Have you ever sent a package and wondered why the shipping cost didn’t seem to depend on how far away it was being sent? Major carriers like UPS, FedEx and the United States Postal Service (USPS) use something called shipping zones when determining their rates. These mailing zones vary depending on where your shipment originates from.
We’re getting into everything you’ll need to know about what are shipping zones and how shipping zones can affect your business’s fulfillment processes.
How Do Shipping Zones Work?
Shipping zones are geographic areas that are used by shippers to determine the cost of shipping a particular item. In the majority of instances, the distance between the shipper and the recipient determines the shipping zone.
To figure out the cost of shipping, shippers identify the origin and destination of the shipment. The origin is typically the warehouse or distribution center from which the item is being shipped, while the destination is the final location of the shipment. Once the origin and destination have been identified, shippers use the distance between the two points to determine 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, and the package would be going to Zone 6.
In addition to using shipping zones to determine the cost of a shipment, shippers may also use other factors to determine shipping costs. These factors may include the size and weight of an item, the type of packaging used and the speed of delivery. By understanding the basics of shipping zones and how they work, businesses can ensure that they are accurately calculating the cost of shipping and are providing the most cost-effective shipping options for their customers.
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 1,801 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 its 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|
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 – 1,000 miles
- Zone 6: 1,001 – 1,400 miles
- Zone 7: 1,401 – 1,800 miles
- Zone 8: 1,801 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 U.S. 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.
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
When selling items online, it is important to take into account two major factors: shipping costs and delivery times. Analyzing these metrics can help you determine the best way to move forward with your business endeavors. Let’s break this down.
The shipping zone and shipping weight both help 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 what these costs will be, and they have charts that explain their pricing structure.
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. Too many factors 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. It’s hard to 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, USPS will probably ship your one-pound package for less than $3. If you’re shipping something heavier than a pound, you’ll pay a minimum of $7. 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 United States Postal Service (USPS) calculates shipping rates for packages based on the distance they have to travel, which is grouped into zones.
You can determine your USPS zone by measuring the distance between where you are shipping from and the package’s destination. Use the zone chart provided by USPS to identify which zone this puts you in.
The distance a package has to travel affects its shipping costs significantly. The more shipping zones it needs to pass through, the higher the price of shipment will be.