPS rates. DOn;t take my words for it. Call them, have them adjust your discounts and then compare to other sites. But, remember. To get the rates that I’m talking about here you HAVE TO TALK TO THE GUY I”M TELLING YOU ABOUT. OTHERWISE YOU WILL GET REGULAR USPS RATES!!! HE WORKS MAGIC< THEY SET ALL THEIR RATES MANUALLY FOR BUSINESSES. RETAIL PRICES ON THE WEBSITE ARE PRETTY MUCH SAME AS USPS, POSSIBLY A LITTLE CHEAPER. OH YEAH AND THEY DO HAVE AN API IN PLACE

  46. James Morris July 18, 2014 Reply

    Another way to save on shipping is to ship through forwarders like VIP Parcel. Especially on international shipping. The way it works is that they consolidate a lot of packages into large shipments in order to get better rates from big guys like USPS and pass these discounts to you.
    Check the rates at https://vipparcel.com/ there’s shipping calculator.

  47. Roy September 30, 2014 Reply

    I did not read anything about the US Postal Services Priority Flat Rate pricing which is usually a great value. Was that taken into account?

    Thank you for the great information

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