What Is Ground Shipping? How to Utilize Ground Shipping for Faster Delivery

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When you think ‘ground shipping,’ you might think, ‘slow delivery.’

Ground shipping doesn’t have the best reputation in logistics. But with Amazon raising the standard around fast, affordable shipping and the rapid rise of ecommerce, there are more on-demand logistics solutions than ever before, making it possible to ship customer orders fast at an affordable rate.

Traditionally, offering 2-day shipping was only possible with expedited shipping via air, which tends to me much more costly than ground shipping.

Fortunately, major shipping carriers and other third-party logistics (3PL) companies now have the infrastructure and resources to enable 2-day shipping via ground.

In this article, learn how to utilize ground shipping for faster, more affordable delivery. 

What is ground shipping?

Ground shipping utilizes road or rail, and it is the most cost-effective mode of transportation for shipping packages. Offering ground shipping for your customers is the most common and standard mode for domestic transit, as it helps you reduce shipping costs and helps you more affordably offer free shipping (since you’re able to offset the cost when you implement a minimum spend threshold that’s above your average order value). 

Generally, ground shipping has a longer last-mile delivery timeline than air, but with more third-party logistics or 3PL companies expanding distribution reach as ecommerce continues to grow, there are now more ways than ever to optimize ground shipping and speed up transit times.

Top ground shipping carriers compared

To ship via ground across the United States, there are four major shipping carriers that offer widespread coverage in the United States: USPS, UPS, DHL, and FedEx.

The table below compares different pricing rates across major shipping carriers. In terms of coverage, it’s worth noting that parcels sent to a US location by sea counts as ground shipping for USPS and UPS. Shipping via ground with USPS, DHL, FedEx, and UPS covers all US zip codes (including military addresses), as well as Canada and Mexico.

CarrierSpeed via GroundRatesCoverage
UPS1-3 business daysStarts at $8.76 depending on packaging and dimensions  All 50 states and Puerto Rico
FedEx1-5 business days in states sharing common border3-7 business days for Alaska and Hawaii Starts at $8.90 depending on packaging and dimensions  Delivers to all 50 statesFedEd International Ground® ships between the US and Canada, and within Canada
DHL3-8 business days for standard groundRates vary significantlyDomestic and international shipping via ground (i.e., Canada to US)
USPS2-8 business days via USPS Retail Ground®Starts at $7.70 depending on packaging and dimensions  All 50 states and Puerto Rico

These major carriers also partner with regional parcel carriers to speed up delivery via ground. Regional carriers cover more than 85% of the US population and specialize in short-haul deliveries (usually up to 500 miles but often much less).

Why choose ground shipping over other options

Online shoppers are likely to abandon online carts because delivery is too expensive. But ground shipping can help offer fast, 2-day shipping at a low cost, which provides a premium shipping option.

A common misconception surrounding ground shipping is speed. Oftentimes, ground shipping is associated with slower travel times — and while it’s true for shipping from one coast to the other, it’s not always the case. Depending on where you’re shipping from, there are ways you to leverage ground shipping and still meet customer expectations around delivery speed. 

Ground shipping is slower (and more costly) when packages must travel to higher shipping zones, or the mile radius from the shipping origin. Zone 1 is the closest area to the fulfillment center from which we are shipping, and the farther away, the higher the zone. 

If you ship to an area within the same zone as your warehouse, then those packages can be shipped faster and cost-effectively via ground. 

With a 3PL like ShipBob, you can offer faster and more affordable shipping via ground by splitting inventory across multiple fulfillment centers in different regions of the US, which enables affordable 2-day shipping for US-based customers in those regions. This is all done without having to manage your own warehouse(s) but by leveraging ShipBob’s economies of scale.  

For us, changing from a 3 week lead time to 3 days through ShipBob is what drove our sales. Even now, one of the primary reviews we get on Etsy is, ‘My order arrived really quickly!’ Having the stock locally in the US means that lead times and shipping times are minimal, and that you’ll get higher conversion rates because you’re offering better lead times.

John Greenhalgh, Co-Founder of A Year of Dates

Another hesitation surrounding ground transportation involves the impact on our environment. While it’s not as bad as air shipping, ground transportation still contributes to a business’s carbon footprint. Fortunately, there are plenty of options for ecommerce businesses to decrease their carbon footprint.

Businesses can either fulfill items themselves or outsource fulfillment and still be able to opt into eco-friendly shipping — one example being using biodegradable material ideal for recycling or shipping a package in its own container (known as SIOC packaging).

Furthermore, ShipBob partners with carbon-neutral shipping solutions, like Ecocart so you can purchase carbon credits by allowing your customers to choose (and optionally, pay for) carbon offsets on a per-order basis, and allowing you to offset the carbon impact of product manufacturing and even last-mile delivery.

Ground shipping for ecommerce stores

As mentioned before, there are several ways to leverage ground shipping that still meets customer expectations around speed. How you set up your shipping strategy depends on where you store inventory, where your customers are located, and more.

Here is an overview of how to optimize ground shipping coverage for your online brand.

Choose your ground shipper carrier

The first thing you’ll need to do is choose which major shipping carrier(s) you want to partner with for shipping packages via ground. Here is a deeper dive into the four primary carriers that cover the US. 

UPS Ground Shipping

UPS Ground Shipping offers shipping via ground in 1 to 5 days and starts at $8.76 depending on packaging and dimensions. Extra large packages can cost up to around $22.85 to start. Additionally, they offer Saturday Delivery for UPS Ground transport, allowing you to ship to your customers during the weekend. 

For example, if you are shipping from the Chicago area via UPS, the map below highlights how long it would take to ship orders across the country.

Map generated here. 

FedEx Ground Shipping

FedEx Ground offers a competitive transportation rate of 1-5 business days from states sharing a common border, with service days from Monday until Friday. They ship packages up to 150 pounds, 108” in length, and 165” in length plus girth. 

They offer competitive, cost-effective rates (starting at around $8.90), which helps ecommerce businesses optimize their shipping. The map below highlights the delivery times based on zones if you are shipping from the Chicago area via FedEx

Map generated here.

DHL Ground Shipping

DHL gets a little trickier. They offer domestic shipping for customers that ship a large volume of products within the US. Especially for ecommerce businesses that ship hazardous materials, or ship across the globe, DHL can be a great option.

DHL is headquartered in Germany and specializes in international shipping, making it easier to send timely deliveries across countries. They also offer DHL Express Worldwide, guaranteeing next-day shipping to any international location (of course, not via ground shipping). 

To give you an idea of how DHL Ground works, you can download maps of European countries highlighting different ground shipping zones.

USPS Ground Shipping

USPS offers multiple shipping options. One of their more popular options is Priority Mail, which will ship in 1-3 business days. But for a more cost-effective (and non-urgent) delivery, USPS Retail Ground ships packages in 1-8 business days at a cheaper price. 

Rates for USPS Retail Ground start at $7.70. The map below highlights the delivery times shipping from the Chicago area. 

Map generated here.

Partner up with a 3PL like ShipBob

Since ShipBob partners with all the leading ground shipping carriers including regional carriers (and fulfills orders for thousands of merchants across different industries and countries), ShipBob makes shipping operations more affordable and effective — whether you decide to utilize ground shipping or different methods.

Through partnerships with all major carriers, as well as regional carriers, ShipBob negotiates discounted shipping rates. That way, you can save on shipping and provide more options for your customers.

With a 3PL like ShipBob, rather than storing inventory in one warehouse, you can easily split inventory across multiple locations, which reduces transit times and enables affordable shipping via ground.

Leave shipping and fulfillment to the experts

Enabling fast and affordable shipping is a challenge if you’re fulfilling orders in-house.

With a 3PL, you can delegate time-consuming logistics tasks to the experts. Rather than investing time and money into warehousing and technology, you can outsource fulfillment to a 3PL and automate shipping.

ShipBob partners with all major shipping carriers to provide discounted rates, as well as the opportunity to grow your distribution network across the US or even internationally.

With ShipBob, you’re able to keep logistics costs low, speed up transit times, and optimize your retail supply chain with access to advanced data and analytics reporting tool to help you make better decisions.

Here is an overview of how ShipBob can help you optimize your ecommerce fulfillment strategy.

Fast 2-day ground shipping times

With a growing network of fulfillment center locations across the US, you can easily offer 2-day shipping via ground at an affordable rate. The map below provides an overview of where our distribution centers are located in the US a of June 3, 2021 (note: our most up-to-date locations can be found here).

Distributed fulfillment network

ShipBob has a global fulfillment networkthat makes it easy to allocate inventory based on where there is the most demand. Based on historical order data, you can decide which locations to store inventory in and optimize inventory allocation, which helps to also keep storage costs manageable.

By splitting inventory strategically across locations, you can enable 2-day shipping via ground for customers. As you grow your business and expand customer reach, ShipBob provides you with insights to determine ideal distribution across our network.

“We want the customer experience of purchasing on our website to be similar to Amazon Prime. This is possible with ShipBob, without inflating the shipping cost to an insane level. To do this, we strategically place products around the country.

We are storing inventory in three of ShipBob’s fulfillment centers: Moreno Valley, California; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Dallas, Texas. These locations map out nicely with our customer base as we have a large group in the South and also get coverage on the West Coast and in the Midwest.”

Tim Fink, Co-Founder of EnduroSport

Integrations with your store(s)

When partnering with ShipBob, we make it easy to integrate your online store. ShipBob offers direct integrations with Shopify, BigCommerce, Squarespace, Wix, WooCommerce, Square, and more. We also make it easy to establish a multichannel retailing strategy with marketplace integrations like Walmart and Amazon. 

Once your store is synced and inventory is stored at one or more of our fulfillment center locations, orders placed online will be automatically shipped to the nearest location to be picked, packed, and shipped. 

Since our entire distribution network is powered by our best-in-class, proprietary technology, you can track inventory in real time, view orders by status, forecast demand, and much more — all from one dashboard.

Get started with ShipBob

ShipBob is an international, tech-enabled 3PL that offers 2-day shipping options for fast-growing brands. With a robust fulfillment network, best-in-class technology, and premium expertise and support, ShipBob can help your business grow.

With ShipBob, you can worry less about logistics operations and focus more time on what matters the most.

If you’re ready to get started ShipBob, click the button below to request custom pricing.

Ground shipping FAQs

Here are answers to the most common questions about ground shipping. 

How long does ground shipping take?

Ground shipping can take anywhere between 1-5 days depending on the point of origin. The closer the delivery area is to the shipping origin, the faster it will arrive.   

How much does UPS ground shipping cost?

UPS offers a flat rate. Depending on the size of the item (going from extra-small to extra-large), the shipping cost could start anywhere between $8.80 and $22.85.

How does ground shipping work with a 3PL?

With a 3PL, inventory can be stored across multiple locations. Using the 3PL’s software, orders are sent to the nearest fulfillment center to the shipping destination and shipped using the fastest, cost-effective route. If an order’s destination is within the same shipping zone as the fulfillment center (or even Zones 2-3 in some cases), 2-day shipping via ground is attainable, though not guaranteed. 

What’s the difference between standard and ground shipping?

UPS standard shipping is another cost-effective option of moving ground packages. However, they do not expedite shipping or ship overnight to deliver packages. Standard shipping can take anywhere between 3-7 business days. The average ground shipping time is anywhere between 1-5 business days. 

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Written By:

Kristina is the Sr. Director of Marketing Communications at ShipBob, where she writes various articles, case studies, and other resources to help ecommerce brands grow their business.

Read all posts written by Kristina Lopienski