Small Parcel Shipping

What is Small Parcel Shipping

We are experts in small parcel shipping. What is a small parcel? Each carrier has specific exceptions but in general small parcel shipments have:

  • Package weight less than 150 lbs
  • Package length less than 108 inches (9 feet)
  • Package length plus girth less than 165 inches
  • Total shipment weight less than 500 lbs

Benefits of shipping with a small parcel carrier include competitive pricing (especially for ground shipments), detailed tracking, low fees for residential deliveries, and up to 3 free re-delivery attempts. If your shipment is larger or heavier, it is probably a freight shipment. That’s no problem – we can ship freight also!

Our Services

We ship packages via both small parcel and freight, anywhere in the world. We can determine the best option based on your unpacked or packed item weight, size, and value. Each parcel carrier has its own quirks and specific strengths. For example, did you know that FedEx Home Delivery limits packages to 70 lbs? We know the ins and outs of these requirements and can help you to avoid the common pitfalls.

National/International Small Parcel Carriers


With annual revenues over $42 billion, FedEx is one of the largest companies in the world. Express parcel shipments contributed more than 60% of FedEx revenue in FY2012, with Ground parcel shipments contributing another 22%. Freight and other services made up the remainder. FedEx is our preferred carrier for Express shipping and for shipping to most international destinations.


UPS is the other half of the small parcel duopoly in the US. UPS is very strong in Ground shipping, and also handles Express, International, and Freight shipments.

United States Postal Service (USPS)

The USPS is a good choice for small, light (about 0-5 lbs) items that are not too valuable. USPS Priority Mail service provides non-guaranteed 2-3 day service to most areas in the US. International service is also available, and can be a cheaper alternative to FedEx, UPS, or DHL for some items.

DHL (international only)

A subsidiary of Deutsche Post (the largest courier in the world), DHL Express is known for exceptional service and very extensive coverage. DHL does not provide domestic parcel shipping in the US. However, DHL can safely deliver shipments from the US to many of the most remote areas of the world. We recommend sending DHL to Mexico, Central America, South America, Africa, and Vietnam. When sending to major cities such as San Jose, Costa Rica, Santiago, Beunos Aires, and Rio de Janerio, Brazil, DHL is a great choice, but we also use FedEx.

TNT Express (international only)

TNT’s presence is primarily in Europe and Asia but like the other large global shipping companies, TNT Express serves over 200 countries. TNT struggled with financial performance in 2011 and 2012, and a failed merger with UPS (blocked by the European commission in January 2013) did not help matters. They do, however, have a brand represented by an extremely powerful and almost blinding orange color, which is more than we can say for UPS.

Regional Small Parcel Carriers

Lone Star Overnight

LSO serves Texas, Oklahoma, western Louisiana, and southern New Mexico. LSO also serves every address in Mexico through a partnership with Estafeta. Recently LSO added priority services to California as well.

Golden State Overnight

GSO provides next day delivery service throughout California and specific areas of Nevada and Arizona. Arizona to Northern California shipments take two days.


Founded in 1991, OnTrac serves California, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Colorado and Idaho.


Norco provides shipping, courier, messenger, and mail pickup/delivery services in California, Arizona, and Nevada. Norco also offers a unique service called Visual Proof of Delivery, which sends a real-time picture of the delivered package or signature on delivery.

Eastern Connection

Since 1983, Eastern Connection has been delivering parcels in the Northeast. EC provides service in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington D.C., Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. EC also delivers in Ohio, West Virginia, Ledington, KY, Indianapolis, and Detroit.

Spee-Dee Delivery

Spee Dee serves North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, Illinois, and St. Louis. Spee Dee also provides LTL freight shipping in those states.

U.S. Cargo

Based in Cincinnati, U.S. Cargo ships throughout Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and New York.

Packaging for Small Parcel Shipping

Shipping via small parcel carrier requires special packing considerations. Packages will be dropped, kicked, tipped over, bumped, and processed through automated sorting equipment. As a general guideline, pack so that your parcel can be dropped on any side, or especially on the corners, from at least 5 feet, without damage.

The vast majority of small parcels are packed in corrugated cardboard boxes. Make sure to use new or like new boxes that can support the weight of their contents. Moving boxes are not built for shipping. Standard shipping boxes (32 ECT, 200psi) have a maximum weight rating of about 65 lbs. However, that rating is for freight shipping (on pallets), not for small parcel shipping. The weight capacity for small parcel shipping is more like 40 lbs. Even then, you should consider using a stronger box and/or double-boxing if you are packing fragile items. Consider the stacking strength, burst strength, and puncture resistance of your packing method.

Some items may be shipped with minimal packaging or are shipped in drums, wooden crates, metal containers, etc. Note that small parcel shipping companies typically have additional handling fees or “non-standard-packaging” surcharges for these types of packages.

Fragile stickers do not provide protection against damage. Don’t assume that small parcel carriers handle packages with fragile stickers differently (at least, not better!) than packages without them.

Small Parcel Pricing

Parcel carriers calculate a base price for each shipment based on service level (speed), package weight, and the applicable “zone”. The zone is a kind of shorthand for distance; each pair of origin and destination zip codes are tabulated and grouped based on distance and possibly other factors such as volume and location within the carrier’s network. UPS and FedEx both have 7 zones (start with 2 through 8) for the continental United States. For example, a shipment from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara would be Zone 2. A shipment from New York to LA would be Zone 8.

Fuel Surcharges are added to the base rate, and are adjusted periodically based on the price of diesel fuel or the price of jet fuel (for air/express shipments). UPS Fuel Surcharges and FedEx Fuel Surcharges are updated monthly.

Small parcel carriers add additional fees and surcharges for residential deliveries, remote areas, oversize shipments, signature options, declared value, and other types of special requirements (see FedEx Fees and UPS 2013 Surcharge Changes). Note that the UPS link only shows the change in surcharge amount, not the actual amount (go figure!). You must download their rate guide to view the actual charges.

FedEx and UPS have at least two sets of rates: “retail” rates, and “list” rates. When you go to a UPS Store or FedEx Office, you pay the “retail” rate. Individuals and businesses that open an account receive “list” rates, or depending on shipping volume, negotiating skill, and affiliations, a rate discounted from the “list” rate. As an independent company, we set our standard small parcel rates at competitive levels. For ground shipments, our rates are typically similar to the carrier retail rates. For express and international shipments, our rates may be up to 75% lower.

Tips on Small Parcel Shipping

  • Use adequate packing materials and methods. At least 2-3″ of bubble, foam, and peanuts on all sides. Double box fragile items (glass, ceramics, etc.). Items must not move (even a little bit) inside the box.
  • Make sure to check the pricing and rules/restrictions for different carriers. Depending on the size, weight, and shape, value, and other package factors, one carrier may be a much better option.
  • Check to see if you are close to a certain size or weight limit. For example, UPS and FedEx do not charge for dimensional weight on ground packages with a volume less than 3 cubic feet. If you have a 2 lb package that’s 18x18x17, you could potentially save quite a few dollars by reducing the package’s size by an inch.
  • Consider sending your package to a business (mailbox store, your office, etc.). You’ll avoid a residential delivery fee and won’t have to worry about being home at a certain time. Also, if your package is between 70-150 lbs, you can still send it with FedEx Ground.
  • If your package is not going too far, send it Ground and still get it in 1-2 days instead of paying a lot more for Express.
  • Make sure you are covered. Small parcel carriers have many limitations and exclusions on their Declared Value coverage. Consider adding third-party insurance for valuable items.
  • When comparing different shipping carriers and service levels, factor in your total small parcel costs, including packaging, transport, fees, insurance costs, risk of loss/damage, customer satisfaction, and processing costs.
  • Audit your small parcel bills. Unexpected address correction fees, oversize fees, and other accessorial charges can increase your courier spend without you being aware of it. Audits can get these charges under control.


FedEx Q2 FY13 Statistical Book