Step-by-Step Guide to Overnight Shipping [+ Best Practices]

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Step-by-Step Guide to Overnight Shipping [+ Best Practices]

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A whopping 73% of consumers view fast delivery as critical online shopping criteria, and nearly 60% of consumers would pay extra for fast shipping options. 

The rise of retail giants like Amazon has altered customer expectations, and online shoppers have come to expect 2-day delivery options wherever and whenever they shop. When 2-day shipping is the norm, how can ecommerce brands stand out?

Enter overnight shipping, a delivery option that offers a premium shipping experience to your customers — so you can exceed their expectations (and cater to last-minute shoppers).

What is overnight shipping?

Overnight shipping is the quickest delivery option offered by couriers that guarantee customers will receive their order on the next business day. For overnight shipping, orders are processed and delivered within 24 hours, meaning orders are in transit overnight.

Different shipping couriers that offer overnight shipping services will have daily cutoff times after which next-day delivery cannot be guaranteed, and, depending on the carrier and shipping service, orders placed over the weekend, which is usually the off time, may need two days to arrive.

This is often synonymous with next-day delivery or one-day shipping; however, exact delivery dates depend on when the order is placed.

Shipping companies that offer overnight shipping have transportation networks that allow them to offer a delivery service with such fast shipping times. The transportation network is usually spread out across the country, as this allows customers to drop off a package and have it ready for early morning delivery. These express services are sometimes limited to certain locations (i.e., if the package is shipped to a rural delivery area).

Is there a difference between overnight shipping and next-day delivery?

Overnight shipping and next-day delivery may sound different, but they mean the same thing. The two delivery terms can be used interchangeably to refer to shipping services that deliver packages to customers the day after they’re ordered.  

How overnight shipping works

Overnight shipping is an expedited shipping option that involves several steps to ensure customers receive their orders within a short timeframe. While overnight shipping varies from carrier to carrier, you can expect each to follow these steps.

1. The order must be placed before the overnight delivery cut-off time. 

In order to have true overnight delivery, a customer must place an order before the overnight delivery cut-off time. Establishing a delivery cut-off time gives you plenty of buffer time for order processing, picking, packing, courier pick-up, and delivery.

Most courier cut-off times for overnight shipping are around 4 PM local time. Specific times may vary on location or circumstance, so contact your courier to confirm the overnight shipping cut off time.

2. You or your fulfilment partner prepare the overnight delivery order for courier pick up. 

This includes packaging the product(s) and printing the shipping label. Because the label states these orders are expedited for overnight shipping, these orders are usually prioritized.

3. The courier picks up and processes the parcel.

When the courier receives the package, it will be sorted along with other overnight shipping orders and routed to its final destination.

4. The package is transported to an overnight delivery hub.

Once routed, the parcel will be sent to the hub closest to the end customer overnight. Overnight orders are, like the name suggests, shipped overnight via ground or air transit in order to make it to the customer on the next business day.  

5. The customer receives their order the next day! 

Most major couriers have overnight delivery options to satisfy both business owners and customers.

Depending on the carrier you’re working with and the type of overnight shipping method you choose, packages can be delivered as early as 8 AM local time or as late as 4 PM.

For example, UPS Next Day Air Early can ensure your package is delivered by 8 AM the next business day, while packages sent via UPS Next Day Air Saver are delivered by 4:30 PM the next business day.

FedEx has similar overnight shipping options, with FedEx First Overnight being their fastest option (with delivery as early as 8 AM). They also offer FedEx Priority Overnight and FedEx Standard Overnight for deliveries that don’t need to be received as early in the day.

4 benefits of overnight shipping

75% of consumers are craving fast shipping, but only 50% of ecommerce businesses offer same-day shipping as an option. 

Offering overnight shipping is a competitive advantage that can set you apart from other ecommerce businesses. Below are just some of the benefits of offering overnight shipping.  

1. Ability to deliver time-sensitive shipments

By offering overnight shipping, you can extend to your customers more delivery options for when they’re in a pinch. Overnight shipping is the quickest delivery available, so by giving your customers this option, you’re able to appeal to more customers who may be seeking faster delivery.

Offering overnight shipping options are great around popular shopping holidays (like Labour Day or Mother’s Day) and during peak season. That way, last-minute shoppers can still get their orders on time.

“ShipBob really understands the importance of fast shipping and makes it a standard practice, even through big promotions and holiday sales.”

Stephanie Lee, COO at PetLab

2. Greater customer satisfaction

As customer expectations continue to rise and fast shipping becomes the standard shipping option, offering overnight shipping can increase your brand’s customer satisfaction and brand loyalty. Giving customers the freedom to choose faster shipping options if they need them endears shoppers to your brand. 

3. Increased sales and revenue

With greater customer satisfaction comes an increase in sales, and, consequently higher revenue. Since customers know they can count on you for speedy delivery, they’ll keep coming back to your online store. 

“Our overall traffic, volume of orders, and conversion rate have steadily increased. Without a doubt, a portion of that is due to increased shipping speeds we’re able to offer because of ShipBob — the average time to fulfil and the average time to send orders out has decreased from our last provider. I believe part of our increased conversion rate is due to our customers seeing the option for faster shipping at checkout.”

Peter Liu, Co-Founder of RIFRUF 

4. Reduced storage costs

Offering overnight shipping also helps alleviate storage costs. Overnight shipping helps free up warehouse space, which reduces storage costs and minimises the chances of deadstock and obsolescence.

What couriers offer overnight shipping (and which is the cheapest option)?

The cheapest options for shipping are based on many criteria, including package weight and dimensions, delivery time frame and distance, and any discounts that could be negotiated with a carrier.

USPS overnight shipping

Generally, USPS will be the cheapest option for packages under 2 lbs.

Their Priority Mail Express Flat Rate shipping envelopes will be the best option for any shipment that will fit into them. For packages over 70 lbs, the cheapest option will be UPS or FedEx. Online sellers may be able to negotiate lower rates by negotiating with couriers, or by partnering with retail fulfilment providers like ShipBob. 

One popular USPS mail type is its overnight offering, Priority Mail Express, their “fastest domestic service.” Packages under 70 pounds ship overnight through Priority Mail Express shipping starts at $26.95. If you (or your customers) are really in a rush, there are also Priority Mail Express options that guarantee delivery by 10:30 am the next day.

Among the three major couriers, USPS offers the cheapest overnight shipping option. That’s because USPS runs local routes daily, so they don’t have to go out of their way to deliver to your end customer.

UPS overnight shipping

UPS offers many different delivery options, but UPS Next Day Air is the fastest. UPS boasts that they offer “more overnight, on-time, guaranteed deliveries in the US than anyone.” Their overnight delivery options include (listed from most expensive to least expensive):

  • UPS Next Day Air Early: Guaranteed overnight delivery as early as 8 AM the next business day.
  • UPS Next Day Air: Guaranteed overnight delivery, typically by 10:30 AM the next business day.
  • UPS Next Day Air Saver: Guaranteed overnight delivery typically by end of the day on the next business day.

All overnight delivery options from UPS offer online tracking.

FedEx overnight shipping

Often the most expensive of the three couriers, FedEx also offers three US overnight delivery options in the US (from most to least expensive):

  • FedEx First Overnight: The fastest option. Delivery as early as 8:00 am the next business day for most US destinations. Delivery by 2:00 pm to additional extended destinations.
  • FedEx Priority Overnight: Delivery by 10:30 am on the next business day to most US destinations, with remote area delivery by 4:30 pm.
  • FedEx Standard Overnight: Delivery by 4:30 pm to most US addresses.

All FedEx overnight options allow shippers to customise delivery and pickup options, including requiring proof of delivery.

The table below breaks down overnight shipping times and rates by different couriers (in USD).

Shipping CarrierShipping CostShipping Time
USPS Priority Mail Express*$28.75 (at post office) Overnight guaranteed
USPS Priority Mail*Starting at $9.351-3 business days
USPS First-Class Mail*Starting at $0.511-5 business days
FedEx First OvernightDepends on weight and destinationOvernight, early as 8 AM next business day
FedEx Priority OvernightDepends on weight and destinationOvernight, early as 10:30 AM next business day
FedEx Standard OvernightDepends on weight and destinationOvernight, early as 5 PM next business day
UPS Next Day Air EarlyAround $100, depending on weight and destinationOvernight, early as 8 AM next business day
UPS Next Day AirAround $60, depending on weight and destinationOvernight, early as 10:30 AM next business day
UPS Next Day Air SaverAround $50, depending on weight and destinationOvernight, by end of day

*As of May 2023, USPS offers lowered rates for Click-N-Ship members when shipping labels are created online.

How are overnight shipping costs calculated?

The short answer? It depends.

Overnight shipping costs can change due to a number of factors, including the following:

1. Package dimensions

All major couriers use a pricing model called dimensional weight (aka DIM weight) to calculate shipping costs. DIM weight takes a package’s dimensions into account to determine the shipping cost.

The dimensional weight is calculated by multiplying the length, width, and height of a package, then dividing that number by a DIM divisor. Shipping couriers base shipping rates on whichever is greater: the actual weight of the package or its DIM weight. That becomes the billable weight that determines your overnight shipping cost.

2. Package weight

Heavier packages cost more to ship than lighter shipments. As mentioned above, if the actual weight of a package is greater than the DIM weight, it’ll be used to calculate shipping costs. The heavier and larger the package, the more expensive it will be to ship.

3. Shipping zones

Shipping zones measure the distance between a package’s point of origin and its destination.

Couriers use shipping zones to calculate shipping costs. In the US, these can range from Zone 1 to Zone 8.

Shipping zones are calculated based on where an order is shipped from. This means that two different points of origin with the same destination could be shipping to completely different zones.

The higher the shipping zone, the more expensive a package will be to ship. When it comes to overnight delivery, next-day shipping, and other expedited shipping options, the price increase between zones gets exponentially higher.

4. Shipping agreements with couriers

You may be eligible to receive discounted shipping rates from couriers. Some couriers offer discounts for small businesses, while others discount rates based on high shipping volumes. When choosing which carrier(s) — or third-party logistics providers — to work with, look into which rate discounts might be available to you.

Best practices for handling overnight shipping

If you’re ready to offer an overnight shipping option, but aren’t sure where to start, use these best practices to ensure your packages will arrive at the right location, on time, and undamaged. 

1. Set a clear cutoff time

In order to offer overnight shipping, you’ll need to create a clear policy that outlines your brand’s cutoff time. You’ll want to set this policy so you have ample time for orders to be processed and fulfilled in order to meet overnight delivery times. This policy should clearly communicate your cutoff time to avoid misunderstandings and set expectations with your customers.

2. Operate from multiple warehouses

By distributing your inventory across multiple warehouses, you’re able to reach your end customers more quickly. Shipping from multiple warehouses helps you complete urgent shipments because your inventory is stored closer to the delivery location. 

3. Establish a centrally located warehouse

Using multiple warehouses can complicate inventory management if not done strategically – not to mention drive up warehousing costs. For some businesses, using one centralised warehouse is a much more efficient and cost-effective way of completing overnight shipments.

4. Work with reliable partners

Forming relationships with partners who you can count on helps you deliver on the promise of overnight shipping. Vet fulfilment partners with due diligence in order to find one who consistently meets SLAs.

How ShipBob helps execute overnight delivery

Working with a third-party logistics (3PL) provider, like ShipBob, can help you offer customers overnight shipping. In addition to major couriers like USPS, UPS and FedEx, ShipBob also works with various regional couriers. Regional couriers like CDL Last Mile Solutions, Lone Star Overnight (LSO), United Delivery Service (UDS), and OnTrac allow ShipBob to offer overnight shipping options for merchants. 

Because ShipBob works with different shipping couriers, delivery times are based on when the carrier scans a package after picking packages up from a ShipBob fulfilment centre. This can be later that same day or the next business day, depending on the carrier and time of day.

In addition to overnight shipping, ShipBob also offers ground shipping, 2-day shipping, and same-day delivery. This way, we’re able to give merchants plenty of shipping options they can offer their customers and stay competitive in today’s market. 

Location and distance from end customers make a huge difference when offering overnight shipping. Thanks to ShipBob’s network of fulfilment centres across the country, we can help you keep your inventory closer to end customers. Distributing inventory shortens transit times and lowers the number of shipping zones each order has to travel, which can help you save money on expedited delivery options.

ShipBob’s robust dashboard gives merchants insight into their data in real-time. Our analytic tool provides suggestions for how to optimise your inventory distribution based on historical data to reduce transit times and cut down fulfilment costs. 

Get started with ShipBob today

While overnight shipping can be a more expensive option, offering it can help you exceed customer expectations and convert more last-minute shoppers. Working with a third-party logistics partner like ShipBob can help you offer expedited delivery options to your customers at scale by storing inventory in multiple locations across the country.

To start offering faster delivery and the cheapest overnight shipping options to your customers, request a quote to learn more about ShipBob.

Learn more

In today’s competitive market, customers expect fast shipping. Learn how you can leverage a 3PL to distribute your inventory and speed up shipping times. Download the guide now to learn more.

Overnight shipping FAQs

Here are the answers to the most popular questions about overnight shipping.

What is the cheapest overnight shipping?

Based on our research, the cheapest overnight shipping is from Priority Mail Express. It costs around $28 at the post office. To save, you can join the USPS Click-N-Ship program to access a lower rate on Priority Mail Express shipments.

How much does next-day shipping cost?

The price of next-day shipping depends on a few factors. If you go with UPS Next Day Air Saver, the starting price is around $25.

What is the fastest shipping?

Various courier companies offer fast shipping. UPS, DHL, FedEx, and USPS all offer same-day delivery, which is arguably the fastest shipping option available today.

What is the cut-off time for overnight shipping?

Generally, most couriers’ cut-off time for overnight shipments is around 4 PM local time. This may differ depending on your package’s destination and weight. To ensure the right cut-off time, contact your local carrier.

What is the difference between ground and overnight shipping?

Ground shipping is when couriers deliver packages via road or trail transit. This is usually a cheaper shipment option, but it can take longer for parcels to be delivered (up to 2-3 business days).

Overnight shipping is the delivery method that gets packages to their destination in the next business day. Items being sent by overnight shipping can be sent via air, which is faster but more expensive.

Is overnight shipping available for international deliveries?

Yes! Overnight shipping is available for international deliveries via UPS, FedEx, and DHL.

Can I request overnight shipping for any type of item?

While most items can be shipped overnight, there are some restrictions.

If you are using an overnight shipping solution that requires air transit, you cannot ship HAZMAT items like batteries, aeresols, cosmetics, nail polish, etc. Packages containing air bags, ammunition, explosives, gasoline, liquid mercury, and marijuana are not permitted to be shipped in the United States and therefore cannot be overnighted.

See a list of items that are prohibited to ship in the United States here. Depending on your location or shipping destination, you may have different restrictions.

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Written By:

Meredith is a Content Marketing Specialist at ShipBob, where she writes articles, eGuides, and other resources to help growing ecommerce businesses master their logistics and fulfillment.

Read all posts written by Meredith Flora