When most people think of how to run a successful business, shipping isn’t often one of the first things that come to mind. But while it’s a background process, it’s a critical part of keeping your company afloat.
It’s also one of the most complex parts. So, if you’re not confident in your understanding of the different types of shipping, now is the time to brush up.
And lucky for you, we’ve got all the info!
In this article, we’re going to look at the most common types of shipping, what they mean for your business, and when it makes sense to use them or switch from one type to another. We’ll even look at how definitions change among top carriers.
Popular Types of Shipping Methods
Generally speaking, expedited is just a blanket term that means faster than the standard shipping time. Each carrier will have its own unique branded names for expedited shipping, as well as definitions for what those terms mean. What goes for one carrier may not go for another.
To truly understand the shipping times and rates of an expedited shipment, you’ll need to do your research by carrier.
Here are a few examples of expedited shipping services and delivery times for a few of the top carriers.
UPS Expedited Shipping
UPS doesn’t typically use the term “expedited,” except for the UPS Worldwide Expedited service.
- US domestic packages: 2nd Day Air for 2-day delivery, 3 Day Select for 3-day delivery
- Canada domestic packages: 2 days
- Worldwide Expedited: 2-5 business days
USPS Expedited Shipping
USPS primarily uses the terms Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express to refer to expedited shipping services.
Within the US:
- Priority Mail is usually delivered within 1 to 3 business days
- Priority Mail Express is delivered in 1 to 2 days
We'll give you a more detailed breakdown of Priority Mail in a bit.
Another expedited shipping service for small and lightweight packages is USPS First-Class Mail. Small packages are delivered in 2 to 5 business days, and regular mail is delivered in 1 to 5 business days.
DHL Expedited Shipping
Within the US, DHL expedited shipping is branded as SmartMail. For international shipments, the service is called International Direct.
- SmartMail Parcel & Parcel Plus: Expedited Max delivers in 2 to 3 business days, Expedited delivers in 2 to 5 days
- SmartMail Flats (for flat envelopes): 3 to 8 days
- Parcel International Direct: 3 to 10 business days
This one’s a bit more straightforward: overnight means the package will arrive the day after it’s shipped. Similar to “expedited,” different carriers will often use different terminology branded and unique to their company.
For example, UPS Next Day Air or Next Day Air Saver are the services you’re looking for if you’d like overnight shipping through UPS. A rate example would be: the daily rate for a 1 pound shipment from New York City to Chicago is $79.96.
As you can see, these rates can add up fast. But if you’re partnered with a platform that can offer you pre-negotiated discounts, you can save big time. For example, the final cost for a Shopify plan member would be $35.27 for this same shipment after a 56% discount is automatically applied.
USPS doesn’t offer a guaranteed overnight option, but their Priority Mail Express service offers 1 to 2 days maximum. Not too shabby.
3. Priority Mail
Unlike many other shipping terms, Priority Mail is more of a brand name than a common shipping method. USPS created the word, and since it’s a brand, Priority Mail is only offered by USPS. (But don’t let the name fool you—it functions very similarly to shipping methods like expedited and overnight shipping.)
Priority Mail generally ships in 1 to 3 business days within the US, depending on the origin and destination. If you’re looking for dates on specifics, check out the USPS Priority Mail Delivery Map.
In addition to standard Priority Mail, the service is also available as Priority Mail Express, which offers a 2-day or next-day shipping time by 6 pm the next day or your money back. You can also opt for flat rate shipping with both standard and express Priority Mail options. If you’re shipping internationally, you can use Priority Mail International or Priority Mail Express International.
Regardless of your choice, USPS will pick up packages for free at your home or office, as well as other perks like USPS Tracking and up to $100 worth of insurance with qualifying shipments. These services are also available for international shipments.
If you’re on the Shopify plan, here are two examples of the discounts you’ll have access to. These are shipping rates for 30 oz packages within the US:
4. Flat rate
While typical shipping costs dependon a package’s size, shape, and weight, flat rate shipping eliminates all the variations.
Instead, you’re paying a single, “flat” rate every time you ship a specific-sized box issued by the carrier. It doesn’t matter how heavy the box is—you can stuff as many items as possible into it, and you’ll still pay the carrier’s flat rate.
Flat rate shipping can save you money in the long run if you’re shipping heavy items or multiple items inside one box. Just keep in mind that if your packages tend to be on the lighter side, flat rate shipping may actually cause you to lose money. This is because, generally speaking, the pricing is padded by carriers to cover heavier items.
Each carrier will have its own boxes and associated rates. For example, here are the five flat rate options offered by UPS for shipments anywhere inside the US:
- Extra small: $9.45 and up; box dimensions like 4 inch cubes, 6 x 4 x 4 in, 8 x 6 x 2 in
- Small: $12.40 and up; box dimensions like 6 inch cubes, 8 x 6 x 5 in, 12 x 9 x 2 in
- Medium: $14.95 and up; box dimensions like 8 inch cubes, 12 x 9 x 6 in, 13 x 11 x 2 in
- Large: $19.60 and up; box dimensions like 10 inch cubes, 12 x 12 x 7 in, 15 x 11 x 6 in
- Extra large: $24.30 and up; box dimensions like 12 inch cubes, 16 x 12 x 9 in, 18 x 12 x 6 in
5. Multiple addresses
While “multiple addresses” isn’t technically a type of shipping service, it’s still a question that comes up for many commerce and ecommerce store owners.
This term refers to letting a customer send different items in a single order to different destination addresses. For example, they might buy a t-shirt for themselves and a t-shirt as a gift for their friend, but purchase them both through the same order on your site.
Another use for multiple addresses is when a customer would like to combine different fulfillment methods to collect their items, like standard shipping, local delivery, in-store pickup, and digital delivery of a gift card.
Of course, this option adds some logistical complexities to order fulfillment. There’s no obligation for you to offer it, so feel free to skip this one if you think it makes things complicated.
If you’re interested in offering it, check out Shopify’s app ecosystem for a tool that can help.
6. Local delivery or pickup
If you’re a local business selling to customers in your area, you may have the option to skip shipping altogether. This can have a huge benefit for small businesses—customers don’t need to be subjected to possible shipping delays, and you don’t need to worry about working with a carrier to get your products where they need to go.
According to our consumer trends research, one-third of respondents said they bought locally during the pandemic.
With local delivery, you can go into your Shopify dashboard and set a specific radius around your store or warehouse, as well as create settings based on ZIP and postal codes. If a customer’s address is within that zone, they automatically become eligible for local delivery.
The main consideration for local delivery is your team’s bandwidth. Will you be personally delivering packages, or do you have team members to help? Keep this in mind when you’re setting up the details.
With a local pickup option, nearby customers can come to your store or warehouse to pick up their order in person. While this option requires a bit of extra legwork from your customers, you’ll find that many are happy to do so if you’re nearby.
International shipping is—you guessed it—shipping that originates from a different country than the destination. Once you dip your toes into the realm of international shipping, you’ll often find that there are more considerations to keep in mind as you choose your best shipping options.
These details include:
- Customs declarations and forms, which tell customs officers in the destination country what’s inside, the cost or value, and whether it’s merchandise or a gift.
- Applicable taxes, tariffs, and duties. Keep in mind that your customer will be responsible for any extra customs fees, so it’s a good idea to add a clear warning to your website to prevent surprises. Shopify Markets is the best way to scale your ecommerce business internationally.
Determining costs is another area where this may get complex. This is because prices will typically vary widely depending on your origin and destination countries.
Here are a few example rates (and Shopify plan discounts) for using DHL to ship a 1-pound package internationally from New York City to Toronto, London, and Sydney.
Freight is the primary type of delivery service used for shipping large quantities of goods, typically sent on pallets and in shipping containers. Generally speaking, a shipment is considered freight if it weighs more than 150 pounds or is larger than 30 x 30 x 30 inches.
If your store has grown significantly and you’re finding yourself with more and more shipping demands, freight may be a good solution.
Typically, commerce businesses use freight to ship mass quantities of products to a distributor or fulfillment center, where they can then use regional or local shipping methods to get the products into customers’ hands.
There are a few types of freight shipping:
- Air freight via planes
- Ocean freight via ships
- Ground freight via trucks
- Multimodal freight via a combination of vehicles
To get a quote on freight shipping, you’ll need to check with the carriers you’re considering. Many don’t offer upfront pricing—they opt for custom quotes instead. Remember that the shipping time and rate will depend on a few factors, like the mode of transport you choose, the origin and destination, the size and weight, and whether you’ll need any special handling.
Find the perfect types of shipping
As you can see—and you probably already knew—the world of shipping can be complex. These complexities are multiplied when you see how different all the details can be when looking at different carriers and services.
When you’re figuring out the right types of shipping for your business, it’s important to shop around to ensure you fully understand all your options. That way, you can be sure you’re finding your perfect combination.