As a small business owner selling merchandise online, you have many options for domestic and international shipments of your products. The US Postal Service (USPS) continues to be popular, thanks to its USPS Priority Mail service. Its competitors include DHL, Amazon Air, and Global Air Express freight and package delivery services. However, market standouts United Parcel Service (UPS) and FedEx vie for the title of the fastest delivery service in the shipping industry. Here’s a rundown of FedEx vs. UPS, and how you can use each in your ecommerce business.
FedEx shipping services include both ground service and air service. FedEx specializes in express services, including overnight shipping, next-business-day shipping, and even same-day delivery. Most of its business involves domestic shipping services, but its FedEx International services ships letters and packages worldwide.
United Parcel Service, or UPS, is based in the Atlanta suburb of Sandy Springs, Georgia. Its largest operational hub is in Louisville, Kentucky. While UPS offers many of the same services as FedEx, including overnight and international shipping, it stands out as a domestic ground package delivery service. Many choose UPS for its ability to handle heavy, bulky packages in its freight distribution network. Its shipping services also cover smaller packages and envelopes.
FedEx vs. UPS: similarities and differences
If you’re shipping heavy items or looking for the fastest delivery, chances are you’ll consider both FedEx and UPS. Here’s a comparison of the two, from services offered to shipping rates, so you can identify which best suits your needs.
Both FedEx and UPS deliver globally. This includes last-mile delivery, which is the final stage of a parcel’s shipment to a residence or business. Here are the key offerings for each shipping carrier:
- FedEx services. FedEx ships envelopes and packages in almost any size box. It charges variable shipping prices based on the type of parcel, speed of delivery, and destination. It also offers flat-rate shipping on many packages of less than 50 pounds. The company’s FedEx Freight unit handles large, bulky items weighing more than 150 pounds. FedEx advertises that it can get a package delivered to most domestic and international addresses within 24 hours. It’s a popular choice among shippers that require rapid delivery.
- UPS services. UPS also ships envelopes and nearly any type of package. This includes flat-rate shipping discounts on certain-sized parcels. UPS serves more than 14,000 domestic and international origins and destinations through its network of more than 300 air and ocean facilities. Its UPS Ground network of domestic trucks is particularly robust, but its logistics system also includes air and sea delivery options. UPS frequently attracts package shippers that will accept slightly longer delivery times in exchange for favorable prices.
UPS and FedEx each offer a suite of services that includes ground delivery, air delivery, and freight delivery. Here’s how they compare:
- Ground delivery. UPS leads FedEx in ground transportation services, with more trucks and faster average delivery times. The company reports that 90% of UPS Ground shipments arrive within three days. FedEx states its ground delivery times range from one to five business days, with longer times to Alaska and Hawaii. Both companies move goods via ground transportation to domestic business addresses in the US, and internationally.
- Express delivery. In most cases, FedEx and UPS use the term “express delivery” to describe parcels that travel by air (one exception may be in-town same-day deliveries). FedEx has a larger air fleet than UPS, which it manages through its FedEx Express division. The FedEx Standard Overnight service delivers packages on the afternoon of the next business day. A higher tier, FedEx Priority Overnight, gets packages to most US destinations by 10:30 a.m. the next day, while the top tier FedEx First Overnight delivers most letters and packages between 8 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. UPS does not guarantee delivery times, but its Next Day service promises delivery on the next business day. It also offers two-day and three-day options for parcels that aren’t quite as urgent. Both companies offer weekend delivery for an extra fee.
- Freight delivery. Both UPS and FedEx offer freight delivery services for packages weighing more than 150 pounds. UPS boasts a particularly robust freight network that includes rail, ocean, and air, in addition to ground shipping by truck. FedEx also offers freight services, while offering discounted shipping rates to customers who break heavy deliveries into several smaller shipments, using an add-on feature called multiweight pricing.
Both FedEx and UPS offer their own custom packaging, which is mostly used for flat-rate shipping. The easiest place to acquire their packaging is at the companies’ retail stores—FedEx Office and The UPS Store, respectively. You may also package items yourself and use print-at-home shipping labels, or labels you pick up at brick-and-mortar stores. In many cases, both UPS and FedEx provide free packing materials when you ship with them.
FedEx is well known for specialty boxes (think laptop computers) and custom packaging solutions designed for unusual-shaped items such as golf clubs, bikes, guitars, and framed art. UPS provides boxes of different shapes, but it leaves any special package padding to the person doing the shipping.
UPS and FedEx don’t offer insurance on the packages they ship, although you can insure both FedEx and UPS shipments using third parties. Under certain circumstances, the companies guarantee the declared value of your items as part of their shipping costs. They each have their own policies regarding declared value.
UPS does offer bulk cargo insurance policies, which high-volume merchants may find preferable to paying retail prices for each item they ship and insure.
Many of the companies’ shipping tiers also include return shipping, so if a package can’t be safely delivered, it goes back to the sender after a final delivery attempt.
FedEx and UPS are direct competitors—alongside services like USPS, DHL, and Canada Post—on pricing. Both FedEx and UPS offer extensive, downloadable tables of their various shipping rates, but often the most convenient way to get accurate pricing is through their websites or by visiting one of their retail locations. Here’s a breakdown of pricing (as of January 2023) for different services.
- Ground shipping rates. FedEx Ground Economy (sometimes called FedEx Economy) and UPS Ground offer very similar rates for many sizes of packages and delivery distances. As of January 2023, both companies start these rates at $10.10 for a one-pound item delivered within five business days. UPS puts greater emphasis on its ground shipping operations and, compared to FedEx, may offer lower prices and faster speeds as items get heavier.
- Express delivery rates. FedEx has a much larger fleet of airplanes than UPS, and therefore offers more express delivery options at various price points. The lowest tier FedEx Express option, FedEx Express Saver, starts at $21.03 for an eight-ounce envelope. That goes up to $61.25 when shipping that envelope via the company’s elite FedEx First Overnight tier. UPS Express rates start at $14.59 for its 3-Day Select service (which may include ground shipping at UPS’s discretion). The company’s elite tier, UPS Next Day Air Early, starts at $60.56 for a letter.
- International shipping rates. You may find value in both UPS and FedEx when shipping internationally. FedEx International Priority starts at $73.75 for an eight-ounce envelope (lower for shipments to Canada and Mexico). UPS rates may be lower, but you must enter complete shipment information on the UPS website or at a UPS Store to find pricing.
When should merchants use FedEx vs. UPS?
Many ecommerce merchants and small business owners use FedEx and UPS for specific scenarios. Here is what you need to know to help when choosing between the two:
- FedEx excels at express deliveries and unusual packages. FedEx built its reputation on fast shipping. It guarantees a wider array of delivery times than UPS or the US Postal Service. This speed may come at a price. The company also specializes in irregular-shaped shipments, from keyboard pianos to golf bags to fine art.
- UPS offers excellent value for heavy packages and freight. UPS and FedEx ground rates start at less than $20, but as items get heavier, UPS tends to offer faster delivery times and lower prices than FedEx.
- FedEx retail stores typically offer more services. If you need additional services like document production and printing, you may find more options at a FedEx Office store than at The UPS Store, which mostly focuses on the company’s core shipping business.
Regardless of which shipper you choose, there are ways to save if you are a Shopify merchant. Merchants can comparison shop within the platform through Shopify Shipping. If your business is based in the US or Canada, you can pay pre-negotiated, discounted rates for USPS, UPS, DHL Express, Canada Post, and other carriers. You can buy Shopify shipping labels individually or in bulk. You can also ship your Shopify retail items via FedEx, but you will need to create an external FedEx account and then manually connect it to your Shopify store.
FedEx vs. UPS FAQ
What are the main differences between FedEx and UPS?
FedEx and UPS are close competitors and offer similar shipping services. UPS distinguishes itself with its extensive ground fleet of trucks and vans. For many merchants, UPS is the service of choice for shipping packages and bulky items at affordable rates. FedEx is known for its speed, which includes same-day delivery, and has a much larger air fleet than UPS. This lets it deliver envelopes and packages globally in minimal time.
Do either FedEx or UPS offer insurance for lost or damaged packages?
FedEx does not offer insurance for any of its shipments. However, it can reimburse senders for the declared value of lost or damaged shipments. UPS operates under a similar policy for its shipments based on its Pack & Ship Guarantee. UPS also sells cargo insurance policies to bulk shippers.
What is FedEx doing to combat its carbon emissions?
FedEx announced in 2021 that its operations will be carbon neutral by 2040. This includes a complete fleet of zero-emission vehicles used in parcel pickup and delivery. It will also embrace alternative fuels and design efficiencies in its aircraft, which cannot run on electric batteries.
What is UPS doing to combat its carbon emissions?
In its 2021 Global Reporting Initiative, UPS declared its operations will be carbon neutral by 2050. Shorter-term goals include a 40% conversion to alternative fuels in ground operations by 2025 and 100% renewable electricity powering its facilities by 2035.