Practical Ecommerce

How To Price Shipping and Handling Fees

Setting your shipping and handling fees too high or too low can wreck your ecommerce business model. If you charge too much, your cart abandonment rate can skyrocket. If you charge too little, your profit margins can quickly disappear.

For most online merchants, cost of goods sold and operating costs are fairly easy to capture. But shipping and fulfillment costs are sometimes difficult to determine, by comparison. One way to handle this problem is to reduce the complexity of shipping and handling to a single spreadsheet that captures everything you need to know.

Determine Current Rates, Volume

First, gather the facts about your current shipping costs.

  1. Determine current shipping rates. To begin, you will need (a) the current USPS rate chart for USPS shipments, (b) the UPS daily pick-up rate chart if you have a UPS or FedEx contract, or (c ) the UPS retail rate chart if you drop off your parcels at a UPS or FedEx store. Note that the published daily pick-up UPS and FedEx base rates and surcharge rates are the same. There are some minor differences in the retail rates (sometimes called counter rates) that are charged by UPS stores and FedEx Kinkos.
  2. Determine surcharge rates. These are typically the USPS delivery confirmation fees, UPS and FedEx residential and delivery area surcharges and the UPS and FedEx fuel surcharge.
  3. Estimate surcharge volume. This is the percentage of your UPS and FedEx parcels that are subject to the residential surcharge and to the delivery area surcharge. You will also need to estimate the percentage of your USPS parcels that include the delivery confirmation option.
  4. Determine your per-order warehouse and supplies expense. To do this, add your monthly warehouse labor cost, shipping supplies expense, and facility cost (excluding USPS, UPS or FedEx delivery costs) and divide this by your average monthly shipping volume. For example, if your total warehouse and supplies is $4,250 per month and you ship 1,000 orders per month, the per order cost equals $4.25.

Per-Order Costs

Then, calculate your average, per-order shipping and handling costs.

The example spreadsheet, below, includes current USPS and UPS base rates and surcharges rates, all based on shipping weights. I have assumed $4.25 per order for warehouse and supplies expense and have entered a starting set of surcharge usage factors, such as 90 percent of all UPS parcels are subject to the residential delivery surcharge. When a rate calls for a zone designation, I have used Zone 5, which is about the average amount compared to the entire Zone 2 to Zone 8 cost range. You can easily change these assumptions to match the facts of your unique shipping and handling situation.

Download the “Shipping and Handling Cost Per Pound” Excel spreadsheet. >

Screen capture, Shipping and Handling spreadsheet, partial view.

Screen capture, Shipping and Handling spreadsheet, partial view.

With this simple model, you can project your actual shipping and handling cost for each package weight as well as rate-shop between carriers and delivery methods. For example, based on these assumptions, USPS Priority Mail is the lower-cost choice for a 2 pound parcel, but UPS is the lower-cost solution for a 5 pound package. But, changes in surcharge fees or your mix of surcharge usage rates can have a big impact on relative costs.

Compare Sales Amounts to Shipping, Handling Costs

Next, compare your individual sales totals to their corresponding shipping and handling costs. Since you now know your shipping and handling costs by package weight, simply compare a representative sample of your per-order sales totals to their individual package weights and associated real shipping and handling costs.

For example, if the sale was $93.00 (excluding shipping, handling and taxes) and the shipment was a 4 pound parcel sent via UPS Ground daily pick up rate, you can see from the example spreadsheet that the projected shipping and handling cost would be $13.75 or about 15 percent of net revenue. You can use this method to quickly create a summary of your typical sale totals and associated ship weights and costs.

From this, you can develop your unique shipping and handling fee strategy including the potential for free delivery and with confidence that your order fulfillment fee structure is based on facts. You can use the same system to compare your in-house order fulfillment costs with outsourced fulfillment quotations.


Setting your online shipping and handling fees too high or too low can be a serious mistake. But, it really isn’t that difficult to create a shipping-and-handling cost model based on package shipping weights, and to then link order sales totals to their corresponding shipping and handling costs. This is a simple way to ensure your shipping and handling fees are based on facts, and not just guesses.


John Lindberg

John Lindberg

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  1. Rishi Rawat September 28, 2010 Reply

    Very useful article, John. Thanks for sharing your Excel spreadsheet.

  2. Darwin Stephenson September 28, 2010 Reply

    Great article John, the one thing I’d add is getting your product close to the customer greatly reduces your shipping costs. By shipping locally (especially for international customers) you get your product to your customers for far less than over great distances. Thus by placing your product in a global fulfillment network (e.g. Shipwire), you are able to get your products to your customers faster and often for much less money.

  3. Steve @Erraticblog September 30, 2010 Reply

    Very helpful spreadsheet John… thanks for sharing.

  4. John Lindberg October 1, 2010 Reply

    That is a good point about getting the shipping point closer to customers which is referred to as zone skipping. This service is offered by Amazon Fulfillment and ShipWire and my company offers the same thing via partnering arrangements in Europe and Canada.

    The best zone skip savings are associated with projects that have few SKUs and fairly heavy package shipping weights. The downside is the extra inventory investment required and the added storage fees.

    A frustrating problem is the potential for some orders to ship from more than one location to avoid back orders. This has the net effect of increasing both the fulfillment fees and delivery expense which could cancel out the zone skipping savings.

    Nevertheless, zone skipping is something that every high volume shipper should consider when researching their shipping and handling fee structure.

    John Lindberg – President

  5. Niccole Walters December 16, 2013 Reply

    This is great information and I thank you. My only question is how do you figure out shipping for a new business that is just starting and has not shipped any orders yet? Your quick response is appreciated.

    • Cecilia January 9, 2016 Reply

      Hello did anyone respond to your question? Im in the same scenario.

  6. Monica February 5, 2014 Reply

    Great and on point article!! It was so helpful for my growing business. Thank you so much for allowing the public to download it.

  7. George June 16, 2014 Reply

    Awesome way to look at things. Thanks for sharing and allowing download.

  8. chuck greene September 8, 2014 Reply

    Very informative , John. But here’s a question. What company or when did handling charges become a line item? Tks. Chuck

  9. Linh Le September 16, 2014 Reply

    Great article! Your spreadsheet is particularly helpful. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

  10. BRett July 27, 2016 Reply

    Thanks for writing this article! I tried to download the excel file and the link does not appear to be working anymore. Can you fix that link? I would love to check it out. Thanks!

    • Kerry Murdock August 10, 2016 Reply

      It’s now fixed, BRett. Sorry for the hassle.

      Kerry M.

  11. Carlos Sagastume August 15, 2016 Reply

    Your article is out of date. We know how dimensional shipping charges.

  12. Craig S. Higgins December 21, 2016 Reply

    Thanks for a thorough presentation. I ship photo images, so weight is not an issue. Tube and flat mailing are what I do, from 8 x 10 to 16 x 20, some matted and some not (tube). Any sources to explore for photos?


  13. Cookie January 30, 2018 Reply

    Fantastic information! I have inherited a bunch of empty liquor decanters and would like to sell them but have no idea how to start.
    I am now checking the average cost foe each,
    online. Your information has given me an incentive to assess the rest.