With ecommerce sales of over $1 trillion in 2022, the US remains one of the most lucrative ecommerce markets globally. However, with the sheer geographical size of the US, shipping to customers from New York to Los Angeles (and everywhere in-between) can be expensive. Shipping margins are critical to the profitability and sustainability of ecommerce businesses. If you aren’t shipping your products in the most affordable and efficient way, then you’re leaving money on the table. One possible way to reduce shipping costs is with USPS flat rate shipping.
With flat rate shipping, the weight of a package does not affect the cost of shipping. If you ship heavy items, then this will save you money. On the flip side, flat rate shipping can be more expensive if your packages are lightweight.
How do you decide if flat rate shipping is right for your ecommerce business?
This article provides a detailed breakdown of flat rate shipping, how it works, and whether or not you should start using it.
What is flat rate shipping?
USPS Priority Flat rate is a shipping service provided by the US Postal Service that offers 1-3 day shipping services for a single flat rate. Flat rate service is attractive to many shippers since it essentially eliminates the need to weigh your packages in order to calculate shipping costs. As long as your package weights under 31kg, it can ship with USPS Priority Flat Rate service.
Why shipping flat rate is perfect for ecommerce shops
Flat rate shipping is an appealing shipping option for a few reasons based on how shipping costs are typically calculated.
First, the farther the distance or shipping zones you ship your orders to, the more expensive it typically is, and this only increases the heavier the order is. For those unfamiliar with shipping zones, instead of shipping costs being based on the physical distance a parcel travels, the US is broken down into shipping zones (from zones 1 to 8).
How to calculate shipping zones
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.
Because zones are dynamically calculated based on where your package is shipped from, this could mean that two different points of origin that are shipping to the same destination address could be shipping to completely different zones.
- For example, if you ship from Los Angeles, California to St. Louis, Missouri, you are shipping to Zone 7.
- However, if you ship from Dallas, Texas to St. Louis, Missouri, you are shipping to Zone 4.
Additionally, dimensional weight is a commonly used pricing technique that is calculated by multiplying length times width times height of a package. Freight carriers like USPS, Fedex, and UPS calculate shipping charges based on whichever number is greater: the actual weight of the package or its calculated dimensional weight.
Flat rate shipping simplifies things quite a bit and can be a great option for certain brands, especially those who are smaller and self-fulfil orders.
Note: Flat rate shipping can also refer to a technique for deciding how to price your shipping, when you charge a fixed shipping rate for every order (rather than offering free shipping or passing the real-time shipping rate on to the customer). For the purpose of this article, we are talking about the USPS flat rate shipping service.
How does flat rate shipping work? 3 steps
Flat rate shipping means the price of shipping is not connected to the weight, shape, or size of the shipped item, hence the term “flat rate.” It’s based on how much you can stuff into the USPS-issued box. Ecommerce businesses ship products at a flat rate by following these steps.
1. Get a USPS flat rate box
Instead of packing items in your own box, choose from a variety of flat rate boxes at your local USPS office. There are small, medium, and large flat rate boxes; And the bigger the box, the higher the shipping prices. The maximum allowed weight is 31kg.
2. Pack your items and address your box
Pack your items in the USPS flat rate box and address the package.
3. Ship your items
Bring your flat rate box to a USPS office and ship the box using Priority Mail.
How much is USPS flat rate shipping?
The cost of flat rate shipping in the United States depends on the size of the box. See the following chart for detailed pricing and box sizes.
Flat rate options & Flat rate pricing:
|Flat rate box||Commercial base price||Price at post office||Dimensions|
|Flat Rate Envelope||$6.95||$7.35||32cm x 23cm|
|Small Flat Rate Box||$7.50||$7.90||22cm x 14cm x 4.5cm|
|Medium Flat Rate Box – 1 (top loading)||$12.80||$14.35||28.5cm x 22cm x 15cm|
|Medium Flat Rate Box – 2 (side-loading)||$12.80||$14.35||35.5cm x 30.5cm x 9cm|
|Large Flat Rate Box||$17.60||$19.95||31cm x 31cm x 15cm|
How long is the flat rate shipping time?
Packages shipped with flat rate shipping are typically delivered within one and three days (not counting Sundays). They are shipped with via Priority Mail and the exact time of delivery depends on where the package is sent from and its final destination.
Why use flat rate shipping for ecommerce?
Flat rate shipping can generate huge savings when it comes to small business shipping by having a lower, predictable cost. It won’t make sense for every ecommerce business, but is used most often by small business owners that pack boxes themselves and run to the post office to ship orders.
1. Package anything up to 31kg
There is no need to worry about weighing and calculating shipping costs for each package. As long as your package is under the 31kg limit, then you can ship it with flat rate shipping.
2. Automatically insured up to $50
Instead of having to purchase shipping insurance separately, it’s already taken care of to an extent. Every flat rate package is automatically insured up to $50. If the contents are worth $50 or less, your costs will be covered if lost. They also can include a certificate of mailing for even more peace of mind!
3. Drop off at any USPS store
When your package is ready to go, you can drop it off at any USPS office to be shipped.
4. USPS tracking included
Another ecommerce shipping essential, simply enter the package number into USPS’s tracker and you can follow its progress all the way to delivery.
How to outsource your ecommerce shipping with ShipBob
If your ecommerce business is outgrowing your current shipping methods, another way you can bring down your shipping costs and improve margins is with optimised shipping. ShipBob is a third-party logistics (3PL) provider that streamlines your shipping using integrated technology and multiple fulfilment centres. Here’s how fulfilment with ShipBob works.
1. Connect your store
ShipBob’s platform syncs with your ecommerce store (to handle, for example, Shopify shipping and WooCommerce shipping), so you can easily manage inventory and monitor the fulfilment process from start to finish.
2. Store your inventory at ShipBob’s fulfilment centres
Store your products across ShipBob’s national network of fulfilment centres. This puts your products closer to your customers for reduced shipping costs and transit times.
3. Have orders fulfilled automatically
Orders placed at your store are pushed automatically to the optimal ecommerce fulfilment centre, then picked, packed, and shipped by ShipBob’s team.
4. Customers get tracking info
Ecommerce order tracking information is sent to the customer once the package has been shipped, so they can follow the progress of their package.
Flat rate shipping is a popular USPS mail type that can be a valuable tool for reducing shipping costs, but only if your packages are heavy enough, so that the flat rate is cheaper than the regular rate. You can find out if flat rate shipping is worthwhile for your ecommerce business by comparing the flat rate to the rate that you’re currently paying to ship your products. If the majority of your products are heavier but under 70 pounds and your current rates are higher than the flat rate, then flat rate shipping can save you money.
Learn more about outsourcing fulfilment
Download the free e-guide, “How to Choose a 3PL for Your Ecommerce Business” and learn more about how a 3PL can help your company scale and get tips for choosing a fulfilment partner.
Flat rate shipping FAQs
Here are the most frequently asked questions when it comes to USPS flat rate shipping.
How does flat rate shipping work?
To use USPS flat rate shipping, you need to get a USPS flat rate box from your local USPS office (small, medium, or large size), add no more than 31 kg of contents that fit inside the box, label an address, and ship the box at a USPS office using Priority Mail.
Is flat rate shipping cheaper?
USPS flat rate shipping can be cheaper than other shipping methods because you can optimise what you fit in the flat rate box, but the major benefit is that it makes it easier to budget for shipping costs because you can predict the cost every time.
How long does it take to get flat rate shipping?
Flat rate shipping via USPS Priority Mail typically takes 2-3 business days to be delivered during non-peak seasons.
What is free flat rate shipping?
Free flat rate shipping is when you don’t charge ecommerce customers for shipments that go out using this USPS service. Free shipping can be a great way to get more shoppers to complete their purchase online, and it’s often most cost-effective when you offer it in exchange for a minimum spend threshold. This helps preserve your margins while increasing your average order value.