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Big products, big problems — right? Heavy-weight large packages and oversized shipping can seem like a pain and a half, but there are plenty of couriers that offer fast and easy shipping of even the biggest and bulkiest items or a business owner’s peace of mind.
By comparing the pros and cons of various couriers, you can figure out which shipping solution is best for your business.
Table of contents:
- 4 tips for shipping large and heavy items
- What to do before shipping large and heavy items
- What to consider when shipping heavy items
- Best ways to ship heavy and large items (+ top couriers compared)
- How do ecommerce shops ship heavy items?
- Shipping large items FAQs
- Need help with fulfilment?
4 tips for shipping large and heavy items
Before you ship large and heavy items, you first need to ensure they’re secured and packed in the right packaging. Once that’s done, there are a few more things you need to consider before you send out the package.
Choose a courier
First, you need to pick a courier to ship your large and heavy items. Choosing the right one is essential, as they play a massive role in customer satisfaction. Even though potential problems in the shipping process may not be your fault, your customers will associate an awful shipping experience with your brand, so you need to pick the courier you’ll use carefully.
You need to ensure that the courier you want to use can ship larger and heavier packages — not all of them do. You should also consider your budget, timing, and the courier’s shipping processes.
Lost or damaged items is a worst-case scenario, but it is one you will inevitably have to deal with. So, how can you mitigate the risk, as well as lower what you’ll have to pay for the replacement product and shipping? Shipping insurance. It’s not that expensive when compared to the benefits, and it’s well worth it if you’re shipping a high volume of products.
There’s a lot that goes into deciding who to ship your heavy items with, and how. Size matters just as much as weight — you could have two packages that weigh the same, but one is small and dense and the other is large and awkwardly shaped, and you’ll likely have two different shipping companies come up as the best result.
What to consider when shipping heavy items
With that in mind, here are some factors to consider when shipping heavy items:
1. Dimensional weight
This is a fairly new concept (UPS and FedEx started using dimensional weight in 2015, and USPS adopted it in 2019), and it occurred because shipping companies were losing money on large but extremely light items. Dimensional weight is a “theoretical” weight of your package.
Based on how much volumetric space your package occupies, they will calculate how much it would weigh by applying their own minimum density number, and then charge you for whichever is more expensive (the actual weight or dimensional weight).
This is extremely important to keep in mind if your packages weigh less than the dimensional weight, and you’ll want to get quotes from companies to find out the actual cost instead of doing your own calculation based on the actual weigh
2. Fragility items
Another shipping tip is that if your item is delicate and needs a little extra care, you may want to choose a courier that prides itself on handling fragile shipments rather than focusing on faster transit times that might harm parcel shipping.
3. Origin and destination of the package
No matter how heavy your package is, couriers will use the origin and destination of the package to calculate which shipping zone you’re shipping to — the further away it is, the higher the zone, and the higher the zone, the higher the cost of shipping.
4. Courier’s rules
Each courier has its own rules, and the one you use will heavily influence your cost, based on what you’re shipping. Some couriers are more friendly than others when it comes to weight, size, and fragility — we’ll go more into detail about that in the next section.
5. Type of service being used
Are you planning on offering international shipping? Next day delivery? 2-day shipping? Overnight? Each of these is important to consider when choosing a courier.
Calculate costs of shipping large or heavy items
The process of calculating costs for shipping large or heavy items is quite simple. All you need to do is measure the weight and dimensions of your package, then use the courier’s calculator or reference their pricing page to calculate your costs.
Here are all the calculators and reference pages from major couriers:
- USPS — Postage rates and prices reference page
- FedEx — Shipping rate calculator
- DHL — Shipping quote estimation page
- UPS — Shipping quote estimation page
Best ways to ship heavy and large items (+ top couriers compared)
There are quite a few big-name players in the heavy-weight and oversized shipping game. Each one offers at least one good option for certain types of packages, but not all are cost-effective shipping options. Picking the right one can be the difference between being in the red or in the black, so read on to see which ones offer the right mix for you.
However, while the couriers/shippers who cater to smaller businesses and individual customers post their prices publicly (USPS, UPS, FedEx), couriers that work with larger businesses on a larger scale tend not to post their prices publicly (FedEx Freight, DHL).
If your product is big enough and high-quantity enough, it will almost always be cheaper to use freight shipping than a parcel, so it’s always worth it to get the price for freight shipments.
The cheapest way to ship heavy items
The cheapest way to ship heavy items is by consolidated freight, but it’s important to compare USPS, FedEx, and DHL according to how heavy your product is and what type of product you are shipping. Prices are summarized when provided, but if no prices are listed, you’ll need to contact them directly to get a quote.
USPS has several shipping services and USPS mail types, even including an overnight shipping option.
Priority Mail: 1-3 days
Priority Mail has a weight limit of 70 pounds for all sizes, from a small envelope to a large box, but the largest size they offer is about 1 foot by 1 foot by 6 inches. Prices range from $6.95 for the small envelope to $17.60 for the large box. It’s a great option for small to medium-sized items that are dense and heavy, and don’t have a big rush to get to the customer — though it’s worth noting that 1-3 days is still quite good.
Priority Mail Express: overnight
Priority Mail Express is a great option if you need to get your package to its destination as quickly as possible. Packages under 70 pounds ship starting at $22.50, but that’s the price for the flat rate shipping envelope, so it only goes up from there. If your item is heavy and can be squeezed into the flat rate envelope, this will be the cheapest option for you. If it’s bigger, you may have better luck with another courier.
Media Mail: 2-10 days
Media Mail is for a very small niche of USPS customers. If you’re shipping any kind of media (books, CDs, DVDs), you can do it for far cheaper than you’ll get anywhere else by using Media Mail. However, don’t abuse the system, because if USPS inspects your package and finds that you’ve broken the rules (which they have the right to do), they’ll return the package to you for insufficient postage.
If you’re shipping media that’s a little heavy though, you’re in luck, because you won’t get a better rate anywhere else.
Ground: 2-8 days
If your product is too large for a large flat rate box through Priority Mail, Retail Ground shipping is going to be for you. The weight limit is still 70 pounds, but it’s meant for products that are too big for the Priority Mail boxes. However, as you can see, the delivery time is a lot slower.
Also, prices are calculated by zone and weight — if you’re going to Zone 4, for example, prices range from $8 to $67, depending on how much it weighs. If you’re not in a hurry, it’s worth plugging in your numbers to see if it’s a good fit price-wise.
FedEx has a couple of heavy and oversize delivery services.
Ground: 1-7 days
If you were feeling left out by the USPS weight limit of 70 pounds, enter FedEx. They have a less predictable delivery time, but a more inclusive weight limit of 150 pounds, and size up to 108 inches in length, and 165 inches in length plus girth. If your packages are larger and/or heavier than USPS allows for in its flat rate, FedEx Ground can be a great option.
Freight: Priority or Economy
FedEx Freight prices vary too much by zone and size to give a good range, but if you’re shipping pallets of heavy packages, this is the spot where you want to start. Priority is for quicker delivery than economy, of course, and both are calculated by the overall weight and size of your pallet.
Once you get into a large amount of packages shipped and/or quite a heavy weight overall, this can become a much cheaper option than shipping the packages individually.
DHL’s heavy shipping options are great for international shipping and even include expedited shipping.
DHL owns, co-owns, or partners with several different airlines around the world. It offers an air freight service in which your freight gets added to various flights that are scheduled along major routes, and it offers door-to-door delivery (plus airport-to-door, or door-to-airport).
Like all other couriers, it offers options for how fast you need your freight delivered, from Urgent Air Freight (1-2 days) to Air Economy (5-7 days), and it even offers options for special cargo, temperature-controlled environments, and day-definite international shipments.
Very similar to its air freight option, DHL offers an ocean freight service that carries freight overseas on various ocean couriers. They offer Full Container (FCL) and Less Than Container (LCL), and a similar variety of special options, like temperature-controlled areas and even transportation of liquids.
The bottom line is that freight options are for when your cargo is too heavy, big, or bulky to get a good price shipping it parcel. It makes more sense to ship it by pallet or container, because you’ll get a better price and service.
How to ship even heavier items over 70 pounds
In the previous section, we talked about how you can ship items lighter than 70 lbs. But what about when you need to ship items that are larger than 70 lbs? There are a few options you can consider.
If you want to ship items that weigh over 70 lbs, but under 150 lbs, UPS requires that the package meets their guidelines and that you have a “heavy package” sticker with the weight of the package on the box.
UPS Freight is your best bet if your package weighs over 150 lbs. UPS Freight comes with its own prices and regulations which you need to be mindful of if you decide to go with the service.
To ship items weighing over 70 but less than 150 lbs, you can use FedEx Ground. Heavy items require a safety label which you can get directly from FedEx.
To ship items that are over 150 lbs, you can use FedEx Freight, which we talked about in the previous section.
How do ecommerce shops ship heavy items?
As you can imagine, shipping heavy items is a bit different for ecommerce stores. Trying to handle inventory storage, tracking, and shipping of heavy inventory can be a bit much for many ecommerce shops that are trying to scale, so instead, they can opt to use a third-party retail fulfilment company.
There are even third-party logistics companies that specialize in heavy items. It can help tremendously with scaling, shipping faster, and even lowering shipping costs overall. When you have another company handling your inventory, taking advantage of multiple fulfilment centres, and negotiating cheaper rates with shipping couriers, you can pass those benefits on to your customer.
Shipping heavy items is always going to be more complicated than shipping small and light ones. Accounting for all the different variables and fees that get added on, from weight limits to dimensional weight, can be complicated, but hopefully this article helped guide you.
Shipping costs can eat your profits alive whether you are a small business or a multi-chain company. Shipping rates fluctuate and could easily affect your bottom line if you don’t keep an eye on them, so it’s always worth it to do the research and see which courier is going to be the right fit for your business.
Shipping large items FAQs
Here are the answers to the top questions about shipping large items.
What is the cheapest way to ship large items?
The cheapest way to ship heavy items is by using consolidated freight. However, it’s important that you compare shipping couriers based on what you are shipping and how heavy it is.
Does UPS ship large?
Yes, UPS does ship large packages but to a limit. The packages they ship have to be up to 150 pounds and up to 165 inches in girth and length.
Does USPS have a size limit?
They do have a size limit. The package you want to ship has to weight less than 70 pounds and, in most cases, they should be less than 108 inches in total length and girth.
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