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Cheap Shipping Guide
The holidays bring the cost of shipping into sharp relief, as shoppers splurge on gifts for far-away family and friends and scramble to meet that Dec. 24 deadline.
Overall we found there is no contest when it comes to price. In our shipping cost comparison, the Postal Service offered the cheapest rates across the board, from ground shipping to overnight service. It also stands out with free Saturday delivery and generally keeps up with its private-sector counterparts in areas such as on-time delivery and customer satisfaction. However, consumers who expect tracking numbers for all their packages or need something delivered first thing in the morning -- or even the same day -- must turn to FedEx or UPS, which provide similar services and charge nearly identical prices.
All three couriers offer a range of shipping options, some cheap and others not so much. You can send books across the country for less than $5 with U.S. Postal Service Media Mail or pay more than $150 to have FedEx or UPS rush a 10-pound package across the country with guaranteed delivery at the start of the next business day. In between these extremes are options for regular ground shipping, two- or three-day service, and less urgent overnight delivery, all priced according to size, weight, origin, and destination.
Our research into cheap shipping options drew on several sources. We read dozens of online customer reviews, many harshly critical, but weighed these comments against the knowledge that the three providers handle billions of packages every year, and the vast majority arrive undamaged and on time. We also factored in customer satisfaction and reliability surveys, retail presence, and perks such as complimentary supplies and free Saturday delivery.
The Postal Service is the oldest and biggest of the group, dating back to colonial times. It processed almost 168 billion pieces in 2011 -- 40 percent of the world's mail. Package deliveries increased 5 percent in 2011 to more than 2 billion. The agency has threatened to close thousands of Post Offices in the face of budget shortfalls but currently has about 35,750 retail offices. UPS claims more than 18,700 facilities, as well as 40,000 drop boxes. The 105-year-old company delivered more than 4 billion packages and documents worldwide in 2011. FedEx, formed in 1971, handles an average of almost 3.3 billion shipments per year and provides nearly 50,000 drop-off locations, most of which are drop boxes.
We focused primarily on cheap shipping within the continental United States but also took a brief look at international shipping, as well as options for overweight packages. E-commerce accounts for much of the volume these carriers handle, so we put together a bonus guide to free and cheap shipping for online shoppers, including an in-depth look at Amazon's Prime service.
Best Cheap Shipping Provider
The U.S. Postal Service offers the cheapest shipping options, including flat-rate boxes, rock-bottom prices for media such as books, and discounts for printing shipping labels from USPS.com. It also boasts the largest network of retail locations and delivers packages on Saturdays at no additional charge.Read more »
Good Cheap Shipping Providers
FedEx quoted cheaper prices than UPS for standard ground delivery. It has also recorded the highest average score over the past 15 years in an annual survey of customer satisfaction and enjoys a reputation for reliability among large shippers.Read more »
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