How to Ship Heavy Items Cheaply: Carriers and Shipping Classes

Big products, big problems — right? Heavy-weight and oversized shipping can seem like a pain and a half, but there are plenty of carriers that offer fast and easy shipping of even the biggest and bulkiest items. By comparing the pros and cons of various carriers, you can figure out which option is best for your business.

What to consider when shipping heavy items

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.

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 of content

If your item is delicate and needs a little extra care, you may want to choose a carrier that prides itself on handling fragile content rather than a focus on speed.

3. Origin and destination of the package

No matter how heavy your package is, carriers 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 more expensive it will be.

4. Carrier being used

Each carrier has its own rules, and the one you use will heavily influence your cost, based on what you’re shipping. Some carriers 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? 2-day shipping? Overnight? Each of these is important to consider when choosing a carrier.

Top carriers for heavy items

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. 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 carriers who cater to smaller businesses and individual customers post their prices publicly (USPS, UPS, FedEx), carriers 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 ship freight than parcel, so it’s always worth it to get the price for freight shipments.

Prices are summarized when provided, but if no prices are listed, you’ll need to contact them directly to get a quote.

USPS

USPS has several shipping services, 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 carrier.

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

FedEx has a couple 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

DHL’s heavy shipping options are great for international shipping and even include expedited shipping.

Air freight

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 carriers, 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. 

Ocean freight

Very similar to its air freight option, DHL offers an ocean freight service that carries freight overseas on various ocean carriers. 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. 

What to do before you ship

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.

Track it

When was the last time you ordered something online and it didn’t provide order tracking information? It’s probably been a while. The bottom line is, when customers expect a certain level of care, it’s your job to give it to them. Aside from it being expected, it builds trust with them and creates a higher perceived value — plus you can track all your shipments.

Confirm it

Delivery confirmation is the key to a successful tracked package and helps you with your insurance claim — a win-win. You’ll know when the package is delivered (as will your customers), and you can use that information not just for their benefit, but also to assist you if the package is stolen.

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 fulfillment 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 fulfillment centers, and negotiating cheaper rates with shipping carriers, you can pass those benefits on to your customer.

Conclusion

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 if you don’t keep an eye on them, so it’s always worth it to do the research and see which carrier is going to be the right fit for your business.