As a small business owner, one of your top priorities is finding the cheapest way to ship your packages.

However, there’s more to choosing a shipping and fulfillment method than simply going with the most affordable, bare-bones option. You have to consider the customer experience and other factors like shipping time, tracking, and location, just to name a few.

You also need to factor the size and weight of your product into the decision. For example, the cheapest way to ship beauty products will not be the same as the cheapest way to ship home gym equipment.

In this article, we'll outline some of the cheapest shipping options out there and show you how to make a smart decision about which one is best for your business.

Cheapest Way to Ship Packages

The cheapest way to ship through any shipping service is typically ground shipping. It’s a slower option, but you can save money by avoiding air shipping costs.

So, if you’re looking to save on shipping costs and are willing to allow for a little bit of extra shipping time, these courier services can help you raise your profit margins.

In the list below, you can see an estimate of how much it would cost your business to ship a package that weighs 5 lbs. domestically (from one point in the U.S. to a nearby zone).

  • USPS Retail Ground - $10.60
  • UPS Ground - $10.46
  • FedEx Ground - $10.46
  • FedEx Home Delivery - $14.81
  • DHL Express Domestic - $34.16
  • Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) - ($6.28, plus $0.99 per item or $39.99 monthly fee and inventory fee)

While this list outlines the cheapest way to ship for a small business, it does not account for all requirements your business might have when it comes to shipping and fulfillment.

As you can see, FedEx and UPS offer the cheapest ground shipping overall. However, small businesses that take advantage of Amazon’s fulfillment program could get faster shipping times at lower costs, depending on the scale of their business and how many products they sell each month.

The cheapest shipping option could change based on the size and weight of your packages, how you want to track your shipments, and whether you’re shipping domestically or internationally.

Cheapest Way to Ship With Tracking

Most shipping carriers allow businesses to track their packages as they progress through the delivery process, but the cheapest way to ship with tracking is through FedEx or UPS.

When you ship with either of these two carriers, you’ll be provided with a unique tracking number for each package, allowing you and your customers to know where it is and when it reaches its destination.

While tracking is an added convenience, multiple tracking numbers can become difficult for a business to manage — and sharing the numbers with the appropriate customers can also be a pain point.

Small businesses can utilize software like AfterShip to help ease this process. AfterShip enables you to track the progress of all of your shipments in one place, even if you are shipping from multiple different carriers.

Aftership: Track all your shipments for 800+ carriers
Aftership: Track all your shipments for 800+ carriers

AfterShip also enables business owners to create their own branded tracking page to send their customers. This makes it easy for customers to access their order details along with the tracking number, and the transparency of letting customers know when their package is shipped, out for delivery, and delivered can promote trust in your business.

The AfterShip software integrates with over 100 ecommerce platforms, including popular ones like Shopify, Magento, and WooCommerce, and is compatible for use with over 800 carriers around the world (including USPS, UPS, FedEx, DHL, and Amazon).

The best part about AfterShip is its data-collection capabilities. Ecommerce businesses that use AfterShip can access data analytics to get insight into the shipping process, which can help you find out which carrier is the best for your needs.

AfterShip shipping analytics
AfterShip shipping analytics

Cheapest Way to Ship Large Packages

When it comes to bigger items, UPS and FedEx offer the cheapest way to ship. Each carrier offers flat-rate shipping for large packages at comparable prices.

UPS offers the cheapest way to ship large packages with their UPS Simple Rate shipping option. Businesses can ship a package up to 1,051-1,728 cubic inches and up to 50 lbs, starting at $22.85 using the XL flat-rate packaging option.

FedEx comes in second place for the cheapest flat rate large package shipping. They allow customers to send a FedEx Extra Large Box starting at a flat rate of $36.60 for FedEx Express Saver shipping.

FedEx prices go up based on how quickly you need the package to arrive and in which zone — you will pay more when you ship further than 150 miles or internationally. Also, keep in mind that FedEx does not allow bulk shipping for flat rate boxes. With that said, you can print labels in bulk.

Cheapest Way to Ship 50 Lbs

Flat rate shipping from FedEx and UPS has you covered for large packages under 50 lbs. However, if you want to ship 50 lbs or higher, the options are different. The table below can give you an idea of how the prices for both carriers compare when shipping a package weighing 50 lbs.

Shipping Service

Transit Time

Cost

USPS Priority Mail -

Small Flat Rate Box

1-3 days

$7.90


USPS Priority Mail -

Medium Flat Rate Box

1-3 days

$13.75 

USPS Priority Mail -

Large Flat Rate Box

1-3 days

$19.30

USPS Parcel Select 

2-8 days

Depends on zone, 

starts at $30.85

FedEx Express Saver

3 days

Depends on zone, starts at $82.50

FedEx Express Saver - 

One Rate Small Box

3 days

Depends on zone, starts at $9.95

FedEx Express Saver - 

One Rate Medium Box

3 days

Depends on zone, starts at $12.95

FedEx Express Saver - 

One Rate Large Box

3 days

Depends on zone, starts at $20.00

FedEx Express Saver - 

One Rate Extra Large Box

3 days

Depends on zone, starts at $32.35

The weight limit for shipping large packages with UPS is 150 lbs, but if you need to ship a large package such as a piece of furniture or a pallet, you can use the UPS Freight option. Be careful when weighing your item, and make sure to choose the appropriate service and account for any surcharges you may incur.

Similarly, FedEx offers their FedEx Ground and FedEx Home Delivery services for small businesses with a limit of 150 lbs. There’s also a freight option for FedEx called FedEx Freight for LTL, or “less-than-truckload” shipping. This option applies when you want to ship large, heavy items that weigh more than 150 lbs but, as the name implies, would not fill an entire cargo trailer.

If the item you’re shipping is 50 lbs or over but is still small in size and can fit into one of USPS’s Priority Mail Flat Rate boxes, then you can ship it at the flat rate as long as it’s under 70 lbs total. It’s a great deal to keep in mind for businesses that ship small yet heavy items.

Cheapest Way to Ship Small Items

USPS is the cheapest way to ship small items. The postage service is ideal for sending letters and small parcels compared to the other package-oriented services mentioned in this post.

Where UPS, FedEx, and Fulfillment by Amazon can prove pricey for small dimensions and light items, USPS excels in options for small-item shipping. The USPS Priority Mail 3-Day Small Flat Rate Box can be shipped for $7.90 (and can weigh up to 70 lbs, as mentioned above).

Cheapest way to ship small items: USPS Postal Service
Cheapest way to ship small items: USPS Postal Service

Prices for other flat-rate options such as Flat Rate Envelopes and Flat Rate Padded envelopes all hover around $8.00 as well, making them affordable options for small parcels containing books or documents or small items like clothing or jewelry.

Additionally, USPS offers “forever” pricing that can be purchased with the postage already on it. You can use the packaging to ship an item at any point in the future, regardless of whether or not shipping costs go up.

For example, you could purchase several Priority Mail Forever Prepaid Flat Rate Padded Envelopes at their current price of $8.55 per piece. This way, you won’t have to pay any extra fees to use them for shipping next year, even if the price of the same envelope goes up.

If your item is small and also light (or does not fit into one of the USPS prepaid packaging options), you might be able to ship it even cheaper with USPS’s small package pricing, which, depending on the weight and shape of your package, could cost as little as $4.00.

Cheapest Way to Ship 2 Lbs

The cheapest way to ship items 2 lbs and under varies widely depending on the item’s dimensions. If you are shipping a very small item that only weighs a few ounces, you might even be able to get away with shipping using USPS First Class Mail.

Otherwise, USPS Flat Rate or small package pricing may still be the cheapest. The multiple packaging options mentioned in the section above will suit your business needs so long as your item fits the dimension requirements.

For packages with larger dimensions, the cheapest way to ship 2 lbs and under could be either FedEx or UPS. Here’s a list that summarizes the cheapest ways to ship 2 lbs based on dimensions:

  • USPS First Class Mail Envelope - $0.55 up to 1 oz
  • USPS First Class Mail Package - $4.00 up to 13 oz
  • USPS Priority Mail Flat Rate shipping - $7.70 and up
  • UPS Flat Rate shipping - $8.80 and up
  • FedEx Flat Rate shipping - $8.90 and up

Cheapest International Shipping

The cheapest international shipping is either DHL or USPS, depending on the size and shape of your package and how quickly you need it to be delivered. For small parcels and packages, USPS is still the cheapest international shipping option. However, as items get larger (and international customers get more impatient), DHL becomes the cheapest option.

With DHL Worldwide Express shipping service, you can ship an item that weighs 70 kg (about 155 lbs) and is 120 x 80 x 80 cm (about 50 x 30 x 30 in) or smaller internationally and have it arrive at its destination by the end of next day.

Pricing goes by size, weight, and zone. For example, international shipping for a package that weighs 30 kg (about 66 lbs) would start at $307 plus surcharges depending on the country it’s shipping to. The price goes up from there based on the destination country’s zone and the package weight.

For USPS international shipping, small items that are less than 16 oz, are worth less than $400 and can fit into a small envelope can be shipped using USPS First-Class Mail International for just $1.20.

For slightly larger items, Global Express Guaranteed shipping starts at $67.80 and guarantees delivery in one to three business days, which is a cheap option for fast international shipping. Slightly larger items that can fit into a flat rate box can be shipped via USPS Priority Mail Express International in three to five days or Priority Mail International in six to 10 days.

Finally, the USPS First Class Package International service is the cheapest way to ship items too heavy or large to be sent in a small envelope but weighing less than 4 lbs. As long as the package is no larger than 36 in combined length, width, and height, it can be shipped internationally starting at $14.25.

Cheapest Way to Ship a Box

Unless you're shipping something extremely large, USPS Priority Shipping is the cheapest way to ship a box. USPS Priority Mail Flat Rate Boxes start at $7.70 for a small box and can be shipped anywhere domestically at a flat rate.

If you need to ship a really big box, the cheapest way to do so is either with a FedEx Express Saver One-Rate Box, which starts at $32.35 and goes up depending on the zone you're shipping to. You can choose between two different boxes: 11-7/8"" x 10-3/4"" x 11"" or 15-3/4"" x 14-1/8"" x 6"" — whichever one your item fits in best.

FedEx Express Saver One-Rate XL Box
FedEx Express Saver One-Rate XL Box

USPS Parcel Select is a comparable option if you’re a business shipping a large volume of items or you want to use your own box. Prices start at $7.01 for a 1 lb package and go up based on weight and zone. You can use USPS Parcel Select to ship a box of up to 108 in girth and length — larger boxes are considered oversized and start at $80.

Cheapest Way to Ship Boxes to Another State

The cheapest way to ship boxes to another state is using a USPS Priority Mail Flat Rate Box. There is no upcharge for shipping to a different zone, unlike other shipping services like FedEx or UPS that charge more if the package destination is over 150 miles away.

Cheapest Way to Ship Boxes Across the Country

USPS Priority Mail Flat Rate boxes are the cheapest way to ship a box across the country because the rate is the same regardless of the zone you’re shipping to.

For example, if you were based in New York and you wanted to ship two items, one to New Jersey and the other to California, if you used a USPS Priority Mail Flat Rate Box for both items, the price would be the same:  

  • USPS Priority Mail Small Flat Rate Box - $7.90
  • USPS Priority Mail Medium Flat Rate Box - $13.75
  • USPS Priority Mail Large Flat Rate Box - $19.30

How to Ship Cheap: 4 Factors That Affect Shipping

Now that you know the cheapest ways to ship based on the different needs a small business may have, you’re ready to choose which shipping service will be the cheapest for your business. Several factors will determine which one is optimal.

Not only will you take into account the size, weight, and destination of your packages, but you’ll also want to consider your budget, whether or not you want to offer free shipping, how you’ll track your packages, and how you’ll estimate the price as well.

1. What Is Your Shipping Budget?

The first thing you need to account for is your budget. Assess how much money you are willing to spend on shipping.

Keep in mind that faster shipping, larger dimensions, and more weight will cost more to ship. The amount you spend on shipping will affect your profit margin on each sale, so set your budget wisely according to your net profit goals.

2. What Size and Weight Are Your Packages?

The cost of shipping a necktie versus the cost of shipping a palette of gardening soil varies greatly. The weight and dimensions of your shipments could make a huge difference in which carrier will ship your product at the lowest cost.

3. How Fast Do You Need to Ship?

Fast shipping is always a plus, and some customers even demand it, but it’s usually not the most cost-effective way to ship for a small business.

Even though customers like fast shipping, they usually don’t want to pay a premium price for it. You may want to offer it as an option along with slower, cheaper, or free shipping.

You could also use Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) for your shipping needs — if you’re able to pay the upfront costs and inventory fees, it could be your best option for quick shipping.

4. How Far Do You Need to Ship?

International shipping is a whole different ball game than shipping within the U.S. Offering it to your customers could help you expand to new markets and grow your business.

However, it might cost too much to ship internationally — especially for larger and heavier items. Find out if you can use USPS to ship continentally or overseas and how much it would cost to ship to different zones using DHL before offering international shipping.

How Can You Calculate Shipping Cost?

Some shipping carriers make it easy to calculate the exact shipping costs by offering price calculators on their websites.

For example, the USPS Retail Postage Price Calculator can help you determine whether it’s cheaper to ship a package based on its size and shape or as a flat rate box or envelope.

Other websites like FedEx and UPS have calculators that can help you estimate shipping costs based on the item’s location and destination as well as its weight and dimensions.

Shipping rates calculator
Shipping rates calculator

Conclusion

There are a whole lot of factors to consider when finding the cheapest way to ship in 2021. While buying online is more popular than ever, shipping costs for small businesses continue to go up.

Whether you’ve been shipping for years and need to change your pricing model or you’re new to the world of ecommerce and looking for some direction, hopefully, this article gave you a basic idea of the shipping landscape today.