If you’ve ever had to ship a package, you probably assume that shipping rates are tied to distance. And you’re correct! And not correct. The answer is, “It depends.” Shipping zones (also called mailing zones or postal zones) are how the major carriers (US Postal Service, FedEx, and UPS) determine their shipping rates, and shipping zones are different based on where the shipper is located.
How Do Shipping Zones Work?
We’ll start with the easy part first. In the majority of instances, the distance between the shipper and the recipient determines the shipping zone. Let’s say you’re located in Pensacola, Florida, and you want to ship something to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. These two cities are 1,100 miles apart from each other, which would mean that the package would be going to Zone 6. Don’t worry — we’ll give you a chart of the shipping zones in a moment.
How Do You Calculate Shipping Zones?
By checking the zip codes, a shipping service can see how far a package needs to travel. For the most part, if a package is getting shipped within the same zip code, it will be Zone 1. If your package is getting shipped to a destination over 1801 miles away, it will be Zone 8.
Each shipping service has slight variations on which zones correspond with which zip codes, and they may break down zones further based on how fast a customer wants the package to get to its destination. For example, FedEx has 16 zones if a shipper wants to use overnight shipping services. That’s why when the question, “What are shipping zones?” gets asked, the answer is, “It depends.”
The chart below is generally what shipping services use to determine their shipping costs. This one specifically aligns with what the USPS uses for their shipping:
|Shipping Zones||Distance Between Origin and Destination|
|Zone 1||Within 50 miles|
|Zone 2||51 – 150 miles|
|Zone 3||151 – 300 miles|
|Zone 4||301 – 600 miles|
|Zone 5||601 – 1000 miles|
|Zone 6||1001 – 1400 miles|
|Zone 7||1401 – 1800 miles|
|Zone 8||1801 or more miles|
The USPS’s Zone 8, which could easily include states within the contiguous United States, also includes:
- American Samoa
- The Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands
- The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico
- The US Virgin Islands
- Wake Atoll
There is also a Zone 9, according to the USPS, but these are reserved for Freely Associated States, which include:
- The Republic of the Marshall Islands
- The Federated States of Micronesia
- The Republic of Palau
Keep in mind that whether you’re shipping from the Florida Keys or Portland, Oregon, the postal zones for the above territories are the same, whereas they’re fluid for the rest of the country.
Now, you may be wondering about Hawaii and Alaska. UPS classifies metro Alaska and Hawaii as Zone 44, Puerto Rico as Zone 45, and remote Alaska and Hawaii as Zone 46.
The USPS classifies Alaska as Zone 7 or 8 and Hawaii as Zone 8.
FedEx Ground treats Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico as Zone 9, while FedEx Express puts them in Zones 10 and 12, depending on the specific location of their territory.
How Shipping Zones Affect eCommerce Fulfillment
There are several metrics you’ll have to consider. If you’re selling online, shipping costs and shipping times are the two biggest concerns you’ll have. Let’s break this down.
Shipping zone and shipping weight determine the order fulfillment cost. Light packages delivered locally will be cheaper, and heavy packages going a long distance will be more expensive. Each shipping carrier has its own way of determining exactly what these costs will be, and they have charts that explain their pricing structure.
Of course, expecting a package to be delivered quickly can also dramatically affect your shipping costs. If you want a package delivered overnight as opposed to “whenever it gets there,” the shipping carrier will charge accordingly.
Also, there’s no guarantee that a shipping zone will have a set delivery time. There are too many factors that go into delivering a package to say that just because you’re shipping to Zone 2, the shipment will arrive within two days. It could be more. As you approach Zone 8, the shipping time could be a week. You just can’t say with pinpoint accuracy.
Keep in mind that “weight” can refer to literal weight, or it can refer to dimensional weight. Because carriers realize that large packages take up the same amount of room regardless of how much they weigh, you’ll end up paying more for a package that has a large volume even if it weighs mere ounces. In other words, if two packages weigh the same, but one is smaller, that one will be cheaper to ship.
Don’t take this to mean that shipping services don’t care about weight. They absolutely do! For example, the USPS will probably ship your one-pound package for less than three dollars. If you’re shipping something heavier than a pound, you’ll pay a minimum of seven dollars. So if you want to send lead bricks to customers, it might cost you as much as sending a refrigerator box full of feathers.
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The annoyance of trying to figure out, “What are shipping zones and why should I care?” and the headaches of remembering what zone has which shipping costs are enough to make you want to give up and just drive packages to customers personally. When you enlist the services of Print Bind Ship, that’s on us!
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The USPS uses Zones to determine shipping rates largely based on how far the package has to travel.
To know your zone, measure the distance between the shipping location and the package’s destination. Use the USPS Zone Chart to see which zone this puts you in.
Shipping costs are largely affected by distance. The higher the number of shipping zone, the farther the package has to travel, which will increase the price of the shipment.