When a business considers the merits of using flat rate shipping for their eCommerce efforts, particularly when they determine to do it in house, they may worry that the results are like an earnest New Year’s resolution; a great idea in theory, but difficult to live up to in practice.
With the rapidly growing demand for eCommerce goods, competition is steep. Thus, it’s imperative for items to be shipped both inexpensively and quickly. An eCommerce business’s primary concern with flat rate shipping is how long it takes for orders to reach customers. After all, if adopting a cost-saving shipping method means long delivery times, is it really beneficial in the long run? Contrary to popular belief, flat rate shipping doesn’t mean slow. When used efficiently, flat rate shipping can be a terrific way to manage both shipping costs and customer expectations. Read on to find out more about this increasingly popular eCommerce fulfillment method.
What is Flat Rate Shipping?
It’s hard to believe, but the eCommerce revolution started 25 years ago! It forever changed the way we interact, learn, research, and especially, how we shop. This has never been more evident than in this past year. The entire globe was suddenly relying heavily on eCommerce shopping; with so many of us still somewhat housebound due to a worldwide epidemic. Which put a tremendous strain on eCommerce merchants and shipping services alike. This incredible uptick in demand left many shipping services scrambling for the best ways to handle the influx of packages; while managing consumer expectations for delivery times. Many turned to offer only flat rate services for a time due to its ease and convenience of use. With overnight shipping being out of the question due to both volume of need and shortage of goods,
Why Choose Flat Rate?
So, what makes flat rate shipping a smart choice? For many eCommerce merchants, flat rate shipping makes the entire fulfillment process simple. It charges one set rate for the entire shipping process, including packaging, carrying, tracking, insurance, and delivery. Flat rate mail services charge by the package itself, rather than by weight or volume. In other words, regardless of the shape, size, material, weight, or location of your product, if it fits into the box, it will cost one flat price to ship it (usually up to 70lbs .for most of the bigger carriers.) Flat rate packages usually reach their destination in 1-3 days. So, there is no significant lag time when using flat rate shipping services, too!
Most of the time, flat rate services are the more affordable option when it comes to shipping, but there are certain circumstances where this can vary. Additionally, while all of the major carriers offer a flat rate service, some of them – like FedEx’s One Rate – have some variations in their pricing based on location. With this in mind, it’s important to remember that even with a service like flat rate shipping, it can be beneficial to work with a 3PL fulfillment provider like Print Bind Ship to help you navigate the bumps in the flat rate shipping road.
3 Steps to Securing Flat Rate Shipping
To get started with flat rate shipping with one of the major carriers, there are three basic steps you will need to follow:
- Order your packaging: Both FedEx and USPS will require you to use their flat rate packaging in order to use partake in their flat rate offerings, so if you’re planning on doing your fulfillment in-house with either of these two carriers, you will want to make sure you have a ready stock of their available packaging options on hand. UPS is the only major carrier that allows you to use your own packaging for their flat rate services.
- Determine address/labeling requirements: Each of the major carriers have their own requirements for how packaging needs to be addressed. Since you are using provided packaging from both FedEx and USPS, the markings for where to indicate shipping and return addresses are typically clearly marked. UPS will likely require that you get a supply of either their attached label forms or print out labels from the UPS website to put on your packages.
- Buy your postage/set up an account: If you are using USPS for your flat rate shipping services, you will need to buy your postage at a post office or by using an online postage provider. UPS and FedEx will require you to set up an account with them ahead of time, and will assign you an account number that will allow you to track packages using either your account number or the tracking numbers of individual packages.
Try Using a 3PL for Shipping Deals
As you can see, each of the major carriers handle their flat rate service a bit differently, and ensuring that you are getting the best bang out of your flat rate buck can be tricky. This is why many eCommerce companies utilize the expert services of a 3PL like Print Bind Ship. a knowledgeable 3PL will be able to manage the various flat rate shipping requirements, pivoting when necessary to ensure you are using your shipping budget at optimum levels.
If you are managing your shipping in house, it’s important to look at the differences between the major shipping players, and fully understand how each manages their flat rate programs. Let’s take a deeper dive into the “big 3.”
Flat Rate Shipping with USPS
Many eCommerce companies stick with the “tried and true” United States Postal Service for their flat rate shipping packages because of convenience and familiarity. The USPS offers a flat rate with their Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express services. USPS Priority Mail flat rate delivery runs about 1-3 days, while USPS Priority Mail Express offers overnight – 2 days, with a money-back guarantee if the package doesn’t arrive within that time frame. Both services require you to use their specially labeled packaging, and their weight restriction is 70lbs. They currently offer a variety of sizes for envelopes and boxes, and provide tracking services with a provided number.
Prices for the USPS flat rate services vary based upon the size package you’re using, and shipping zones do not factor into the pricing.
Flat Rate Shipping with UPS
ECommerce businesses that go with UPS for their flat rate shipping services typically cite the packaging flexibility and the free pickup service as being a major reason why they prefer this vendor. The United Parcel Service (UPS) is the only carrier that allows you to use your own packaging for their flat rate service, called UPS Simple Rate. This flexibility comes with a price though; at 50 lbs. Maximum weight per package, their weight restrictions are more rigid than any of the other providers. Because you’re allowed to provide your own package, you’ll need to do a little math and measuring on your own to determine which price category your shipment falls under (anywhere from “extra small” to “extra large”).
While the shipping zone will not affect the price (within the continental US), the service you choose (overnight, 2-day, etc.) and the size category of the box will both be factors in the cost. Tracking is provided on the UPS site for all flat rate packages.
Flat Rate Shipping with FedEx
The FedEx One Rate plan is their flat rate shipping process, and some find that moniker to be slightly ironic, considering it seems to be anything BUT one rate. The amount your package will cost to ship depends on: the box/envelope used (must be a FedEx One Rate package), the location you’re sending the package to, and the delivery speed you require (overnight, 2-day, etc.).
The only factor that really makes FedEx’s One Rate a “flat rate” contender is that your shipping costs won’t be affected up until the 50 lbs weight restriction for boxes and tubes, 10 lbs. for envelopes. Tracking services are provided, including real time updates via SMS text messaging if you opt-in for that service.
Benefits of Flat Rate Shipping
There are some very compelling reasons to give flat rate shipping a try, and it can be a real budget saver, particularly for a smaller eCommerce business, or companies that have some heavier products to ship out.
Pros of Flat Rate
- Keeping to your budget: If you’re new to eCommerce, are a small business who needs to be budget conscious, or just looking to keep spending in check, using flat rate services from one of the major carriers will allow you to have much greater control over your predictive shipping budget, allowing you to keep much tighter rein on your bottom line.
- Pass the savings on to customers: Know what one of the greatest causes for abandoned shopping cart syndrome is? A large – and unexpected – shipping and handling charge. Particularly when it comes to large or heavy products, consumers will often shop around to find the best shipping and handling deal before they make a purchase. By using flat rate shipping, you can control the shipping and handling sticker shock.
- Cut margin of error and manpower: Having to weigh, measure, and calculate every package – and hire people to do it – can lead to costly errors and less profitability. Utilizing flat rate shipping services eliminates both, and frees you and your team up to do more important things.
- Lots of free packaging: The USPS offers several different options for packaging, all of which are free, which can also cut down on costs.
Disadvantages of Flat Rate Shipping
However, like most things in life, where there are benefits, there are also some drawbacks to consider. Flat rate shipping isn’t for everyone in every eCommerce scenario, and it’s important to look at both your short and long term goals, budgets, and product lines before you commit one way or another.
Cons of Using Flat Rate for Shipping
- Your product line is lightweight: If most of the products you ship now and in the future tend to be lighter weight, flat rate shipping might not be the best option for you. Flat rate shipping prices are determined on an “average” of the sizes and weights of most shipped packages, and if yours falls well under that average, you’ll be spending more money than if you used traditional shipping standards.
- You ship internationally: Flat rate shipping is limited to the US by all three of the big carriers, so if you know you’ll be shipping outside of the continental US on a regular basis, flat rate shipping isn’t the right solution for your brand.
- You miss a chance to brand: Custom packaging and the “unboxing” experience are becoming increasingly important to brands in our ever growing eCommerce world. With the exception of UPS, flat rate shipping services will require you to use the packaging provided by your shipping courier, so the only brand you’ll be promoting during your shipping process will be the USPS or FedEx. Furthermore, while many sizes packages are offered by FedEx and the USPS, without boxes custom-designed for your products, you run the risk of having to use shipping packages that waste space, which is a negative for both the consumer’s experience of your brand and the environment.
- The USPS has always been reluctant to commit to guaranteed times for delivery, and with the rapidly increasing amount of products shipped these days, even FedEx and UPS will stop guaranteeing arrival times during busy seasons for flat rate shipments. If delivery times are important to your customers and part of your brand, you may want to reconsider using flat rate options for important packages..
How Much Does Flat Rate Shipping Cost?
Since the overriding feature for flat rate shipping is paying one, low price for nearly all your shipped packages, all three of the major couriers have tried to keep their basic costs affordable.
The USPS priority mail express currently ranges from $7.40 for the smallest envelope option to $26.35 for the largest package for standard (1-3 day) shipping (as of January 24, 2021). The USPS prices tend to remain the most consistent over periods of time, give the highest maximum weight value, and also provide the most options for packaging.
Prices for UPS packages (provided by UPS or your own boxes) are classified under five size categories: extra small, small, medium, large, and extra large, with extra small starting at $8.80 for 3-day select shipping and extra large sized packages priced at $22.85 for the same time frame.
Since FedEx is the the carrier that has the most variables in their flat rate pricing, getting an accurate pricing idea can be challenging but in general, prices for their FedEx One Rate packages run from a starting point of $8.90 for the smallest flat rate envelope to a starting point of $32.35 for their largest flat rate tube.
Fulfilling eCommerce Orders
Flat rate shipping offers some amazing price breaks for eCommerce businesses, particularly small businesses, brands that are just starting to ship more products, and especially those who ship larger, heavier items. However, if your eCommerce profile is growing, consider the “robbing Peter to pay Paul” scenario; if you have to bring on paid staff to manage your fulfillment and shipping, are you realizing any of the savings from flat rate shipping? More than likely, the answer is no. Using a 3PL to manage your fulfillment and shipping process takes the guesswork out of both fulfillment and shipping, because you know that experts are managing the process for you from start to finish.
Partner with a 3PL for Shipping
Shipping costs are just one of the factors a qualified fulfillment and shipping provider like Print Bind Ship can manage for you. From managing incoming orders, warehousing, inventory management, and supply chain oversight, to packing, shipping, and handling returns, using a 3PL to manage the back end of your eCommerce operation gives you the bandwidth you need to concentrate on the growth and marketing of your brand. When you utilize the expertise of an expert like Print Bind Ship, you have a 3PL that is a knowledgeable, scalable partner, keeping an eye on your shipping costs at all times.