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Overnight Shipping: Comparing USPS, UPS & FedEx

June 10, 2024

overnight shipping

Remember Veruca Salt's unforgettable demand in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory: "I want it now!"  Well, guess what? Today's consumers share that sentiment.

In the age of instant gratification,  e-commerce businesses need to cater to this desire for speed. Overnight shipping is the answer, offering the ultimate convenience for your customers.

But with various options, service providers, and order management software, navigating this service can be tricky.

This article will guide you through the world of overnight shipping, from cost-effective solutions to top carrier comparisons. Let's dive in!

How overnight shipping works

After a customer places an order on your e-commerce platform, you or your fulfillment center receive and process the order, ensuring payment verification and preparing shipping details.

Next, the ordered items are retrieved from inventory, meticulously packed for safe transportation, and labeled with overnight shipping information. Depending on the service, you may need to drop off the package at a carrier facility or utilize their pickup service.

Note: There's generally a crucial deadline for your package to be in the hands of the courier for overnight delivery, usually in the late afternoon or early evening.

How overnight shipping works

Upon receipt, the carrier prioritizes your package for overnight delivery by separating it from standard shipments. Your package is transported to an overnight hub closest to the destination.

At the hub, your package undergoes another sorting process for final delivery. Early on the following business day, the package is loaded onto a delivery truck and dispatched for delivery to your customer, typically by the afternoon.

Benefits of overnight delivery for your business

Expediting deliveries with overnight shipping services can offer numerous advantages for your business. Let's explore a few:

  • Increased customer satisfaction and loyalty: Overnight shipping offers the fastest delivery possible, which can greatly improve customer satisfaction. It can be a game-changer, especially for time-sensitive orders or customers needing a product quickly.
  • Competitive advantage: Many customers expect quick delivery in today's fast-paced world. By offering overnight shipping, you can set yourself apart from competitors who don't.
  • Reduced risk of lost sales: For certain products or situations, customers might abandon their carts if they know they must wait a long time for delivery. Overnight shipping can help you avoid losing these sales.
  • Improved inventory management:  Knowing you can quickly ship products can help you streamline your inventory management.  You may be able to keep lower stock levels on hand, knowing you can replenish them quickly if needed if you focus on demand planning.

Challenges faced in overnight shipping for your business

Let's take a look at the complexities of overnight shipping so your business can prepare for them and ensure prompt and efficient delivery to your customers:

  • Higher costs:  Overnight shipping is typically the most expensive shipping option. This can significantly impact your profit margins, especially for larger or heavier items.
  • Cut-off times:  To guarantee overnight delivery, you must meet the carrier's cut-off time for drop-off or pick-up. This can be challenging, especially for businesses that don't operate extended hours.
  • Increased staffing needs:  Overnight shipping often requires faster fulfillment to meet those cut-off deadlines. This may necessitate adding staff to your fulfillment center, especially during peak hours or for a surge in overnight orders.

Best overnight shipment services

Whether it's urgent documents or precious packages, top overnight shipping services ensure your deliveries reach their destination by the break of dawn. Let's explore the contenders that excel in both speed and reliability:

United States Postal Service (USPS) 

USPS offers overnight shipping through its USPS Priority Mail Express service, providing expedited delivery for time-sensitive packages. This service ensures swift transportation and next-day delivery to most U.S. addresses, making it a reliable option for urgent shipments.

Within the USPS Priority Mail Express umbrella, there are three distinct service options tailored to meet various delivery needs:

  • Next-day delivery: This is their absolute fastest option, aiming to get your package to most US zip codes by 6 pm on the next day. But, remember it might not be available in every location.
  • 2-day delivery: This option is available to almost all US zip codes. Your package will arrive by 6 p.m. the next day or on the second day after it's shipped.
  • USPS Priority Mail Express International: It extends overnight shipping services to international destinations, ensuring rapid delivery of international shipments.

United Parcel Service (UPS)

UPS is one of the largest and oldest shipping companies in the United States. It's among the preferred options for eCommerce businesses. The carrier started in 1907, employs nearly half a million people, and generates around $4.8 billion in annual revenue. 

UPS provides flexible delivery options tailored to your preferences and schedule. Whether you need your package delivered at a specific time, UPS can accommodate your business or team's needs, ensuring convenience and efficiency.

Depending on your delivery requirements, you can choose between:

  • UPS Next Day Air Early if you need your package at 8:00 am in major cities or by 9:30 am in most other US locations - all on the next business day!
  • UPS Next Day Air is a great option if you need your package delivered by 10:30 am on the next business day to most US locations.
  • UPS Second Day Air is perfect for getting packages between businesses in the US within 2 business days. This option is not available for deliveries to homes.

Federal Express (FedEx)

FedEx Overnight provides next-business-day delivery to most U.S. addresses, making it an ideal solution for businesses seeking swift and punctual deliveries.

With three primary overnight services, FedEx caters to diverse shipping needs, ensuring timely arrival within specified delivery windows:

  • FedEx First Overnight: Offers early morning delivery, typically reaching most U.S. addresses by 8:00 AM.
  • FedEx Priority Overnight: Provides mid-morning delivery, usually by 10:30 AM for U.S. business addresses and by 12:00 PM for residential addresses.
  • FedEx Standard Overnight: Ensures afternoon delivery, typically reaching most U.S. business addresses by 3:00 PM and residential addresses by 8:00 PM.
With FedEx Overnight's range of services, businesses can choose the option that best suits their time-sensitive shipping requirements, facilitating efficient transactions and customer satisfaction.

How much does overnight shipping cost? 

Major players such as UPS, FedEx, and USPS dominate the overnight shipping market, each offering services and pricing structures. While these carriers provide overnight shipping options, their rates vary significantly. Typically, carriers calculate shipping costs based on a combination of factors, including the package's weight and size (dimensional weight).

To navigate the complexities of carrier pricing and ensure customers receive the best possible rates, shipping software is designed to compare carrier pricing on shipments. This allows businesses to select the most cost-effective option for each delivery. By using it, businesses can optimize their shipping processes and minimize expenses associated with overnight shipping.

However, it's important to note that the distance a package needs to travel also influences the cost of overnight shipping. Delivering a package to a remote area may incur higher fees than shipping to a more accessible location.

Additionally, some overnight services offer guaranteed delivery by a specific time, such as by noon, which provides added convenience but often comes with a premium price tag. 

Each major shipping carrier has its own calculator to help businesses estimate shipping costs before shipping. We’ll go over the specific features of each major carrier below. 

  • USPS offers competitive pricing for its overnight shipping service, starting at $30.45. With USPS' flat-rate pricing, packages weighing up to 70 pounds can be shipped without the need to weigh or calculate. However, destination, dimensions, and insurance may influence the final shipping cost.

Tip: Use the USPS® Price Calculator tool to calculate your domestic postage costs. 

  • UPS shipping costs are determined by various factors, including the specific services selected and the total weight of the package. Additionally, destination, dimensions, and insurance coverage can impact the final shipping price with UPS. 

Tip: Use the 2024 UPS® Rate & Service Guide to determine the exact price of your shipment

  • FedEx offers three distinct overnight delivery options, each with its own pricing structure. Typically, the early morning delivery option tends to be the most expensive. The mid-morning delivery option, on the other hand, is generally more affordable, and the afternoon delivery option is often the most cost-effective.

Tip:  Use the FedEx rate calculator to determine the exact price of your shipment

What is included with the overnight shipping cost?

When opting for overnight shipping, you gain access to a range of valuable features:

  • Expedited delivery to most US addresses within 1 or 2 days.
  • Refund if the delivery is late, with limited exceptions, showcasing their confidence in delivery speed.
  • Detailed tracking capabilities allow you to monitor your package's journey every step of the way.
  • Convenient pickup service from your home or office, eliminating the need to rush to the post office.
  • Insurance coverage for lost or damaged packages.
  • Optional signature confirmation for added peace of mind, available for an extra fee.
  • Emergency delivery options on Sundays and holidays in select areas are provided for an additional charge.

Every delivery service has unique features and inclusions. Be sure to check what is included in the final costs before making the payment. 

How to save  money on overnight shipping

Saving money on overnight shipping can positively impact the budget for businesses and individuals needing swift delivery of bulk orders without breaking the bank. Here are some savvy strategies to cut costs:

  • Distribute inventory across different locations to reduce shipping distances and costs.
  • Don’t overlook the possibility of negotiating shipping rates with carriers to secure better deals.
  • Avoid extra charges by ensuring carriers meet same-day shipping guarantees for timely delivery.

Best practices for handling overnight shipping

Here are some best practices for handling overnight shipping to ensure your packages arrive on time and your customers are satisfied:

  • Ensure clarity in communication: Clearly state your order cut-off time for same-day processing to secure overnight delivery. Provide transparent estimates of delivery times on your website and product pages.
  • Streamline workflows: Optimize your order management processes using shipping software to handle overnight orders efficiently. Train your staff to prioritize packing and shipping of overnight orders and manage inventory to prevent delays due to stockouts.
  • Select a trusted carrier: Choose a reputable carrier renowned for punctual delivery and reliable overnight service.
  • Implement packaging guidelines: Establish packaging guidelines for your team to ensure shipments are securely packed to withstand handling. Double-check address and labeling information to avoid sorting or delivery errors that could cause delays.
  • Offer tracking information: Furnish customers with real-time tracking details so they can monitor their package's journey and anticipated delivery time.
  • Consider insurance options: Provide optional package insurance for valuable items shipped overnight to offer peace of mind to your customers.

Overnight shipping: Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

1. What's the difference between overnight shipping and next-day delivery? 

Overnight shipping and next-day delivery are the same thing—they mean your package arrives the next business day.

2. What types of items can be shipped overnight?

You can ship almost anything overnight—documents, small packages, clothing, electronics, and non-perishable goods. However, some restrictions (liquids, perishables, etc.) may apply. Check with your carrier for specific guidelines and restrictions

3. Does weekend delivery cost extra?

Yes, weekend delivery with overnight shipping typically costs extra compared to standard weekday delivery options because it often involves additional logistics and resources. It's always a good idea to check with the carrier or shipping provider for their rates and applicable fees.

4. Who has the cheapest overnight shipping?

USPS Priority Mail Express is often the cheapest overnight option but not always the fastest.

5. Which company has the fastest overnight shipping service?

UPS Next Day Air Early is generally the fastest overnight service but also the most expensive.

I need it yesterday!

Overnight shipping is a lifesaver for critical documents, last-minute gifts, or keeping your production line humming. But let's be honest, it's not magic. The speed comes with a price tag that can leave your wallet whimpering.

However, for those times when urgency trumps cost, overnight shipping is an ace up your sleeve. Just remember, plan ahead, compare rates, and be prepared to pay for having your package waiting at the door, like clockwork, tomorrow.

Learn about operations management to optimize your production and distribution plans and achieve all your big order fulfillment goals.

This article was originally published in 2019. It has been updated with new information.

Order management oftware
No more delays!

Simplify your operations and streamline order processing with order management software.

Order management oftware
No more delays!

Simplify your operations and streamline order processing with order management software.

Overnight Shipping: Comparing USPS, UPS & FedEx Want to reach your customers faster? Learn about overnight shipping and the best overnight shipping service providers in 2024: USPS, UPS, and FedEx.
Deirdre O'Donoghue Deirdre O’Donoghue is a Content Manager at Nature's Fynd and a former Content Manager at G2. In her free time, you can find Deirdre fostering puppies or exploring the Chicago foodie scene. (she/her/hers)

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