FedEx Ground or Priority Mail?

Choose your shipping option.

COURIERS As a merchant with an online store, you must give some thought to how products are delivered. Likewise, as a customer, you are presented with a choice during checkout after selecting human anatomy posters and frames at and elsewhere on the Web. You might choose between FedEx Ground and USPS Priority Mail. Some people want the least expensive route while others are more concerned with tracking, speed or indemnity.

I thought it would be an easy choice. One might be better than the other for most cases but which one that is depends on destination, package size, content value and various other options. Here's a comparison table of both carrier options. Hover over unfamiliar terms for details.

Table 1. Comparison of FedEx® Ground and USPS Priority Mail Click-N-Ship®
Feature FedEx Ground Priority Mail
International Delivery Excluded Extra Fee
Saturday Delivery Unavailable Included
Residential Delivery Extra Fee Included
AFB Delivery Extra Fee Not always
Post Office Box Undeliverable Included
Signature Included Extra Fee
Adult Signature Extra Fee Extra Fee
Named recipent Signature Extra Fee Extra Fee
Insurance (missing or damaged) Included to $100 Extra Fee
Indemnity Claims Process 5-7 Days Weeks to Months
Package Tracking Excellent Delayed
Branded Packaging Extra Fee ** Included ***
Multiple Packages Extra Fee * Unavailable
Scheduled Pickup Possible Fee Included
C.O.D Return Shipment Extra Fee Unavailable
Volume Discount Available Online Only
Pricing Comparable Comparable
* Easy to select options at prints multiple airbills with same addressee.
** Shipper must use own packaging for ground. FedEx sells premium-price boxes.
*** Flat-rate USPS shipping boxes are free for specific sizes; not as rugged as FedEx.
† Priority Mail includes $50 USA or $200 international coverage.

As you can see, each carrier has its own advantages. For mailing tubes up to 1 pound, uninsured Priority Mail is usually the least expensive option (depending upon FedEx volume discount). USPS provides free tubes, saving the shipper one or two extra dollars. USPS Priority Mail flat-rate boxes are even more economical for small items. FedEx includes insurance, signature verification and ability to send multiple packages to a single destination in one shipment (though each package is billed separately).

† Update: In a move to be more competitive, as of July 28, 2013, Priority Mail packages display an estimated service of 1 day, 2 days, or 3 days on the payment receipt, online shipping label and in the USPS Tracking information. Domestic Priority Mail now includes USA insurance of $50 or $100 (for commercial volume with electronic manifests) or $200 international insurance at no additional charge. Current tracking includes more regular updates without ability to choose type(s) of notifications. (FedEx offers: ship, tendered, exception, estimated delivery, and/or delivery notification.)

Which Carrier Has The Best Tracking?

It is not uncommon for USPS tracking information to be delayed a couple of days or entered retroactively upon delivery. FedEx scans packages at multiple checkpoints — sometimes providing several updates within a single day. Though USPS Priority mail has no guaranteed delivery date (but now offers estimates), barring weather conditions and holiday seasons, packages with intrastate destinations are often delivered within two day using either carrier.

Carrier Switching

Both FedEx and USPS online shipping include address verification. However, FedEx has an override option to ship as addressed. Occasionally this is necessary for street addresses without a number, for Miliary and Airforce Bases, or for international addresses that lack a postal code. Hence, even if USPS is selected by the customer, it may be necessary to switch to FedEx in order to generate a valid Airbill. Conversely, if USPS cannot validate an address, a comparable FedEx service by be used.

International Options and Loss-or-Damage Claims

When shipping from USA to Canada or international destinations, USPS Priority Mail (7‑10 days) and Priority Express International (5‑7 days) options are the choices options. With these economical delivery options, arrival date is subject to customs inspection and weather conditions. Therefore, delays are invalid basis for refund. In the event of valid claims (lost or damage), USPS excludes shipping fees from refund.

USPS Claims Process : It appears that USPS aims to discourage loss or damage claims. Even though Click-N-Ship history includes an innocuous looking Claim button next to each listed shipment, the process goes something like this: Wait 21 days to file an online claim along with uploaded damage photos and invoice or any other proof of loss. About two weeks later, a letter is received indicating the claim is being "investigated." If it is an international shipment, the shipper must phone for additional instructions that may require the recipent to visit his local post office. The shipper may then follow up with another phone call to USPS to again request the refund. After anywhere from two weeks to as many months, a check, minus shipping fees (even if insured value includes them), is received if all goes well. If not, the 30-day time-out period is reached without claim disbursement.

To date, about one percent of the USPS shipments have resulted in a customer reporting a loss or damage claim. There may also be occasions of unreported minor damage occurring in transit or during customs inspection.

Are You Covered?

Customers might decline insurance if their credit card (Amex) includes purchase indemnity. There are also third-party insurance companies that with lower rates than carriers. When insurance is selected during checkout, as the shipper, we file the necessary forms upon notification from the customer of package loss or damage.

USPS requires 21 days to elapse before filing a claim. FedEx is more prompt. Either way, if the shipment includes insurance, will process the claim and expedite replacements for USA customers before the carriers provide reimbursement. Sometimes carriers wish to inspect damaged items. International claims may require recipent to present forms at local post office. Because of additional paperwork and verification required in two countries, international customers may have the value of replacement items temporarily billed until claims are approved.

Shipping and Handling

It takes time and effort for shippers to pull items from stock, carefully pack, update inventory, print Airbills and schedule or drop off packages for delivery. International packages require additional forms. Inclusion of branded packaging (if contents fits) can save shippers anywhere from $1 to $8 per shipment. Since FedEx Ground excludes free boxes, packaging is an expense. Hence, it is not uncommon to see the "shipping and handling" (S+H) fees on invoices, particularly for low-profit-margin products.

Recently, there has been an increase in the volume of customers requesting FedEx shipments in our online store. Table 2 compares common shipping options.

Table 2. Practical Shipping Considerations
Scenario FedEx Ground Priority Mail
Large Office or Hospital Includes signature Pay extra for signature
Residential USA Customer Extra fee; weekends OK Priority Mail often cheaper
Rural USA Customer Destination charge Standard address required
Non-contiguous USA or International Destination Not offered Least expensive
Intrastate Destination 1-2 day via ground 1-2 day via ground
Rainy Weather Insurance recommended Insurance recommended; wet packaging loses strength
Fragile/Vauable Contents Insured to $100; pay extra for more Insurance extra; branded boxes are not crushproof
Inexpensive Contents Location dependent Cheaper for minimum weight
Small standard-size box May not matter Flat-rate boxes have generous weight allowance (none are appropriate for posters on our store)
Urgent Need Better tracking; 2-day option available Often 1-2 days in California with no guarantees shoppers are offered the option of FedEx 2-day shipping for a little over 2x the price of ground. FedEx Overnight can cost over 6x the price of ground. Providing a FedEx account number to bill shipping to the recipent for packages over 4 pounds. This allows customers to request special services such as overnight shipping at their expense with a flat $5 handling fee for packaging.

Customers are urged to login and check order status via a desktop or mobile device. A link is provided on the status page to view current tracking updates.