The concept of a shipping zone is important to grasp in the world of order fulfillment, yet many ecommerce business owners struggle to understand how zones work.
In this article, we’ll dive into some of the most common questions around shipping zones, so you can gain insight into the right shipping strategy for your online store. Let’s break it down!
Shipping zones are the geographical areas that carriers ship to, spanning from Zone 1 to Zone 8 for domestic shipments in the United States. Shipping carriers use shipping zones to measure the distance a package travels – not in miles but rather groupings of zip codes – from the point of origin to the destination.
The location from which an order is shipped is the point of origin and located in Zone 1. The address it’s shipped to is the destination zone. The destination zone number will depend on how far it is from the point of origin, with Zone 8 being the farthest away.
What are the USPS shipping zones?
A lot of small businesses opt for using USPS because of how cheap and reliable it is. For many sellers not using distribution centers, they need to plan how they’ll ship goods across the continental United State’s 2,500+ miles of coast to coast customers.
Since USPS shipping zones cover distance from the shipper, you can use the shipping zone map above to estimate how long it would take to get your products to your customers. To estimate your shipping zones, use the table below (updated November 2018) :
|Shipping Zone||Mile Radius (from origin)|
|Zone 1 (local)||50 mile radius|
|Zone 2||51 – 150 mile radius|
|Zone 3||151 – 300 mile radius|
|Zone 4||301 – 600 mile radius|
|Zone 5||601 – 1000 mile radius|
|Zone 6||1001 – 1400 mile radius|
|Zone 7||1401 – 1800 mile radius|
|Zone 8||1801+ mile radius|
|Zone 9||Freely Associated States|
How shipping zones work in ecommerce fulfillment
Here are some of the most common FAQs about shipping zones in the US.
1. How do you calculate shipping zones?
Want to determine shipping zones for your orders?
- USPS Domestic Zone Chart: Navigate to the tab “Get Zone for ZIP Code Pair.” Simply enter the zip code you’re mailing from and the zip code you’re mailing to, and you will get the shipping zone for your destination.
- UPS Zones and Rates for the 48 Contiguous States: Enter your zip code of origin and download zone charts to Excel.
2. How do shipping zones affect cost?
For services that are zoned, the greater the zone, the greater the cost in most cases.
3. How does order weight affect shipping cost by zone?
Thus, you will see a lower shipping cost if you ship from a location closer to the end customer.
“Without ShipBob, it would cost more than $100 per order to ship our 25 pound blankets in 2 days. The more fulfillment centers we have inventory in, the more potential shipping addresses we can offer this 2-day option to. And the more people that we offer the benefit of free 2-day shipping to, the more conversions we get.”
Founder of My Calm Blanket
Let’s take the following example of shipping a 20 lb. box with the dimensions, 4 x 9 x 12 inches. This box is particularly heavy and will be expensive to ship.
As we can see from the chart below, the higher the zone, the greater the shipping cost. The lower the zone, the more manageable the cost for you and your customers.
A note on dimensional weight: Shipping carriers use this pricing technique to estimate weight calculated from the length, width, and height of a package, using the longest point on each side.
The shipping cost will be based on whichever number is greater: the actual weight of the package or its calculated dimensional weight.
4. How can ecommerce companies afford to offer free shipping?
- They bake the cost of shipping into the product price (using the average shipping cost)
- They require a minimum dollar amount to be spent (to increase the average order value)
- They reduce the number of zones they ship to (more on that below)
“By encouraging customers to meet a spend threshold for free 2-day shipping, we’ve seen great results without harming our margins. Offering this shipping option to customers who live within ShipBob’s 2-Day Express coverage zone has increased our average order value in these zones from $75 to $148.”
Ryan Casas, COO of iloveplum
5. How do shipping zones affect delivery speed?
Customers today believe the maximum amount of days considered acceptable to wait for their order is only 4.1 days (as compared to 5.5 days back in 2012).
If all of your inventory is fulfilled from one location – for example, out of New Jersey, as seen in the map below – it can take 5-6 days to deliver an order to a customer in Oregon.
Image source: UPS
It’s no surprise that same-day shipping and delivery can only ship to the lowest zone(s).
6. Where is the best place to fulfill orders to reduce shipping zones?
7. How does increasing the number of fulfillment centers used affect shipping zones?
As the zones increase, the colors shift to orange and darker shades of red. The yellow dots represent fulfillment center locations.
When using one fulfillment center (in Los Angeles, California, as seen on the map to the left), we see one region of the country is green, yet much more is red. If you’re shipping to any of the dark red regions, the shipping rates will be higher, since it will go to Zone 8.
When using three fulfillment centers (in San Francisco, California; Dallas, Texas; and Brooklyn, New York, as seen on the map to the right), there are many more green areas.
We’ve also eliminated any states in Zones 7 and 8, leaving only a couple of areas that are in Zone 6. These three fulfillment center locations also provide coverage in highly populated states (e.g., California, Texas, and New York).
Additionally, using multiple fulfillment centers can help you offer two-day shipping via ground in more regions, instead of relying on expensive air shipping.
[Related article: 3 Benefits of Using More Than One Fulfillment Center]
If we look at the chart of the 20 lb. box from the example mentioned earlier in this article, great cost savings would be realized by eliminating the highest shipping zones.
Utilizing three fulfillment centers as compared to one would enable more orders to be shipped to lower zones. In other words, the average shipping cost per order would dramatically decrease with the addition of each fulfillment center.
To learn more about how distributing inventory across fulfillment centers can transform your logistics, check out this webinar.
8. How does a 3PL automate fulfillment and optimize shipping zones?
If you understand zone shipping, you can adjust your ecommerce fulfillment strategy to better meet customer expectations around speedy and affordable deliveries. Not only will this help you improve efficiency by reducing distance and time in transit, but it can also help you reduce shipping costs, generate more sales, and improve your bottom line.
To keep fulfillment costs and overall logistics costs down, you must effectively use zone shipping to your advantage. Learn how ShipBob helps ecommerce businesses do this by fulfilling orders from their network of fulfillment centers in the largest US cities to effectively reach customers.
Learn how to compete with giant retailers by meeting customer expectations around inexpensive 2-day shipping. Download “The Guide to Offering Affordable 2-Day Shipping.”