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  • A Guide to Shipping Carriers: Its a drag, but you gotta do it!


    Most of us here love when we sell a set online, no matter what it is. That sound of "cha-ching" comes and we are in Ecstasy. It brings a feeling like no other .

    But, unfortunately we are generally immediately brought down to earth by the fact that we now have to ship it. If you all are like me, you hate this part. You can never decide exactly how much shipping is going to be and whether you should add extra services. You always worry something will happen during the shipment. You ask yourself, Should I get insurance? Should I get delivery confirmation? Should I get signature confirmation?

    I used to run a small side-project/business out of my apartment in college and shipped and received 100s of packages. I have had the best and worst experiences with each carrier so I can offer some direct experience with each and provide some advice towards our final assumptions. As well, I have compiled some research using shipping calculators so we can judge when we should use each service.

    First off, we know that price is going to matter more than anything else, so I picked four normal package sizes based off common sets and then compiled the data. I then added a few inches to the dimensions (doesn't affect the price) and weighed boxes at these dimensions and rounded to give us a good control of what the boxes this size will add to the weight. Below weights are the total weight after the box is added.

    I came up with the following: Weight Dimensions(LxWxH)

    • Battle Pack size 2lbs 11x8x2
    • Medium set (Orc Forge) 3lbs 12x15x4
    • Large sets (Helm's Deep) 6.5lbs 24x16x5
    • Massive set (Tower Bridge) 11.5lbs 42x12x18

    Now I had to figure out distances to ship. I live in a southern state in the East, Alabama, so I decided to start from there. Shipping is all an equation used by the shipping entities, so I chose a short normal distance and a longer distance so we see a little of both and find out where we should use each service.

    My short distance is about `280 miles, or Alabama to Kentucky. The results are below. The “Ebay” column inside the FEDEX part is the discount you get by using FEDEX through Ebay.

    Posted Image

    Here are the services time to delivery:

    • USPS Priority 2-3 Days (Not Guaranteed)
    • USPS Parcel Select 2-9 Days (Guaranteed)
    • FEDEX (Home Delivery) 2-3 Day (Guaranteed)
    • UPS (Ground) 3-5 Days (Guaranteed)

    As you can see from the above data, for the two smaller package sizes, USPS is king. Parcel select is actually higher than Priority, which is weird, but USPS is significantly cheaper than the other carriers and they offer priority 2-3 Days which, though not guaranteed.

    However, around the Large package, the FEDEX price starts to even out whereas the UPS and USPS (Priority) keep going up. USPS and FEDEX are basically on par at this point (Though through Ebay FEDEX is cheaper).

    Once we get to the massive set, USPS parcel select seems to be the best option, but the length of time it could take might come into play (although this is a short distance so it may not be a problem). FEDEX is reasonable at $23.27, and with Ebay even more so.

    Whats wild is that UPS is never really in contention at all. Unless you have a discount, you are going to overpay using UPS for a relatively normal shipping distance.

    Now, I decided to do a longer distance, from the East to the West, so I chose Alabama to Arizona, or about 1500 miles. Here are the results:

    Posted Image

    This was really interesting. I had always assumed USPS was always the cheapest shipping company, but this doesn't seem to be the case.

    USPS Priority is still the cheapest fast service for the Battle Packs and the medium sets. Parcel Select is just a slight bit cheaper, but not worth it in my opinion as going this far it will most likely take 5-6 days at least. You can spend 50 cents more and get guaranteed 3 Day with FEDEX Home Delivery.

    Looking at the Large packages, there is no contest. FEDEX clearly shines above the rest. Its even cheaper that USPS Parcel Select which can take up to 9 days!

    As we get to the massive sets, though, FEDEX takes a huge jump, most likely because they don't offer anything less than 2-3 days. USPS parcel select picks up the slack with a very reasonable $24.25. It may take quite a long time to get there, but its $20 cheaper which you or the buyer if they are paying it will appreciate.

    Final Verdict on Price

    USPS wins no matter where you are shipping for battle pack and medium sized sets. FEDEX is a close and acceptable second because of the guaranteed faster ship times. As the weight gets heavier within this range, FEDEX becomes the best option as the prices become negligibly different.

    In the Large set range, FEDEX wins at both distances. Though USPS is about the same with Parcel select and just a bit more with Priority, FEDEX guaranteed delivery times puts them over the top.

    As for massive sets, ship with USPS parcel select unless you have to get it there quick. You will save almost half off. If you have to ship it fast, ship it FEDEX or you are going to pay an arm and a leg.

    Add-on options

    Tracking and Delivery Confirmation

    The most popular add-on is tracking as we all know hat tpeople want to know when their item is going to get there and where it is just in case there is a delay. All three services offer this. However, USPS is the only one that charges for it. If you go up to the counter, it is $.90, but online it is only $.20. Its worth it to have, but doesn't really change what we said about the price because when USPS won, it was by more than this small of an amount.

    FEDEX and UPS both offer very robust tracking and update very often. They have complex computer systems that keep track of it and they are very good at estimating when it will be somewhere. This also makes it a lot more trustworthy if something goes wrong; you will always know where your package was lost.

    USPS tracking is not on the same par with these two though. They do update it, but not very often and the timestamps are usually pretty far off.

    Tracking verdict

    UPS and FEDEX are equally good. USPS has it and its reasonable if you need it, but is not to the level of the other carriers.

    Signed Delivery

    USPS offers this for 2.20 flat no matter who it is and what the package is. FEDEX offers three services: Signature delivery (2.25), Designated Signature (3.50), and Adult only Signature (4.50). These are flat across any shipment. UPS offer 2 services: Signature delivery (4.25) and Adult only (5.25). These are flat across any shipment.

    Signed Delivery Verdict

    Most of us will only use normal delivery signature. Its about the same for USPS and FEDEX so both get the nod here. Again, UPS is price gouging.


    USPS rates are shown below:
    $1.65 ................ $0.01 to $50 value
    $2.05 ................ $50.01 to $100 value
    $2.45 ................ $100.01 to $200 value
    $4.60 ................ $200.01 to $300 value
    Add $.90 per $100 in value

    FEDEX offers free insurance up to $100 value, from $100-$300 value it costs $2.10, and for past that you add $.70 per $100 in value.

    UPS is free up to $100 in value. Past that it is $.85 per $100 in value.

    Insurance Verdict

    FEDEX is a pretty clear winner here because they offer it free on the cheaper sets and has the lowest rate thereafter. Also, I have found that they and UPS are equally good at following through and approving insurance claims.

    USPS unfortunately is the exact opposite and makes it a nasty process.


    This section is straight from experience as I have used all three shipping services as a buyer and seller and I also work for a company that has a deal with all three and I ship out things every day there as well.

    USPS is by far the least reliable. You can't really trust their tracking and I have lost far more packages in their system. Also, they really struggle between corporate and local branches with communication. If you ever have a question or lose a package, everyone will tell you that someone else will know about it.

    UPS and FEDEX are both pretty reliable. I have had really no problems with either of them losing packages. FEDEX would get the slight nod as they pretty much never leave packages on your doorstep. Some people may like them left, but if I am not home I would rather they take them back to the office than to set them on the doorstep and hope no one takes them.

    Reliability Verdict

    FEDEX and UPS are on even ground though FEDEX is more responsible about leaving packages.

    Customer Service

    This one is the most fun to comment on :). In my experience, and plenty of others, USPS has worst customer service than people running a torture chamber. Generally, when I have to go in my local USPS, there is 1 person working with 500 people in the store. Most of the cashiers are generally rude. In the post office, you must pay for items like tape. They barely ever have pens out for people to use. And the line is always 20 people long at least. As I mentioned before, their corporate system is basically worthless to call as they don't communicate with the Local offices and can't really (or don't want to) look up anything. They get a resounding F.

    FEDEX is my favorite. Most of them are way nicer than a normal post office inside. They generally have very nice customer service oriented cashiers who are very nice and very understanding and helpful. I recently went to one where they had misplaced my package for a moment and the women apologized no less than 10 times. I don't think I have ever heard someone from USPS apologize. Their corporate is really good – although I have only had to call them a couple of times because their local people get their stuff done. They will also give you free tape if you need it which wins awards in my book. They get an A.

    The USPS is pretty nice too, really to the equivalent of FEDEX. I have had a couple of instances where I had weird items to ship and they always found a box and always had what I needed. They don't make you pay for tape and sometimes will just give you a box for free. They get an A.

    Customer Service Verdict

    FEDEX and UPS are even and USPS is a largely distanced 3rd.

    Other considerations

    • If you must ship across country, USPS does have priority flat rate shipping boxes. The smallest one will not fit any Lego sets that aren't worth shipping another way. However, for medium sized sets that weigh more than 3-4lbs and for some smaller dimensioned large sets, this can be nice as the medium and large priority boxes are around $10. Only use this though if you are going to ship something around 2000 miles or more as the shipping prices would be about $12 or over.
    • If you are shipping something like a poly-bag that weighs less than 13 ounces, ship USPS first class mail. The others don't offer cheaper rates for small items bigger than a letter, but USPS does and its really cheap. Where FEDEX and UPS will cost you around $3-4 for a poly-bag, USPS will be in the sub $2 range.
    • USPS priority is not guaranteed 2-3 days, but in my experience they meet this about 95% of the time or more, so don't let it factor into your considerations too much.
    • If you are shipping with Ebay, check FEDEX prices as they get that nice 12% discount we talked about.
    • Always make sure you print and ship online as the carriers, especially USPS, offer cheaper online prices to keep foot traffic out of the branches.
    • Though UPS is expensive, a lot of larger companies have big deals with them. At my office, we can ship with UPS for almost half price. This is available to all employees for personal use.

    Final Verdict

    FEDEX gets the nod as the best shipping company. If you want to ship without insurance and are shipping something 3lbs or under, you can use USPS. Otherwise, if you want to factor in reliability, customer service, and the price for add-ons, FEDEX is the clear winner.

    Does this change any of your opinions? Do any of your experiences contradict mine?

    Note: All of the information here are my own opinions and are pulled from my experiences. You may or may not have success with these methods.

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