The bull case for economy shipping services

There's a lot of hate out there about economy shipping services like USPS Ground Advantage. But when used right, these services can make a huge impact on your bottom line without sacrificing delivery speed and quality. In this post, I'll tell you how to properly leverage economy shipping options


Tyler Douglas

You’ve heard of them, you’ve probably used them, and chances are you’ve even complained about them.  I’m talking of course about a class of shipping services colloquially referred to as ‘Economy Shipping Services’.   Some names that might ring a bell are USPSGround Advantage, UPS Ground Saver/SurePost/Mail Innovations, FedEx SmartPost, and DHL SmartMail.


If you’ve used any of these services before, it’s likely you did it to save money.  Which makes sense because that’s exactly what they’re designed for! But, after some testing you may have decided that it wasn’t worth the savings because of the service degradation and poor customer experience it led to.


While it’s true that these services often have slower shipping speeds and can sometimes have complications during carrier handoff (if applicable), if utilized correctly they often lead to fast shipping times, a great customer experience, AND savings. The tricky part is knowing when to use them and when not to use them.


I’m Tyler, founder and CEO of String. My mission is to help businesses provide the best shipping experience possible while also saving money in the process. In this post we’re going to walk through how you can best utilize economy shipping services to save money AND provide a fast shipping experience for your customers.  Didn’t think it was possible?  Time to find out how!


First, it’s important to know what these economy services options are and how they differ from more expensive options.  Typically, there’s 3 differences to expect when using one.


1) Parcels shipped with an economy service are almost always on a truck and never on a plane. There are exceptions like shipping toHawaii or Alaska from the lower 48. When shipping long distances, this is obviously slower. When shipping near distances, it often has no impact.


2) Parcels do not receive priority sortation when they get to a sorting center and may be delivered to alternate sorting centers that process packages differently/slower. This means that when sorting centers for carriers are super busy (like peak season) they will often be sorted within the next 1-2 days after they were received, not the same day.


3) USPS aggregates almost all of the volume from economy services offered by FedEx, UPS, and DHL.  Generally speaking, economy services from non-USPS carriers are just a middleman between you and USPS Ground Advantage. FedEx,UPS, or DHL will pick it up your packages, but they’re ultimately delivered by the USPS.


These 3 differences are important to keep in mind as we discuss how you can make the most out of economy shipping services to save money and provide a better shipping experience. With that out of the way, how can we now use this knowledge to leverage economy shipping to our best ability?


The major way we can leverage economy shipping services is to focus on zones where a plane and major sorting center sped doesn’t hold a major advantage for delivery time. This is more common than you think.  While we won’t go into the complexities of carrier networks in this post, priority shipping options and economy shipping options will frequently share similar delivery estimates for zone 1-4 shipments because the routes and sorting centers in which they pass through will be nearly identical (if not the same).


Another important note is that sorting centers typically sort in waves.  So even if packages arrive from a plane a few hours earlier than they arrive from a truck, they’ll all get processed and move onto their next destination within the same sorting wave.  Plus, priority services will use trucks when shipping to a near zone because the carrier knows air freight poses little advantage.  In these cases, economy and priority options are more similar than people think.


In short, you can just about always expect zone 1-2 shipments with economy services to arrive within 2 business days and zones 3-4 within 3-5days.  It’s not uncommon to see zones 5-7take delivery within 5 days as the USPS continues to make their Ground network more robust. Just keep in mind, the more sorting centers your package passes through and the more ground it covers, the more likely economy delays are to happen. If you’re using a platform like ShipStation or EasyShip, I recommend setting up an automation rule to default to your economy shipping option like Ground Advantage for zone 1-3 shipments.  Beyond that, you can still see strong success, but more evaluation criteria should be used.  I’d recommend creating a table of package dims and weights to evaluate the savings from economy options vs priority options.  Use the results to inform your automation rules based on high savings routes.


The second way you can leverage economy services is by supplementing your UPS Ground or FedEx Ground/Home Delivery shipments during relatively low traffic periods.  Like economy services,UPS Ground and FedEx Ground primarily use ground freight to transport your packages.  The big difference is that these packages aren’t handed off to USPS and typically receive priority during sorting waves. While the lack of handoff and priority sorting can be a big factor during peak season, during low traffic periods the net impact this has on delivery time can be negligible.  Either service option you choose will rely on ground freight and the lack of volume pressure at sorting centers means your packages will likely get sorted the same day.  


If testing out economy services during peak season sounds too risky for you, I encourage you to test them during the summer months(May-September) while network volume is low. Look at some generalized time-in-transit estimates for zone 1-4 shipments and map out a table of rates across dims size and weights. You can use this to make decent automation rules that will get the job done.  I’d be surprised if you didn’t see savings of at least $1 on a lot of sub-5lb shipments across zones 1-4 with comparable delivery times. You can see savings on heavier shipments too, but GroundAdvantage has diminishing returns beyond 20+ lbs.


Automation rules are never optimal because they’re static, but they’re usually better than nothing. If you want to make your shipping operations smoother, more robust, and consider real-time data, use String.  String is purpose built to find the fastest and lowest cost shipping option for every package you send to customers. String uses AI to find the smallest package for an order and then automatically rate shop across all your accounts for the optimal shipping option. We offer a free analysis to see how much money you can save, just visit and submit the request form at the bottom of the page.


Good luck and happy shipping!

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