When it comes to shipping, consumers definitely prefer fast & cheap (or free) — but determining how you ship your products & how you pass along or absorb that cost is tricky. And it becomes an even greater challenge if you sell large or bulky items.
In this article we’re going to provide clarity into:
- How to pack boxes and calculate shipping costs
- How to save money while shipping large and heavy items
- What qualifies as a large item
- And finally, how you can ship large item with the three major carriers in the US
How to Pack Boxes and Determine Shipping Costs
Products that are bulky (heavy or not), can be a challenge to ship. Your packaging must account for the item’s size while still allowing for packaging materials and filler. In addition there are both weight & size limits. If your package exceeds either of these limits you may need to find a different carrier or service.
Understanding Dimensional Weight
If you think about how shipping carriers move packages around they do so with trucks. And these trucks have two limitations:
If either of these are maxed out the carrier has to use more trucks & drivers which is one of their main expenses. To take both of these limitations into account carriers now use a formula combining both the dimensions & weight called Dimensional Weight.
Here’s how to calculate dimensional weight:
- Measure the package dimensions in inches.
- Multiply package length by weight by height.
- Divide by 139 for FedEx shipping and UPS Daily Rates. Use 166 instead for UPS Retail Rates.
- The result is the dimensional weight of the package.
Usually, carriers have you weigh your package and check the dimensional weight. They’ll generally charge whichever is higher. Make sure to compare the pricing and recommendations of carriers before shipping.
Cheapest Way to Ship Large Packages
Depending on the shipping carrier and their specific requirements, costs can be calculated in different ways and packages can be categorized differently. You can do this in advance of customer purchases and set up your website to calculate shipping charges.
All of the major carriers offer free web tools and APIs to make this easier. For instance, USPS allows you to customize your customers’ online shipping experience with their free tools. Both WooCommerce & Magento offer software to help you calculate shipping costs with major carriers.
You can also keep your shipping costs as low as possible by:
- Weigh and measure your packaging materials.
- Try a variety of different packaging types.
- Use the lightest, most compact and cost-effective packaging materials possible.
- Customers like fast shipping, but consider offering a discount or incentive for longer shipping times since this may save you money.
Shop around and compare carrier pricing for products you frequently ship. Keep in mind that these requirements are subject to local differences. These guidelines apply to most packages shipped within the US. For other countries, check with the carrier.
Why Does Package Weight Matter? What are Heavy Packages?
If you know which shipping carrier you plan to use and the basic dimensions of the item you’re going to ship, you can develop a plan and get an accurate cost estimate. Weight and outer package dimensions are a big deciding factor in how much you’ll be paying for shipping.
Of course the packaging you use for shipping is part of the cost, too. Large and heavy products can be expensive to transport and may also require special packaging that’s durable and designed for heavy or bulky items. This may require custom-designed cushioning or reinforced box materials.
Custom materials may cost more and can also add to the weight and bulk of your shipment. The added mass ultimately means more fuel and resources used by the carrier to transport your product. Carriers pass these costs along to retailers as higher shipping charges.
Each carrier has their own definitions for a “large” package. Heavy items must be packaged appropriately before carriers can ship them, so be sure to read their requirements carefully.
USPS shipping requirements don’t allow packages heavier than 70 pounds. So, if you have an item over that threshold, you might want to consider using a private carrier such as FedEx or UPS. UPS has special packaging requirements starting at 70 pounds while FedEx starts at 75 pounds.
How to Pack Heavy Items for Shipment and Determine Shipping Costs
Each shipping carrier has different guidelines & requirements for heavy & bulky items. With this in mind, here’s how to pack those items and determine your costs.
FedEx Guidelines and Pricing for Heavy Items
FedEx Home Delivery ships packages up to 70 pounds. Packages that are heavier than this are considered “heavy” and may be shipped through FedEx Ground if they are under 150 pounds. For items above 150 pounds, consider using FedEx Express Freight or FedEx Freight instead — these services accept shipments that are up to 20,000 pounds.
Use corrugated cardboard for the outer box and package non-corrugated boxes inside instead of shipping these boxes on their own. For instance, if a guitar you’re shipping came inside a non-corrugated box, you should place the entire box inside a corrugated cardboard box for shipping. Use double-wall boxes if the item you’re shipping is heavy but under 150 pounds.
Separate items inside the box in their own sealed boxes if they may be damaged under normal handling conditions.
Boxes that weigh over 70 pounds must be shipped via FedEx Ground, or FedEx Express Freight or FedEx Freight. If a box weighs over 75 pounds, you are required to attach a FedEx yellow and black heavyweight safety label. These are placed over the diagonal corners of the package. To get these labels, contact FedEx or visit a FedEx location.
If you use filler material to cushion items, center your items away from box corners and wrap items carefully with cushioning material.
Your charges for shipping are based on weight, the FedEx services you choose, and the destination.
To get the most up-to-date information on weights and standards, view the general packaging guidelines from Fedex.
FedEx Requirements for Large Packages
FedEx Home Delivery and FedEx Ground services require packages to be under 165 inches in both length and girth. For larger shipments, you may use FedEx Express Freight services or FedEx Freight. Using FedEx Freight, you can ship packages up to 21 feet long.
Large Packages That are Lightweight
Compare the true weight of the package with the calculated dimensional weight. FedEx charges the heavier of these two.
UPS Requirements and Pricing for Heavy Packages
Packages weighing more than 70 pounds must meet the UPS Box Strength Guidelines. Use strong packaging designed for heavy objects. Choose brand-new boxes that haven’t been exposed to humidity.
Ideally, seams should be stapled or stitched shut. Glue may tear or break during shipping, and rip your package apart. Use heavy-duty, reinforced tape with three strips over the top and bottom seam and also seal the middle and edge seams completely.
The UPS safety label program begins at 70 pounds. Above this weight, packages should have yellow and black warning labels provided by UPS. The warning should be placed directly to the right of the address label. Write down the total weight on the white portion of the safety label.
Avoid box filler that shifts or doesn’t protect heavy items. For instance, packaging peanuts and polystyrene pieces may not cushion fragile shipments enough if the items are also heavy enough to crush the filler pieces. UPS recommends that you consider alternatives that are more appropriate for shipping something heavy such as cardboard that’s custom developed for shipping.
Your pricing depends on the UPS service you choose, your package’s final destination, and your package’s weight. A “Large Package” or “Over the Maximum” surcharge may apply.
Review the UPS guidelines for packaging heavy shipments.
UPS Large Package Guidelines
The maximum package size for UPS is 165 inches in both length and girth. Freight Services may allow for larger maximums, so it’s worth it to find out what specific requirements apply to what you’re shipping and where you’re shipping it.
Large Packages That are Lightweight
Compare the actual weight with the dimensional weight. UPS will charge you for whichever is higher.
Large Package Surcharge
UPS applies an additional charge for packages that exceed a length plus girth that’s over 130 inches. Unless you use Ground Freight Pricing, you’ll pay for at least 90 pounds.
USPS Guidelines for heavy items.
Packages above 70 pounds aren’t allowed. So any package you ship through USPS won’t technically be a heavy package. Under this weight limit, your packages could still seem heavy, so you may need to pack accordingly and be mindful of how you fill the boxes and protect your items.
Choose a durable box that’s large enough for the item and appropriate filler. If you reuse a box, make sure all logos and writing are completely crossed out.
Close the box with all flaps down and seal with tape. The packaging tape you use should be at least 2 inches wide.
Generally, pricing is determined through the USPS Flat Rates or through the package weight and destination.
To get the most up-to-date information on weights and standards, view the general packaging guidelines from USPS.
USPS Guidelines for Large Packages
The Postal Service will ship packages up to 130 inches length and girth combined through their Retail Ground service. Normally, their limit is 108 inches.
Large Packages That are Lightweight
Flat Rate pricing applies for packages up to 70 pounds which allows you to use size to determine pricing. If you’re unsure, check with your local post office.
Read more about USPS guidelines.
By controlling costs and being smart about shipping, you can increase your profits. Don’t be afraid to experiment with shipping and look for the right shipping improvements for you.
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Patrick Rauland is obsessed with ecommerce. He’s built ecommerce websites for clients, worked for WooCommerce doing support, development, product management, and helped plan their yearly conference (WooConf).
Patrick is also the co-founder of WooSesh, an online conference for WooCommerce developers and store owners.
Patrick lives in Denver Colorado where you can probably find him at a local coffee shop typing away.