So, what is flat rate shipping, and why is it all the rage these days? Why is it popular for heavier packages? Is it better than any standard shipping service? Does it work when you're learning how to ship wine?
If you’ve sold or purchased anything online, chances are you’ve seen the term flat rate shipping. You may have worked with eCommerce shipping companies that provided this option, or chosen it as a customer when buying products online. Flat rate shipping is a cornerstone of quality shipping practices for businesses and consumers alike.
Keep reading to learn what makes flat rate shipping so appealing for businesses, plus flat rate shipping options, and insights on how long flat rate shipping usually takes.
Flat Rate Shipping: What Is It?
Flat rate shipping is any shipping service with a fixed cost, like $10. The idea behind flat rate shipping is to minimize costs while your business is growing, incentivize more purchases from customers, and maintain a competitive edge.
Some businesses offer flat rates for shipping, and some do not. It depends on the marketplace business model a company is using, which shipping carrier they leverage, and what kinds of products they sell.
For example, a company that sells furniture online has different shipping needs than that of a wholesale food business in the food supply chain. The shipping cost for a case of bananas or apples is predictable, but not so much with objects that vary significantly in size and weight. The greater product variety in your catalog, the less likely you’ll be able to rely on flat rate shipping.
Businesses first use a shipping cost estimator to determine what their average cost per unit shipped will be. Next, many companies include their taxes and fees in shipping costs, which simplifies expense tracking. These can include eCommerce sales tax.
Companies can’t control what taxes are imposed on a purchase, but they can mitigate which expenses are visible by consumers. This is why many businesses consolidate expenses under a flat rate.
Flat rate shipping is often used for heavier products because you’re paying to ship the product itself, not the weight of the unit. The more space your product takes up in the box, the better, because that means you’re getting maximum value for the price you paid. This keeps your shipping efficient and as inexpensive as possible.
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Flat Rate Shipping Boxes
Flat rate shipping boxes are standardized box sizes used to ship products at a predetermined rate. The shipping service itself promises delivery for a stated cost, and you can ship any permitted item that fits safely in the box.
Flat rate boxes help both service providers and customers standardize the size and speed of packages that are shipped. It’s much easier to calculate how many boxes you can transport in a truck when you know how many flat rate boxes are being delivered that day.
Typical USPS flat rate box sizes are 11 1/4" x 8 3/4" x 6", or 14" x 12" x 3 1/2". Their larger flat rate boxes are usually 12 1/4″ x 12 1/4″ x 6″.
UPS, FedEx, and USPS also offer flat rate boxes. These companies typically offer at least two flat rate options: regular and express. Knowing which box works best is particularly important if you’re researching how to ship frozen food, how to ship alcohol, how to ship frozen meat, how to ship dairy, or how to ship cookies. All of these products rely on excellent eCommerce packaging, so a box too large or small can damage the goods.
Bear in mind that flat rate box measurements are subject to change at any time. It’s wise to research a shipping company’s flat rate box sizes before ordering any; otherwise, you’ll have a bunch of unused cardboard sitting on shelves. That’s some unused inventory you don’t need to waste space on. The inventory turnover rate isn’t high for boxes that don’t fit your shipping requirements.
If you don’t know what box sizes match the needs of your products yet, it’s good to learn how to measure a box for shipping. While this seems like a no-brainer, measuring a box requires some forethought, tools, and ol’ fashioned trial and error.
Once you know the dimensions your products need, you can choose the right flat rate box size. You’ll also know how to print shipping labels and can apply them much faster thanks to standardized box sizes.
Flat Rate Shipping Prices
Flat rate shipping prices are the costs paid by customers to ship packages in flat rate boxes. These prices vary based on company, and tend to be more expensive with companies offering premium services. Each major eCommerce shipping carrier also offers faster flat rate shipping for greater costs.
The flat rate price you use depends on your products, how fast you need them delivered, and which shipping company you work with. To simplify your research, we broke down common flat rate prices by postal service provider:
USPS Flat Rate Shipping Prices
- Small flat rate box: $7.90 for commercial, $8.45 for private
- Medium flat rate box: $13.75 for commercial, $15.50 for private
- Large flat rate box: $19.30 for commercial, $21.90 for private
FedEx Flat Rate Shipping Prices
- FedEx small box: $9.95 for express saver, $22 for 2-day
- FedEx medium box: $12.95 for express saver, $23.25 for 2-day
- FedEx large box: $20.00 for express saver, $25.20 for 2-day
- FedEx extra large box: $32.35 for express saver, $35.65 for 2-day
UPS Flat Rate Shipping Prices
- UPS small flat rate box: Starts at $11.50
- UPS medium flat rate box: Starts at $13.90
- UPS large flat rate box: Starts at $18.40
- UPS extra large flat rate box: Starts at $22.85
How Long Does Flat Rate Shipping Take?
With most shipping companies, flat rate shipping takes about two to three business days. The global supply chain complications created by the COVID-19 pandemic means average shipping times may now be longer. Two to three business days assumes that the package was placed in a dropbox or given to the carrier on a business day–Monday through Saturday–and that the carrier doesn’t experience any delays.
Some shipping companies offer flat rates at a slower rate, like five to eight business days. Typically, this means the flat rate box is shipped ground, and may only apply to boxes up to a certain dimension.
While flat rate shipping doesn’t take into account the weight of a package, slower shipping can still be useful for heavier flat rate packages. If you’re shipping a box of books at 70 pounds, and you’re sending it across the country, a slower speed for a great flat rate could be the perfect choice. Flat rate shipping is a smart option for bulk shipping with large, heavy items.
If you sell on any kind of online marketplace, keep in mind that customers expect to receive their products within a day or two, not including Sundays. If you haven’t used an eCommerce website builder yet, try BlueCart eCommerce. Our comprehensive platform is mobile- and SEO-optimized, comes with eCommerce payment processing, and offers unlimited digital catalog and product listings.
Shipping businesses also offer flat rate boxes with faster delivery, like same-day or overnight air. These services usually cost two to three times more than standard flat rate shipping, so make sure your budget has room. If you’re looking for a flat rate option that will save you money, account for time more so than money. If you’re in a rush, however, a USPS priority mail flat rate box could be the ticket for you.
Frequently Asked Questions About What Is Flat Rate Shipping?
Flat rate shipping can be a business owner’s path to lower costs and higher profits when used properly. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to understand, or that it’s the perfect solution for each product. While flat rate boxes are essentially one-size-fits-all, the flat rate shipping process doesn’t fit that definition.
If you’re wondering how best to use flat rate shipping, we pulled together some frequently asked questions about it. Take a look at our answers below:
How Long Does Flat Rate Shipping Take?
In most cases, flat rate shipping takes between one to three business days. This assumes the package was given to a carrier on a business day and no delays occur. From the postal service to the post office to differing shipping zones, it’s always best to build potential delays into your time budget. You never know when something might not go according to plan. To avoid the possibility of sending out a backorder notice, factor in your most likely shipping delays.
You can get packages to customers faster by choosing speedier shipping services, but be advised this costs more. Check our guide on USPS and UPS overnight shipping cost. Most businesses opt for regular flat rate shipping, as the expenses are lower and it still provides customers with a great experience. Most customers will be understanding of slower shipping speed, especially when they know you’re using flat rate boxes and envelopes to streamline prices, which is a cost savings you pass to them.
How Does the Flat Rate Shipping Work?
Flat rate shipping sends packages based on specific box sizes and fixed costs. You can place any lawful item in a flat rate box, as long as the product is packaged safely. From socks and dishes to photo frames and food, if you can pack it within the letter of the law, you can ship it for a flat rate.
Companies use flat rate shipping to standardize shipping expenses, encourage frequent orders, and simplify their warehouse management process flow. When you only need to use a couple box sizes, shipping and handling goes much faster.
Is Flat Rate Shipping Faster Than Free Shipping?
No, shipping prices don’t always dictate speed. However, “free shipping” and flat rate shipping usually deliver products in the same timeframe, i.e. two to five business days.
Free shipping is a customer-facing term, because the business shipping out products still needs to pay the company they hired to do logistics and deliveries. There is no way to know what shipping service a company is using based on the term free shipping alone. If you’re interested in finding out which logistics company a business you buy products from uses, check out their frequently asked questions (FAQ) page or contact their customer service department.
Typically, next-day air is the fastest shipping option. You can get a package delivered to many locations rapidly as long as you choose the corresponding service and drop it off before the service cutoff. If you need a greater level of guarantee with your shipping rates, next-day air is a great choice. If you’ve got the time for a slower shipping speed to be kind to your budget, flat rates or free shipping are still good options.
Flat Rates, Bigger Profits
Mastering the science of eCommerce shipping takes some time. As you’re learning how to ship a package, you’ll discover which services and companies fulfill your expectations.
Flat rate shipping works perfectly for many products and happens to be inexpensive. Research flat rate box sizes that fit your products, package them up, and keep your customers ecstatic. Come back to the BlueCart blog for more shipping tips on a regular basis, and a range of advice on keeping your business bustling and your customer service top-tier.