Navigating E-commerce Shipping: Expenses and Delivery Durations Across Zones

navigating e commerce shipping: expenses and delivery durations across zones
Reduce shipping costs across the US by gaining a better understanding of shipping zones.
Written by Francisca Silva
Category: eCommerce
March 8, 2024
9 min read


Reduce shipping costs across the US by gaining a better understanding of shipping zones.
Written by Francisca Silva
Category: eCommerce
March 8, 2024
9 min read

Understanding the intricacies of shipping zones is vital for eCommerce businesses seeking to optimize their delivery processes. Shipping zones, designated by carriers based on geographical proximity, play a pivotal role in determining shipping rates and delivery times. 

This article explores the factors influencing shipping zones, the impact on pricing and delivery services, and strategies businesses employ to enhance shipping efficiency and reduce costs. From analyzing historical order data to negotiating bulk shipping discounts, we delve into the tools, considerations, and solutions contributing to an effective shipping strategy. Additionally, we explore the role of third-party logistics providers (3PLs) and warehouse management systems in streamlining shipping processes and meeting customer expectations. Throughout this post, businesses will gain valuable insights into creating a robust shipping strategy that meets customer demands and enhances overall operating efficiency.

What are Shipping Zones?

Shipping zones are geographical regions or areas defined by shipping carriers to ascertain the cost of shipping and handling charges and delivery times determined by the distance between the package’s point of origin and its final destination.

These zones help standardize and streamline the shipping process, allowing carriers to establish consistent pricing and delivery expectations for different regions.

Factors Considered in Determining Shipping Zones

The criteria for defining shipping zones can vary among carriers, but they typically consider factors such as:

  • Distance
  • Transportation Costs
  • Regional Logistics

The zones are often numbered or labeled for easy reference. An understanding of how shipping zones work is crucial for eCommerce businesses and other organizations that regularly ship products or orders.

By categorizing destinations into zones, carriers can apply specific shipping rates and delivery estimates, making it easier for businesses to calculate shipping costs and provide accurate shipping information to customers.

Determining Shipping Zones for Orders

Because shipping zones are unique to each carrier, you must utilize carrier websites or an alternative third-party tool to determine shipping zones and the corresponding charges. Below you can find some examples of carriers’ unique shipping zone coverage websites.

The Impact of Shipping Zones on the Pricing of Shipping Services

The pricing of shipping for eCommerce packages sent within the United States is calculated by considering two primary factors: the destination’s assigned zone number and the weight of the parcel.

Zone Number

Shipping service providers employ zones to determine pricing for specific services, particularly for parcel shipments. Generally, the cost increases with a higher zone designation.

Nevertheless, there are instances where exceptions apply. Some carriers or services opt for a flat rate system, allowing customers to pay a consistent price irrespective of the destination, as long as it falls within the United States.

For instance, USPS categorizes certain services as zoned, such as: 

  • Priority Mail Express
  • Priority Mail
  • USPS Retail Ground
  • Bound Printed Matter

Other services are not subject to zoning, including First-Class Mail, USPS Marketing Mail, Library Mail, and Media Mail.

READ MORE: Understanding Shipping Regulations for eCommerce

Order Weight

Besides the carrier and service used, as well as the origin and destination zip codes, exact shipping rates will also depend on order weight and dimensions.

The heavier a package is, the more dramatic the price increase will be as the zones increase.

For example: You may wish to send a 1-pound parcel and it only costs $4.00 to ship to Zone 10 through a particular carrier. However, sending a 3-pound parcel to the same address in Zone 10 wiht the same carrier may increase the price to $15 due to the weight increase.

The incremental rise of prices between zones is less significant for smaller, lighter packages, while it’s more pronounced for heavier packages, making it important to understand where you are shipping from, to, and what service you are using.

READ MORE: 12 Factors That Affect Shipping Costs

How Shipping Weight Affects the Cost by Zone

Shipping costs are influenced by various factors, and weight is a significant determinant. When it comes to shipping weight, carriers often use a concept known as Dimensional Weight (DIM weight) in addition to the actual weight.

Actual Weight vs DIM Weight

  • Actual weight: This is the physical weight of the package measured in pounds or kilograms.
  • Dimensional weight (DIM Weight): Carriers calculate DIM weight based on the package’s volume, taking into account its length, width, and height. If the DIM weight is higher than the actual weight, carriers may charge based on the DIM weight.

Shipping Zones

Carriers divide regions into shipping zones based on distance. The farther the destination from the point of origin, the higher the shipping cost. Each carrier may have its own zone system.

Shipedge Horizontal Logo

Factors Influencing Cost

  • Distance: Shipping costs increase with distance due to fuel costs and transportation resources.
  • Carrier and service level: Different carriers have different pricing structures, and faster services may be more expensive.
  • Handling and labor costs: The effort required to process, handle, and transport packages contributes to the overall cost.

Increase in Price
  • Fuel costs: Fluctuations in fuel prices impact transportation costs. Higher fuel prices can lead to increased shipping charges.
  • Resource costs: The cost of materials, such as packaging materials, can influence prices.
  • Human labor: Labor costs, including wages for handling and delivering packages, can contribute to price increases.

Cost Savings Opportunities
  • Proximity to the destination: Shipping from a location closer to the customer’s destination can reduce expenses, especially for heavier packages.
  • Kitting and light manufacturing: Consider selling items frequently purchased together as one SKU. Although this will make a heavier parcel, it will reduce the number of labels your business has to pay for.

While weight is a key factor, other considerations like shipping zones, carrier choice, and external economic factors also play crucial roles in determining the final shipping cost.

READ MORE: Ensuring Efficient Picking and Packing in Warehouse Operations

Strategies Businesses Use to Provide Free Shipping Services

Providing free shipping may appear counterintuitive, especially when sending orders to distant zones can incur significant charges.

To make free shipping economically viable, eCommerce businesses must strategically approach their pricing methods to align with fiscal sensibilities.

This strategic approach often involves implementing one or more of the following options:

  1. 1. Requiring a minimum dollar amount per order: by establishing a minimum order value, businesses can encourage customers to increase their purchases, thus justifying the cost of free shipping.
  2. 2. Shipping orders weighing under one pound: opting to dispatch lighter orders helps avoid the impact of zones on shipping costs, making it a cost-effective choice for businesses offering free shipping.
  3. 3. Including the shipping expenses in the overall product cost: businesses may choose to transparently include shipping costs in the product price itself, allowing for the appearance of free shipping without compromising profitability.
  4. 4. Limiting the number of zones or countries for free shipping: by restricting the geographic regions they are willing to ship to, businesses can control shipping expenses and make free shipping a more financially sustainable option.
  5. 5. Utilizing shipping promotions or partnerships: businesses may explore promotional collaborations with carriers or seek partnerships to negotiate better rate shipping, reducing overall shipping costs.
  6. 6. Implementing tiered shipping strategies: offering tiered shipping options, such as faster delivery for a fee, can generate additional revenue, offsetting the costs associated with providing free standard shipping.

Successfully offering free shipping involves a thoughtful combination of strategic pricing approaches, such as setting minimum order values, managing shipping weights, factoring shipping costs into product prices, limiting zones, exploring promotions, and incorporating tiered shipping options. This multifaceted approach ensures that free shipping not only attracts customers but also aligns with the financial goals of eCommerce businesses.

Discover how our WMS can improve your business

How the Categorization of Shipping Zones Impacts the Speed of Order Deliveries

When a package is dispatched in proximity to its point of origin, typically in Zone 1 or Zone 2, it tends to reach its destination in a shorter time compared to a package sent to a more distant location, such as Zone 7 or Zone 8

Reducing carrier transit time is crucial, as prolonged shipping durations can lead to customer dissatisfaction.

In instances where a business fulfills its entire inventory from a singular location, like New York, the delivery time to certain parts of Los Angeles can extend to 5-6 days.

Given these considerations, it is not surprising that same-day shipping and delivery options are limited to the closest zone(s), emphasizing the importance of proximity for expedited delivery services.

How to Reduce Shipping Zones by Distributing Inventory

Opting for outsourced fulfillment as opposed to self-fulfillment grants eCommerce businesses greater flexibility in selecting the fulfillment location for orders.

The optimal fulfillment location is determined by examining historical order data and aiming for proximity to customers.

For businesses with a geographically dispersed customer base, utilizing outsourced order fulfillment through a third-party logistics provider (3PL) with warehouses in major cities becomes instrumental in achieving faster customer reach. Conversely, shipping from a less densely populated area hinders the efficiency of reaching a broader customer base.

READ MORE: Boost Your E-Commerce Business with Local Fulfillment Services

What Location is Optimal for Order Fulfillment to Minimize Shipping Zones?

There is no universally ideal fulfillment location to minimize shipping zones; instead, the most advantageous locations for your business are those strategically placing inventory closer to frequently ordered destinations, discerned through an analysis of your historical order data.

Establishing a facility near a major city can help expedite access to a large audience, but may increase the total number of zones you’re shipping to. Shipping from less populated areas in the middle of the country may help reduce your zones but may struggle in efficiency to reach a large number of people.

In many cases, an eCommerce business’s customer base extends beyond a single city or state, spanning the entire country. To circumvent the challenge of shipping to higher zones, many brands opt to distribute inventory across multiple fulfillment centers situated in diverse regions of the United States, gaining the following advantages.

1. Economical Benefits

It might appear paradoxical, but employing additional fulfillment centers can lead to cost savings, especially when opting for outsourced fulfillment

When outsourcing fulfillment services, expenditures like leases, labor, equipment, and various other costs associated with in-house fulfillment can be avoided.

Deploying three fulfillment centers instead of a single one would facilitate the dispatch of a greater number of orders to regions with lower shipping zones. Put simply, the average shipping cost per order would significantly diminish with each additional fulfillment center. Furthermore, the utilization of multiple fulfillment centers expands the capability to provide two-day ground shipping to a broader range of regions, reducing reliance on costly air shipping.

The strategy of spreading inventory across multiple locations can aid in eliminating the highest-cost shipping zones, reducing the average shipping zone number, and cutting down on overall shipping expenses.

Consider the following steps before committing to a distributed inventory approach:

  • Evaluate your optimal fulfillment locations: by scrutinizing historical order and zip code data.
  • Assess whether your business could benefit from a more centralized warehouse or a bi-coastal strategy: especially if shipping frequently occurs across the country.
  • Experiment with different scenarios: by calculating the potential impact on shipping costs when transitioning from one fulfillment center to two (or two to three, and so forth). Evaluate how these changes would be balanced by additional transportation and warehousing expenses.

Employing multiple fulfillment centers, particularly through outsourced fulfillment, offers substantial cost savings by avoiding in-house expenses. Before implementing this strategy, carefully assess optimal fulfillment locations, consider centralized or bi-coastal approaches, and conduct thorough cost analyses to ensure its financial viability.

Discover how our WMS can improve your business

2. Swift Shipments

In addition to cost savings, dispersing inventory can also accelerate shipping times. Although it’s possible to expedite shipments in higher zones, the associated expenses are considerably high, impacting margins and profitability significantly. Storing inventory in proximity to customers allows for faster ground delivery without the exorbitant costs. Let’s consider an example to illustrate the benefits of dispersing inventory for accelerated shipping times. 

Imagine a company, XYZ Electronics, that specializes in online retail of electronic gadgets. Previously, XYZ Electronics stored all its inventory in a centralized warehouse in a remote area. 

As a result, customers across the country experienced longer shipping times and higher associated costs for expedited deliveries.

Realizing the need to enhance customer satisfaction and reduce shipping expenses, XYZ Electronics decided to disperse its inventory strategically. The company established regional fulfillment centers in key locations, ensuring that products were stored closer to the target customer base. This shift allowed XYZ Electronics to tap into the advantages of faster ground delivery, as shipments could now be fulfilled from nearby warehouses.

As a direct result of this strategic inventory dispersal, customers began receiving their orders more promptly, leading to increased satisfaction and loyalty.

XYZ Electronics experienced a notable reduction in shipping expenses, as the need for costly expedited services diminished. The company’s profit margins improved, demonstrating the positive impact of dispersing inventory on both customer experience and financial performance.

Dispersing inventory contributes to cost savings and plays a pivotal role in accelerating shipping times. The example of XYZ Electronics showcases how strategic dispersal can lead to enhanced customer satisfaction, reduced shipping expenses, and improved overall profitability for businesses in the eCommerce sector.

Navigating eCommerce shipping zones is crucial for optimizing delivery processes. The subsequent topic introduces strategies using third-party logistics providers for further cost reduction and improved delivery times.

Strategies to Reduce Shipping Expenses and Delivery Times in eCommerce Using a Third-Party Logistics Provider (3PL)

In the intricate world of online retail, the quest to trim shipping costs and accelerate delivery timelines requires savvy tactics. This section delves into strategies employed by businesses to achieve these goals in eCommerce, spotlighting the pivotal role of third-party logistics providers (3PLs). By tapping into the expertise and resources of 3PLs, companies can navigate the logistics landscape adeptly, achieving both cost-efficiency and faster delivery in the dynamic eCommerce arena.

Shipedge Horizontal Logo

1. Optimize Warehousing

Utilize the 3PL’s warehousing facilities strategically to reduce storage costs and streamline order fulfillment processes. Efficient inventory management can lead to faster order processing and shipping.

2. Real-time Tracking and Visibility

Utilize the 3PL’s tracking and visibility systems to provide real-time updates to customers. Improved transparency not only enhances customer satisfaction but also allows for proactive issue resolution, reducing delays.

READ MORE: Maximize Your E-Commerce Success with Real-Time Inventory Management

3. Offers Faster Shipping Times

In addition to the enhanced shipping speeds facilitated by inventory distribution, 3PLs can expedite deliveries through various means. 

A proficient logistics partner can streamline order processing and fulfillment more effectively than businesses handling self-fulfillment, resulting in quicker shipping and reduced lead times. 

Certain 3PLs may even provide expedited shipping programs, enabling eCommerce businesses to offer 2-day shipping to their customers regardless of their location.

4. Distribute Inventory Across a Broad Fulfillment Network

Premium 3PLs maintain multiple fulfillment centers throughout the United States and even internationally. These centers store inventory and handle order fulfillment for their clients, allowing eCommerce businesses to enjoy the advantages of distributed inventory, including cost savings and minimized transit times, without the need for substantial capital investments in establishing their facilities.

READ MORE: How to Improve Order Fulfillment

5. Reduce Shipping Costs

Aside from reducing the average shipping cost via distributed inventory, certain 3PLs may also engage in negotiating bulk shipping discounts with major carriers. ECommerce businesses can subsequently decide whether to pass on these savings to their customers or retain them.

6. Bulk Shipping Discounts

Leverage the 3PL’s shipping volume to negotiate bulk shipping discounts with carriers. By consolidating shipments, you can often secure better rates and pass those savings on to customers.

READ MORE: Understanding Shipping Regulations for eCommerce

7. Maintain Higher Customer Satisfaction

Meeting customer expectations for swift and economical shipping is crucial. 3PLs play a pivotal role by offering options for two-day shipping and keeping shipping costs minimal. This not only helps eCommerce businesses retain customer loyalty but also attracts new business.

Using Best Rates Possible for Shipping with Shipedge

Mastering the intricacies of shipping zones is essential for eCommerce businesses striving to optimize their delivery processes. Utilizing various tools available can help businesses explore solutions contributing to an effective shipping strategy.

Understanding shipping zones involves geographical proximity, transportation costs, and regional logistics, with different carriers using different zoning methods to establish pricing and delivery estimates. Managing all of this information at once can become tedious and time-consuming for individuals to comprehend.

Using resources such as Shipedge’s best rate shipping tool to automatically search for the best shipping rates possible for a particular order can help give time back to your day and reduce errors and costs.

In essence, this comprehensive manual equips businesses with valuable insights into creating robust shipping strategies that not only meet customer demands but also enhance overall operating efficiency in the ever-evolving world of eCommerce.

Discover how our WMS can improve your business

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