Whenever you need to mail an item, you have a choice of couriers and the US Postal Service at your fingertips, but it can be a challenge to work out which to use and what delivery method to opt for. There are so many options, and you need to think about both delivery times and the cost of shipping when making a decision.
Choosing the correct mailing service is crucial, especially if you are operating a business that frequently sends out items. However, there are so many options that it can be challenging to determine which is the best choice.
What Are The Common Shipping And Mailing Services Offered By USPS?
USPS offers a whole range of services, including Media Mail, Retail Ground, the First-Class Package Service, First-Class Mail, Priority Mail, and Priority Mail Express. Together, these services make up a wide variety of options, offering senders a choice in terms of speed and price.
There are also options available to businesses, but to access these, a company must send a certain amount of mail per year and have an account with USPS. Commercial rates tend to be lower than retail rates, so if you send a lot of mail, there are advantages to using this service.
Service One: Media Mail
Only certain kinds of mail can be sent using the Media Mail service; material must be educational in some way. You can send things like manuscripts, books, music, tests, video recordings, medical pages, and narrow width films. You cannot send things like clothes, food, computer disks, or ornaments using this kind of mail.
USPS may open the mail sent using this service in order to check that it is being used correctly. Because it is among the cheapest mailing services, the company does not allow other items to be sent in this way, and therefore reserves the right to check.
Media Mail costs upward of $3.19 from the Post Office, and usually takes between two and eight working days. You can’t ship more than 70 lb. using this service.
Service Two: Retail Ground
Another service with a two to eight delivery turnaround time, Retail Ground is a suitable option for large packages, and prices start from $8.50 from the Post Office. If your item is too large to send with Priority Mail, this is generally the service that you will need to use if you want to ship via USPS.
This service includes tracking, and you can use it for items that weigh up to 70 lb., but not more. The combined length, width, and girth of the package must be less than 130 inches in total.
In general, mail sent using this service is non-urgent and is either heavy or large.
Service Three: First-Class Package Service
The First-Class Package service is intended for parcels that need to be shipped more quickly, and it has an average delivery time of one to three days. Prices start from $4.50 from the Post Office, but they are charged according to weight and destination, so you will need to check whether this is an economical service for you to use.
This kind of shipping includes tracking, and it’s also possible to add Signature Confirmation, Collect on Delivery, and Return Receipt, although there will be additional fees for these services.
You cannot send items weighing more than 13 oz using this kind of shipping, so you will need to swap to Retail Ground if your package is heavier than this. It’s not possible to pay extra to send items above 13 oz using this service.
Service Four: First-Class Mail
This service is used for letters, flats (large letters), and postcards, and it has an estimated one to five day delivery time, although this is not guaranteed. You may not be able to get a refund of your mailing costs if it takes longer than five days to arrive.
Your item must be rectangular, or you may pay additional fees because the letter will have to be hand-processed. Letters that are not flat will also be charged at an additional fee.
Any items that weigh more than 3.5 oz will have to be sent via the First-Class Package service, which costs more but is delivered more quickly. If you send an item that is over the weight limit using the First Class Mail service, you or your recipient will be required to pay the additional fee and possibly a handling charge before the item can be delivered.
It’s worth noting that some kinds of mail have to be sent via First-Class or Priority Mail, and these include:
- Personalized business correspondence
- Bills and invoices
- Handwritten or typed material
- Credit cards
- Personal communications
- Mailable items that are sealed and private; i.e. anything that the recipient does not want to be inspected
Service Five: Priority Mail
Priority Mail is one of the most commonly used shipping services provided by USPS, and it offers fast delivery times of one to three business days. You will receive tracking and up to $50 insurance with the shipping, and there are no additional charges to have it delivered on a Saturday.
Furthermore, you can choose between regional Priority Mail, Flat Rate Priority Mail, and Prepaid Pricing. In general (excluding Flat Rate), Priority Mail’s costs are charged according to the package weight and the zone it is being shipped to.
The maximum weight for this shipping service is 70 lb. and the combined length and girth must be 108 inches or less.
If you wish to use the Priority Mail service, you can get pre-printed boxes from USPS for free. These boxes will have “Priority Mail” printed on them, and they come in a variety of sizes, so you should be able to find something suitable for shipping your item in.
You must be able to close the flaps without modifying them, or the item will incur extra charges or be refused. Items that are over the weight limit may be refused.
Priority Mail starts from $8.70, and you can add Return Receipt, Collect on Delivery, and Signature Confirmation for additional fees if you choose to.
Service Six: Priority Mail Express
The fastest of USPS’s mailing services, this is an overnight or two day service and provides a money-back guarantee if USPS fails to deliver it within the guaranteed time. You can upgrade this service to include holiday delivery and Sunday delivery in many major areas, although not for some remote destinations.
The shipping service comes with up to $100 insurance and USPS tracking, and again has a weight restriction of under 70 lb. The combined length and girth must measure 108 inches or less, and the container must be able to seal without modification.
Again, USPS offers free boxes that are available for customers utilizing this service. These will have Priority Mail Express printed upon them, and must only be used by customers utilizing the Priority Mail Express service.
This service starts at $26.95 from Post Offices, and you can either send packages via Flat Rate or Variable Price. You can request a package pickup from your home or office at no extra charge, and a signature on delivery, but you must ask for this while purchasing the shipping label.
Of all the USPS services, this is the most suitable when you need to send an item quickly, with insurance. However, it is the most expensive service, which makes it unattractive if you have a lot of mail to send.
What About Other Couriers?
Of course, USPS is not the only mail carrying service available, and there are times when other couriers will provide a better and cheaper service, especially if you are sending large packages. While USPS tends to be the go-to for letters, postcards, and small items, other commercial couriers tend to offer better rates for packages.
There are plenty of other couriers available, with more than 250,000 commercial couriers operating throughout the United States. If you are running a small business that frequently ships out packages, it is important to compare the shipping and mailing services offered by other courier companies, rather than using USPS as your default.
Sometimes, you’ll find that you need to favor one courier for certain items, and switch to a different option for others.
Which Couriers Are Fast?
If you need packages to arrive quickly, your top choices are likely to be FedEx or USPS Priority Mail Express, as both of these offer extremely fast service. FedEx’s First Overnight shipping service will get your package to its destination by 8 a.m. the following day (or by your chosen delivery slot).
This can be done throughout the United States, as long as the item is dropped off before the cut-off time (which may vary according to location; talk to your local Post Office staff to find out more).
UPS also offers next-day delivery, but does not guarantee early morning delivery; your package could arrive much later in the day, which may be problematic if the recipient needs it for work that day.
Alternatively, USPS’s Priority Mail Express may serve if you don’t need it quite so quickly, and might prove the cheaper option, depending on the item’s weight and how far it needs to travel.
Which Couriers Are Cheap?
Finding the most economical courier can be more challenging, because it does depend heavily on what you are shipping and how far it is traveling. Often, USPS is the best choice for economy if you are shipping small, light items, especially if they are traveling locally.
However, if the items are heavier, you’re likely to find that FedEx or UPS Ground are better options in terms of price, but they will take longer to deliver. You will almost always find that slower shipping times are associated with cheaper options. The larger and heavier an item is and the faster it needs to move, the more the shipping service will cost.
You may find that it helps to compare prices online; many services offer this kind of comparison, and most shipping companies post their prices so that you can find the best option.
If you ship a lot of items, you may find that you are able to use USPS’s commercial rates, which are notably cheaper than their retail rates. This can be a great way to bring shipping costs down, but you must commit to mailing over a certain number of packages every year. This is well worth doing if you send a lot of items.
Which Couriers Provide International Mailing Services?
Most of the mainstream couriers will provide international mailing services, including FedEx, DHL, and UPS. Many large couriers have branches in other countries that are capable of handling mail directed there, providing a joined-up service to these places.
USPS will also ship abroad, although it partners with the Universal Postal Union in order to do this. This is an international body that handles mail for postal services around the world.
Which shipping company is best for shipping internationally will depend upon where you are sending the item to and how fast you want it to be delivered, but DHL is a common option for shipping abroad.
This is partly because the company offers superb tracking and excellent speeds, meaning you can keep an eye on your package as it moves and minimize the delivery time. The company even offers express services for the times when you really need a package to move fast.
There are many shipping and mailing services offered by a vast array of different companies, and before sending an item, it’s a good idea to do some research into the rates and delivery times available, as some couriers will provide much better value than others.
If you’re trying to make the entire shipping process as smooth as possible, you may wish to consider getting a Virtual Mailbox from US Global Mail. This ensures that you can receive deliveries at any time, whether you are at home or not, and they will be stored in a secure location until you are ready to collect them.