Practical Ecommerce

Pros and Cons of UPS SurePost, FedEx SmartPost

If you are looking to save money on shipping, start with a call to your UPS or FedEx representative. Speak with her about UPS SurePost or FedEx SmartPost. These are consolidated delivery services, which utilize the extensive logistics of UPS and FedEx, while relying on the U.S. Postal Service to provide final delivery to your customer.

SurePost and SmartPost are available to businesses that ship at least 50 packages per week. In my ecommerce business, I found this volume requirement easy to meet by shifting from USPS Parcel Post and Priority Mail to UPS SurePost. As I explain in the “Pros” section below, shifting USPS packages to UPS or FedEx will increase your average spend with those companies and contribute to decreasing your negotiated rates.

Why would you want a consolidated delivery service? In my experience, here are the pros and cons.

Pros

  • Reduced shipping costs. Pricing is lower than conventional ground service. The most expensive part of a delivery is when UPS and FedEx drive their big heavy trucks up to your customer’s front door. This is why UPS and FedEx will tack on delivery area and residential areas surcharges to your base ground rates. Consolidated services like SurePost and SmartPost eliminate these charges by delivering packages from many different vendors directly to the local USPS office branch that normally handles their mail delivery. UPS and FedEx get to make just one stop to deliver many packages, and the USPS letter carrier who is going to be driving by every house in a residential area on his daily route is not having to modify his route. The savings that these efficiencies bring is passed on to you, the merchant.

Unfortunately, I am not able to provide exact figures for FedEx SmartPost, because my company (Tastyworms.com, an ecommerce site specializing in nutritious food for birds, fish, and reptiles) uses UPS. But both services — UPS SurePost and FedEx SmartPost — function roughly the same and the savings should be similar. UPS SurePost shipping rates, in my experience, are equivalent to ground rates to a commercial address. Here are sample costs using UPS SurePost, based on UPS’s published shipping rates.

Florida to New York

UPS Ground Residential: $13.64
UPS SurePost Residential: $10.52
Savings: $3.12

Florida to California

UPS Ground Residential: $15.04
UPS SurePost Residential: $11.92
Savings: $3.12

  • Saturday delivery included at no extra charge. UPS and FedEx charge a hefty surcharge to deliver packages on a Saturday. However, USPS has no such delivery surcharge. Thus, a package that UPS or FedEx would normally wait until Monday to deliver might actually show up earlier than expected and on a Saturday. USPS plans to discontinue Saturday delivery in August 2104. But this only affects letter delivery and not package delivery. In fact, all signs point to USPS expanding package delivery, perhaps to even Sundays in major metropolitan areas.
  • Utilize normal UPS or FedEx pickup. No trips to the post office are required, SurePost and SmartPost are services of UPS and FedEx, respectively. You can mix the boxes in with your normal daily pickup.
  • Unified package tracking is available via UPS and FedEx websites. While the shipping labels will actually contain two tracking numbers, one for the ground carrier and another for USPS, you only have to provide the UPS or FedEx tracking number to your customer. With this tracking number, the customer will be able to see the progress of the shipment, regardless if the package is in the possession of the ground carrier or USPS.
  • SurePost and SmartPost shipments increase your weekly spend. UPS and FedEx determine your negotiated rates based upon your average weekly spending amount. If you increase your spending by moving services from other carriers — such as from USPS to UPS or FedEx — you could reduce all of your shipping rates.
  • Integrated into most shipping software. SurePost and SmartPost services are available in many popular shipping software packages such as ShipStation, ECC by Webgility, and ShipWorks.

Cons

  • Delivery time is slower than ground service. The delivery time of SurePost is typically one day slower than UPS Ground. This is because on the day UPS would normally be dropping the package off at your customer’s door, it is instead dropping it off at the USPS branch nearest to the customer. FedEx SmartPost works on a consolidation model, which involves collecting packages at various consolidation sites around the U.S. and delivering them to the USPS only when it has met an unpublished volume requirement. This can result in FedEx SmartPost delivery times being more inconsistent than UPS SurePost. [Editor's note: This paragraph was updated May 21, 2014, 6:18 p.m. Eastern U.S. Time.]
  • Cannot ship outside of lower 48 U.S. states. While you can technically use SurePost or SmartPost to ship to Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico, the fees are simply too high to make it worthwhile. In these cases, it is always better to ship directly through USPS.
  • Must use your own boxes. Even though you have the advantage of final delivery through USPS, it will not permit you to utilize the free boxes that it provides. While UPS will deliver any box, USPS will return a misused Priority Mail box to you in most cases.
  • Unified tracking sometimes causes confusion for customers. Customers are sometimes confused when UPS or FedEx hand the package off to the USPS. In the tracking report, it will indicate that the package has been delivered, often to a zip code that is different from the customer’s. My business receives a slightly higher number of customer service inquiries from our SurePost shipments for this reason. We let the customers know that USPS will be responsible for final delivery and that within 24 hours, the tracking number will show as “Out for Delivery” in the proper zip code. As these services become more widespread, these inquiries should likely drop to normal levels.
  • Limited shopping cart support. Both UPS SurePost and FedEx SmartPost are integrated into the respective shipping APIs from UPS and FedEx. However, the services are not integrated in the vast majority of shopping cart software by default. If you are an experienced programmer, or are willing to hire programmer, direct API integration into your cart can be added manually.

As a workaround for UPS customers, automatic calculation can be performed by adding an additional shipping method that uses UPS Ground for rate calculation to a business address but is renamed and has its delivery day range increased by one day. This works because UPS uses UPS Ground Business rates as the pricing for SurePost. Most shopping carts are able to handle integration in this manner.

Which Packages for SurePost and SmartPost?

Shift packages to SurePost and SmartPost that cannot be shipped via USPS First Class Mail or in a USPS Flat Rate Priority Mail envelope. These USPS services are a tremendous value when you factor in their low costs and fast delivery times. My rule is the shipment must weigh between 2 and 10 pounds, and it must not fit into a USPS Flat Rate Priority Mail envelope. From experience, I know that at the 11 pound mark ground services become the better value. Your experience may vary, however, so calculate your own break point in this regard.

Conclusion

UPS SurePost and FedEx SmartPost can provide significant shipping savings over traditional ground services by eliminating hefty delivery area, residential, and Saturday delivery surcharges. While these services are not the answer for shipping every package, they are compelling option for a customer who is price sensitive, but not time sensitive. When implementing this service into my own business, I added it as the lowest cost delivery option at a flat rate cost. Promoting a flat shipping rate avoids sticker shock at checkout. I find these services to be a good fit in this regard.

Christopher Bosdal
Christopher Bosdal
Bio  |  RSS Feed


Get the Practical Ecommerce RSS feed

Comments ( 27 )

  1. Robert May 20, 2014 Reply

    Chris – Thanks for the ShipStation mention!

    • Christopher Bosdal May 21, 2014 Reply

      No problem! ShipStation is one of the many shipping solutions I have evaluated in the past year. I was very impressed by it, but at the time, it did not support my cart unfortunately.

  2. Chris May 21, 2014 Reply

    The FDX and UPS products do not function the same way. UPS SurePost is carried by UPS’s normal ground network to the most local USPS DDU (delivery center), whereas FDX uses a consolidation model, holding packages in 23 SmartPost facilities around the country until there is requisite volume to move the consolidated load to its next location on it’s way to the local USPS DDU. This leads to extended delivery times for FDX SmartPost to remote locations. UPS SurePost is pretty reliably ground +1 day for transit time, anywhere.

    • Christopher Bosdal May 21, 2014 Reply

      Thank you for clarifying the delivery speed difference for me. I was unable to get a FedEx rep on the phone for this article, so there was an assumption that the systems had similar delivery times. We have updated that paragraph.

  3. Susan May 21, 2014 Reply

    On Monday, May 19, two items were shipped from Overstock.com. One by UPS and the other by FedEx SmartPost. The UPS package arrived today. The SmartPost is languishing in Ohio after a 17 hour trip from Penn (by foot?). The delivery date for the smaller SmartPost has been pushed ahead to Saturday. Nice job. This is not the first time SmartPost walked packages from point A to point B. Very disappointing.

  4. Jason May 22, 2014 Reply

    Great post and comparison.

    The biggest con is that in relies on USPS making the final delivery.

    I have had a lot of delivery issues with USPS this year and I added on UPS as an additional shipping option.

    • Christopher Bosdal May 23, 2014 Reply

      Jason, I agree that USPS being involved in not ideal. We also have quite a few problems with USPS. UPS in general has been more reliable for us. Our delivery rates are higher for USPS w/ SurePost than without. Of course, it could also be that they are less likely to misplace packages vs. thick envelopes.

      I guess it depends on where your delivery issues arise most often. SurePost won’t solve the problems associated with USPS delivering to the wrong address, or marking an item as delivered when it has not been. But, those packages which get lost or delayed in transit are resolved by using the UPS logistics chain.

  5. Derek May 22, 2014 Reply

    I’ve been using FedEx Smartpost for at least five years. It’s always smart to compare rates between this (or UPS SurePost) to USPS to get the best rate per package.
    One pro to Smartpost is it’s now built into ebay. When you create a shipping label with paypal for a transaction, you have the choice of using smartpost (as long as the street address isn’t a PO Box #) to get the best possible rate.
    A con to Smartpost is you cannot get signature confirmation for a package. It’s not an option. If I have a big order (over $70), I won’t use Smartpost because I prefer a signature upon delivery to ensure nothing goes wrong.

  6. Catherine Tobsing May 22, 2014 Reply

    I tried Fedex Smartpost awhile but it added 4 days to a shipment that was only 40 miles away and almost lost a customer. Not worth the savings. I am in Chicago, they route all packages to New Berlin Wisconsin , then back out again. That is NUTS.

  7. eCC May 22, 2014 Reply

    If UPS/FedEx drop-off their shipments at the local post office of delivery prior to Critical Entry Time(s), SurePost and SmartPost will be delivered to customers the same day (0).

  8. Bill Brown May 23, 2014 Reply

    We have used Fed Smart Post from almost the beginning. We now use it sparingly for packages that must travel more than half way across the country. The price is great but the service is awful compared to UPS and USPS. Also, don’t know if this is change recently but I was told by UPS that I don’t qualify to use UPS Sure Post so we have been stuck with FedEx Smart Post.

    • Christopher Bosdal May 23, 2014 Reply

      It seems like UPS SurePost is the preferred service based on the comments I am seeing here. I verified with UPS 5/2014 that the minimum volume is 50 packages per week in order to qualify for SurePost. So, if your volume meets or exceeds that level, then you should be able to have a rep sign you up.

      The volume change is somewhat recent from what I understand. When we signed up a couple of years ago, the required volume had been much higher, I want to say 150 per week, but I don’t remember exactly. Our rep was able to get a waiver for us to utilize the service despite our lower volume.

  9. Carlos Rivera May 27, 2014 Reply

    Loved all the info and comments on this article! Thank you for making sense of this for me!

  10. Todd Perry June 13, 2014 Reply

    Also when the packages are handed off to the USPS if you address is not a registered USPS mail delivery address they will not delivery it and it will be returned to sender.
    I get my FEDEX and UPS packages at my home and my mail goes to a P.O. Box.
    I have ha every package that was sent by UPS Sure Post or FEDEX version to my physical address USPS returned to sender because they do not deliver mail here. I must have had 20 packages returned over the past few years because of that. Some orders i just told the shipper to give me a refund and some had to pay to have the items reshipped costing these companies more money then if the shipped by normal UPS or FEDEX.
    The problem is all these sellers say they use UPS or FEDEX but they fail to understand how the Post or Sure Post actually works.

    • Christopher Bosdal June 15, 2014 Reply

      Hi Todd, this is an interesting comment. It sounds like as long as the seller is clear about the final delivery service, then this should not be an issue?

      I.E. If we ship SurePost, we should say USPS and not UPS.

      • Julie October 20, 2014 Reply

        Wrong. It IS a problem. Wrong. UPS and FedEx won’t accept packages that are addressed to a USPS PO Box. As a customer, I have fought with this issue for many frustrating years. Usually – eventually – I get my packages, but – as Todd pointed out – the sender(s) will have spent extra time and money dealing with an unhappy customer and re-shipping the using a service that will finally get it delivered. Todd’s lucky if he’s only had 20 packages. I live in a rural area so shop online a lot. Sometimes I can control (out-guess) the shipping method, but many times I can’t. I think it’s outrageous that the Postal Service, UPS, and FedEx have entered into cooperative agreements where they must know that, sometimes, delivery-as-addressed will be impossible.

  11. hrz June 15, 2014 Reply

    “USPS plans to discontinue Saturday delivery in August 2104.”

    I, nor nearly anyone else alive today, will have to worry about this … fact ?!

    Happy Fathers’ Day. :)

    • Christopher Bosdal June 24, 2014 Reply

      Package delivery will still occur. Unless you ship letters, you don’t need to worry.

  12. Lucinda June 24, 2014 Reply

    Hello,
    I found your article informative. I have one question that I don’t believe was addressed, and would appreciate it if you can provide some direction. I prefer to receive my boxes at my post office box rather than at my physical address due to security concerns. This has always been a smooth process until the last few months (not exactly sure of he date). It seems that there has been a change in the coding for my local post office, and now my packages are being addressed to me, but to a different (incorrect) postal processing facility. I need to find out how to get the coding corrected so I can receive packages without delays, or the packages being returned. Please respond to my email. Thank you!

    • Christopher Bosdal June 24, 2014 Reply

      Hi Lucinda,
      Unfortunately, this sounds like an issue with the Post Office routing between NDC’s. Postal service packages move from one Distribution center to another based on your zip code. From time to time, people in certain zip codes will get rerouted in a way that causes delays with their packages.

      I don’t understand if your issue is only with SurePost / SmartPost packages or all USPS deliveries. If it is all USPS deliveries, there is nothing you can do. If it is only Sure / Smart Post than you can ask the person who is shipping to you to use a USPS service. The price might be higher for shipping however, so they might need to pass that cost onto you.

      • Lucinda June 25, 2014 Reply

        Hi, thanks for your response. I don’t know is it’s a post office issue or if there’s some sort of cross-reference table that’s recently been changed. I was hoping to ascertain that with your help. So I get packages from qvc, amazon and moma. In the case of qvc, until recently, the mailing instructions, which have two labels, were addressed directly to be delivered to the post office where
        my po box is located. In about April, I suffered a returned package, and had several severely delayed packages. I then noticed that the packer/invoice now had an entirely different postal processing plant as the “deliver to” post office. Since I have recently suffered the same misdirection of packages from the other companies, I decided there must have been a recent change in instructions from the post office or, if such a beast exists, in the “sure post” coding office. I was hoping you might know of the office that sets these instructions up, as to which post office packages should be delivered to. It might be a post office issue, but I can’t seem to find out locally, and don’t think it’s a local issue.
        Well’p, thanks for your prompt response. I’ll search further and if I find anything out, will advise you. From the other responses I read, there could be more of these same type of coding issues out there.

        • Christopher Bosdal June 26, 2014

          Sorry I couldn’t be of more assistance. All I know is everyone who receives mail has an National Distribution Center or NDC assigned to them, a cross reference to your zip code as you stated. In my experience, I’ve seen packages routed to certain zip codes in Idaho go to Washington State first and back. I can only assume they get flown over and trucked back, but this is an assumption. You probably fall into one of these underserved zip codes and I would definitely raise an issue with USPS if I were in the same position.

  13. Willis C August 9, 2014 Reply

    I will bring up some more CONS from the “end user/customer” perspective. Sure post is a hassle when the customer lives in a small town outside a major city. U cite an extra 24 hrs delivery time. Well on a Friday evening when FedUP & Brown get to the post office after close packages routinely sit in the post office till Monday. Perhaps the carrier/mail run was early that morning & it wont be taken care of till after the weekend. USPS then blames fedUP & Brown for the delay. When amazon sends me surepost packages & they show up late I refuse to accept the package or let it sit @ the post office till they return it. Then I send amazon the recipt where I bought the item full price somewhere else. Yet they still keep doing it. So to the businesses that want to use surepost then u must not care about loosing 10% of your business on the spot! Surepost is crap & the typical “letter carrier” has a chip on his/her shoulder & will do just about ANYTHING possible to *not* deliver packages on time! I have USPS on video not even knocking on my door & putting the pink slip in my box. They don’t even bother to take the pkg out of the truck if they think they can get away with it. Surepost provides the cover for them to blame their laziness on UPS/FedEx. That cant be good for YOUR business either.

  14. Myles October 11, 2014 Reply

    A ‘Pro’ factor you omitted for final delivery by USPS is that postal letter carriers (but not UPS or FedEx delivery drivers) can deliver inside of postal parcel lockers, when available at the residential delivery address. Since late 2006, postal rules usually require such lockers at newly built residential condominium and apartment complexes. (Similar but older housing may optionally
    install such parcel lockers as a ‘retrofit’ project.) In places where theft of merchandise parcels (left unattended by delivery drivers) is common, that can be an important security consideration.

  15. H H Bull October 22, 2014 Reply

    Another con is that there are areas where the mail does not come to your home and you must go to the Post Office to get your mail, go to your P.O.Box.
    That is not door to door service. At this time I have paid more than once for UPS,
    only for it to go to the Post Office. The retailers neglect to tell you about
    SurePost, when upgrading your shipping.
    This may not be the norm, but it happens.

  16. Jim Daley November 13, 2014 Reply

    One con you overlooked! When I order a product I want it delivered to my home address. The P.O. is too far away and I can’t carry medium or large packages.
    I care less that the company I bought from (thru Amazon) is saving a couple of bucks…it is at my expense! UPS offers a workaround for this…but it cost me $3 or more per package. FedEx doesn’t even offer the workaround.
    Screw the consumer, eh?

  17. Bill November 18, 2014 Reply

    I bought an item on eBay without understanding that FedEx SmartPost was much different that FedEx. Going from Phoenix, AZ to a suburb of Indianapolis will take 16 days! Never again. **way too long!! And generally, the longer a package is in transit, the more beat up it gets.

Email Newsletter Signup

Sign up to receive EcommerceNotes,
our acclaimed email newsletter.

And receive a free copy of our ebook
50 Great Ecommerce Ideas