What Is Expedited Shipping and Is It Worth It for Ecommerce?

A delivery truck racing down the streets to represent expedited shipping

Consumers today want everything fast. This is evidenced by the rise of quick shipping options such as two-day delivery, next-day delivery, and even same-day delivery. As an ecommerce business, expedited shipping is one of the most popular delivery options you can offer. But what is expedited shipping exactly and, more importantly, how fast is it? 

In this guide, you’ll learn everything there is to know about expedited shipping so you can make an informed decision about if, when, and how you should offer it for your business. Read on to learn more. 

What is expedited shipping?

In the strictest sense of the word, expedited shipping is a way of prioritizing shipments so that they take less time than usual to go from point A to point B. Expedited shipping is relative to how long usual shipping takes.

This then begs the question—what’s considered “usual” in shipping? Well, it varies according to the transportation company, where the goods are being shipped from and to, and how. 

Shipping covers everything from long-distance intercontinental ocean and air freight shipments to domestic land transportation and last-mile delivery on bicycles. Standard shipping times can take days, weeks, or even months, depending on the mode of transport and distance. Since expedited shipping is relative to standard shipping, it can range from hours to days and weeks—as long as it’s faster.

The second key characteristic of expedited shipping has to do with intent. For a delivery to be considered to be expedited, a clear decision must be made to speed up the transport time, and this tends to incur added shipping costs

How fast is expedited shipping?

Delivery trucks on a highway

So, how fast is expedited shipping? 

Expedited shipping simply means faster than usual. How long it ends up taking still depends on a host of factors—primarily, distance and mode. Remember, it’s relative.

For instance, on an international scale, if an ocean freight shipment of a 20-foot container from Shanghai to Los Angeles typically takes 18 days, a 14-day shipping option can be considered expedited. 

When shipping domestically within the US, standard shipping typically takes five to eight business days. Delivery options that take three days or less would be considered expedited. This includes two-day, next-day, and same-day deliveries. 

Do not confuse expedited shipping with express shipping. While both take less time than standard shipping, express shipping usually means a two-day or next-day delivery. As a general rule of thumb, when both express and expedited shipping options are available, express shipping is usually the quicker option. 

What is the difference between standard and expedited shipping?

The main difference between standard and expedited shipping is the speed and time deliveries take to arrive. Typically, vehicles carrying expedited shipments make fewer stops along their routes. 

Going back to the earlier ocean freight example, this can mean that the container ship departing from Shanghai will dock directly at Los Angeles instead of transiting at Long Beach. 

With domestic land transportation, truckers may make fewer to no pick-up stops from start to end. Trucking companies may also assign two drivers to a truck and route so they can take turns driving, eliminating the need to stop and rest. 

In the domestic context, expedited shipping can also be known as two-day delivery, overnight delivery, next-day delivery, and same-day delivery.

Note that each delivery company has its own definition of what’s standard, and by extension, what’s expedited. 

What is the difference between overnight and expedited shipping?

The main difference between overnight and expedited shipping is that overnight shipping refers to deliveries that take a maximum of one day. It’s also commonly referred to as next-day shipping or one-day shipping. 

Packages delivered via overnight shipping must be picked up/dropped off by logistic companies’ cut-off times during the day, usually around 6 p.m. This gives workers enough time to sort and load them into trucks and transport them overnight to get to their final destination the next day. 

Expedited shipping, on the other hand, simply means shipments that are faster than standard. However, overnight and expedited shipping can be the same thing, depending on where a package is being shipped to. For example, if a package were to take three days to arrive with standard shipping, overnight shipping can be offered as an expedited shipping option. 

Cheapest overnight shipping options

A delivery truck with lights on driving on a highway in the dark

Overnight shipping is one of the fastest delivery options available and guarantees that buyers receive their products the next (business) day. 

In the US, USPS, UPS, FedEx, and DHL are some of the most popular companies ecommerce businesses use to ship their products. 

But how much do they cost? To paint you a clear idea, we compared these delivery companies’ overnight shipping options* for a 5 lb. package measuring 5” x 5” x 5” going cross-country from Boston, MA, to Oakland, CA.

Here’s a breakdown.

*All information correct at time of writing. Prices do not include optional extras like pick-up services, shipment protection, etc.

USPS overnight shipping

USPS Priority Mail Express options screenshot

If you’re shipping with USPS, note that it does not offer a standalone next-day/overnight delivery service. That said, its Priority Mail Express does come with a next-day to two-day shipping promise. The company also highlights that next-day deliveries are available to most US addresses.

According to its shipping calculator, sending a 5 lb. package from Boston to Oakland with USPS’s Priority Mail Express will cost $78.60.

If you’re a Shopify merchant, you may be entitled to discounted USPS rates. Thanks to their partnership, Shopify sellers can save on rates when purchasing postage through the Shopify platform. 

UPS overnight shipping

UPS overnight shipping options screenshot

At UPS, its overnight shipping options range from $129.55 to $174.74, depending on the delivery time:

  • By 8am: $174.74
  • By 10.30am: $137.69
  • By the end of the day: $129.55

UPS also offers a two-day option for $90.27.

UPS’s overnight shipping service may be one of the pricier options on the market, but Shopify sellers can take advantage of attractive discounts by buying UPS postage through Shopify

FedEx overnight shipping

FedEx overnight shipping options screenshot

FedEx also offers various prices for its overnight shipping ranging between $144.61 and $194.86, determined by delivery times: 

  • By 8 a.m.: $194.86
  • By 12 p.m.: $156.57
  • By 8 p.m.: $144.61

Its two-day delivery option costs $103.93 with a guaranteed latest delivery time of 4.30 p.m.

DHL overnight shipping

DHL overnight shipping options screenshot

With DHL Express, you can expect to pay around $126.62 for overnight shipping. Packages must be booked by its stipulated cut-off time of 6pm in order to make the overnight shipment. 

Like USPS and UPS, DHL also offers reduced shipping rates to Shopify merchants. Simply purchase your DHL postage through Shopify to enjoy the discount. 

Is expedited shipping better?

Parcel recipient signing for a package

Getting your products to your buyers as quickly as possible certainly has its advantages. But as seen from the examples from the previous section, expedited shipping does come with a fairly high cost and may not be sustainable for all ecommerce businesses.

Before you decide whether to offer expedited shipping for your customers, you need to weigh its pros and cons.

Pros of expedited shipping

  1. Speed and guarantee. By and far, the biggest perk of expedited shipping is its speed and guarantee. It’s also the most reliable way to make sure your buyers receive their packages on time. Plus, one great by-product of this timeliness is increased customer satisfaction, which boosts loyalty and sales.
  2. Lower risk of damages. Because expedited shipments make fewer or no stops at all along their delivery route, there’s less handling, which means that the chances of packages being damaged in transit are lower than in standard shipping. This advantage makes expedited shipping an attractive option for businesses selling fragile or high-ticket items.
  3. Reduces storage space. If storage is an issue for your business, offering expedited shipping may be a great way to help clear out some space as your items are shipped out as quickly as possible. This is especially advantageous if you sell high-value and bulky items.

Cons of expedited shipping

  1. High cost. The biggest disadvantage of expedited shipping is its cost. Expedited shipping is expensive. Unless you’re selling high-ticket products, it’s often not worth it to ship your products via expedited shipping as it will very quickly eat into your profit margins, unless you offset the extra cost to your buyers. That said, certain companies may have to offer expedited shipping because of the nature of the merchandise they sell. This includes businesses selling time-sensitive items such as perishable goods and medical supplies.
  2. Not always an option. Not all delivery companies offer expedited shipping. If you’re sending your parcels via a smaller or lesser-known logistics company or if you live in a rural area, you may not have access to expedited shipping.

Expedited shipping in ecommerce

A cat sitting next to a parcel left by the door

Now you have the answer to “what is expedited shipping,” it’s time to consider whether it’s worth it for your ecommerce business.

Here are some key delivery statistics in ecommerce. 

  • Approximately one in five (22%) US consumers have abandoned their carts because of long delivery times. 
  • 50.7% of consumers shop online because of free delivery options. 
  • 28.4% do so because of the next-day delivery. 
  • Around 60% of shoppers have paid for faster delivery, with more than two-thirds of them having paid more for next-day delivery.

What these numbers show is that while there is a clear demand for fast shipping from online shoppers, many of them are also lured in by free delivery options.

So while expedited shipping should certainly feature in your shipping strategy, it should not be the only option. When offering it, you may also want to cushion the financial impact it has on your business by offering it to orders that hit a minimum spend (ideally greater than your average order value). Furthermore, with more and more consumers willing to pay extra for faster deliveries, you can also consider passing down at least some of the added cost of expedited shipping to your buyers.

What is expedited shipping: summary

In short, expedited shipping is a delivery method that ensures shipments arrive at their destination faster than standard shipping options. It is characterized by its faster-than-usual speeds and a clear intent.

While expedited shipping’s speed and guarantee are very attractive perks, they come at a pretty high cost and may not make monetary sense for all ecommerce businesses.

However, there are ways to lower the cost of expedited shipping. By only offering it to orders that hit a minimum spend and/or passing some or all of the added cost on to your buyers, you can ensure it doesn’t eat too much into your profit margin. Merchants can also choose to ship with Shopify and take advantage of its partnerships with UPS, USPS, and DHL for discounted shipping rates.

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