Why You Should Ship Smaller Packages

You might think that all that matters when getting a shipping rate is how much your package weighs. It turns out that most of the time the rate you see is based on your packages dimensional weight. In this post we'll talk about how to minimize dimensional weight and save money on shipping.


Tyler Douglas

I’m Tyler, the founder of String, and I’m on a mission to save ecommerce businesses money on order fulfillment by optimizing their operations.  I know it’s not sexy, but it’s important!  Why?  Because cost effective order fulfillment is a black box that can transform the success of your ecommerce business.  I want to help illuminate that box you.


So why should you trust me? I spent 5 years building AI based order fulfillment systems for some of the world’s biggest ecommerce businesses. The problems they were trying to solve were not unique to their scale.  What was unique was the millions of dollars they could spend on solving them.  I’m taking what I learned and making it accessible to all ecommerce businesses so you can save time and money without spending millions on automation like they do.  


Quick note, I’m the founder of String.  I built our first product called Don’t ShipAir to solve many of the issues I’ll discuss in my blog posts.  I saw many of these issues first-hand in the field and spent thousands of hours to help solve them.  My goal is to bring the power of advanced automation to every order fulfillment team to save them money and time on fulfillment.  I will be plugging our product at the end of pretty much every blog post so if you’re not into that kind of thing you can stop reading before the last paragraph where I’ll pitch it.


With that out of the way, let’s talk about shipping!  My first series of blog posts will be exclusively focused on how to optimize shipping expenses, something every single company I worked with prioritized before all else.  Let’s get into it!


A few years ago, carriers like USPS, UPS, and FedEx transitioned their pricing model from weight based to “cubic weight”based.  This instantly made choosing the right package size essential to save money on shipping expenses. Yet, most businesses I talk to don’t understand it’s impact on their shipping expenses.  


Cubic weight, also known as dimensional weight, considers the package's size in addition to its weight to calculate the price of a shipping label.  This means that a large and lightweight package may cost more to ship than a small and heavy package.


To calculate the cubic weight of a package, carriers use a formula that multiplies the package's length, width, and height, and then divides that number by a pre-determined factor. The factor varies depending on the carrier but is typically around 139 for domestic shipments and 166 for international shipments.


For example, a box that is 20 inches long, 10 inches wide, 8inches tall, and weighs 5 pounds would have a cubic weight of 11.51 pounds. The carrier would use the greater of weight or cubic weight to determine the shipping label cost. This is why it's crucial for fulfillment teams to choose the smallest possible package for their shipments, especially if you offer free or flat-rate shipping.


I’ve heard of fulfillment teams trying to get around this by taking off a few ounces or a few inches here and there when entering information to get a shipping label.  But here’s the thing; Carriers weigh and measure every parcel at every distribution center in their network.  So even though your shipping label may say one price, they will issue you a chargeback if the price is inaccurate based on actual weigh and dimensions.  


Long story short, carriers really hate shipping oversized packages.  So much so that you should do everything in your power to minimize the size of the packages you use to ship orders to customers. In fact, carriers hate shipping big boxes so much that they even offer specialized services that take advantage of cubic weight-based pricing.


For instance, USPS offers Priority Cubic, which calculates shipping costs based solely on cubic weight rather than actual weight. This service is particularly beneficial for companies that ship small, dense packages. FedEx SmartPost and UPS SurePost are other examples of services that use cubic weight pricing.  If you ship dense products like canned beverages, I’d highly recommend looking into service options like these. Keep in mind that there are specific requirements to qualify for these services.


Of course, finding the smallest package size and service option based on cubic weight can be a challenge for businesses fulfilling hundreds of orders a day. If your fulfillment team is shipping hundreds of orders a day, you probably understand the tradeoff between taking the extra time to find the right package and trying to get orders out as quickly as possible.  If you’re in this situation, try to avoid egregiously oversized packages at the least.


If you want to minimize the volume of every package without spending time on it, String can help you. String automatically finds the smallest package size for any order and the lowest cost carrier service based on its dimensional weight.  If you use a platform like ShipStation, Shippo, Extensiv, or Ship Hero, String can save you thousands every month by optimizing your package selection.


To find out how much money you can save on shipping with String, sign up for a free shipping cost analysis on our website at www.meetstring.com If you have any questions on cubic weight or methods to minimize it, email me (Tyler) at tyler@meetstring.com.


If you made it this far, thank you for reading and I’ll be posting again next week!

Get your free savings analysis from String!