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The ins and outs of standard shipping: Definition and delivery time explained

Illustration of a truck en route to deliver a shipment.

Since the early days of the internet, standard shipping has been the baseline shipping option available in every online store. Yet ‘standard shipping’ is such a frequently-used term in e-commerce logistics that it can cause confusion about what businesses are getting. Standard shipping services can provoke a lot of questions, such as:

  • How long does standard shipping take?
  • What is the difference between standard and express shipping?
  • Which shipping carriers offer standard shipping?

Standard shipping might be the most commonly used shipping option in e-commerce, but it still has its drawbacks. Although reliable, standard shipping services are slow and may not meet today’s customer expectations. In this blog, we’re going to dive into what standard shipping is and how it can still offer value to brands and customers in the era of rapid delivery.

What does standard shipping mean?

Standard shipping refers to any economy shipping option that combines lower shipping costs with a longer delivery time than expedited or express shipping. Other names used by retailers to refer to standard shipping include ground shipping and regular shipping.

Standard delivery is commonly used in e-commerce and retail as a way to offer free shipping to customers without sacrificing profit margins. Because it’s the cheapest delivery option available, it’s especially valuable to small businesses that are trying to compete with larger retailers.

How fast is standard shipping?

Standard shipping services are often referred to as the ‘slowest’ delivery option in e-commerce, as they forgo faster and more expensive methods such as air transportation to get packages to their delivery destination. This means that standard shipping can take anywhere between 3-14 business days. Shipping speeds vary significantly based on several factors, such as:

  • Domestic or international shipping
  • How many domestic shipping zones an order is crossing
  • Time of year i.e. peak season
  • Whether hazmat items are included

Brands need to consider how consumer expectations for rapid shipping have shifted over time. As reliance on online shopping has grown, customers expect the baseline shipping option to keep pace with this reality. For example, 90% of shoppers now consider two- or three-day shipping to be ‘standard‘, which offers a challenge to retailers who are trying to balance delivery cost and speed.

Standard shipping compared with other shipping methods

Because a delivery time isn’t specified in the name, there can be confusion over what makes standard shipping distinct from other shipping services. While standard shipping to a nearby location can be interpreted as express shipping, the methods are still different and reflect a different pricing and cost structure.

Flat-rate shipping. Flat-rate shipping services are often confused with standard shipping because they take a standardized approach to determining shipping rates. But unlike flat-rate shipping, standard shipping costs will fluctuate per order because it takes into account dimensional package weight, shape, and destination. Moreover, standard shipping doesn’t require businesses to use specific packaging dimensions, which offers greater flexibility.

Expedited shipping. Expedited or express shipping is the faster counterpart to standard shipping and suits customers who want to receive their goods in a faster timeframe than standard delivery allows for. Because it guarantees a faster delivery time, expedited shipping can cost significantly more to ship, depending on whether it offers a guaranteed delivery time.

International shipping. A standard method for international shipments does exist, but is significantly slower than standard shipping for domestic deliveries, owing to the distance and customs checks. International shipping using a standard method can take anywhere from 1 week to 4 weeks, depending on delays or adverse weather events.

Standard shipping options across parcel carriers

UPS standard shipping

UPS Ground. Ground shipping for domestic deliveries offers a delivery timeframe between one and give business days to all U.S. states, and includes free shipment tracking. Parcel restrictions allow packages to be up to 150 lbs. and up to 108 inches long.

UPS Worldwide Economy. UPs’ standard international shipping services offer delivery in 5-12 business days and includes shipment tracking. There are also flexible options for DDP and DDU shipments, depending on your business’s preferences.

FedEx standard shipping

FedEx Home Delivery. The residential counterpart to FedEx Ground offers delivery in 1-5 days to the contiguous U.S., and 3-7 days to Alaska and Hawaii, including on weekends. Recipients have the option to request evening or appointment-based delivery in some locations. Packages can be up to 150 lbs. and 108 inches in length, and 165 inches in length plus girth.

FedEx International Economy. FedEx standard shipping for international orders takes 2 to 5 business days and is suitable for packages 274cm in length and 330cm in length plus girth, and up to 68kg in weight. The service includes tracking, customs clearance, and signature confirmation upon delivery options.

United States Postal Service (USPS) standard shipping

USPS Ground Advantage. Replacing USPS Retail Ground, ground advantage, ships to all 50 states in 2-5 business days and includes parcel tracking. USPS offers three different pricing tiers based on package size: Large envelopes, up to 15.99 oz, and over 15.99 oz and up to 70lb. Non-standard package sizes may entail extra fees.

USPS Priority Mail International. USPS ships to over 180 countries internationally within 6-10 business days. Shipping can either be charged flat rate or by weight up to 70 lbs. Includes tracking and insurance.

Advantages of standard shipping

Cost-effective shipping rates. The biggest advantage of standard shipping for businesses is that it offers the cheapest shipping service while still being reliable. As shipping costs fluctuate thanks to surcharges and general rate increases, standard shipping helps businesses maintain margins while also offering customers a budget-friendly shipping option.

Reasonable delivery timeframe. Although far from the fastest delivery method, standard shipping ensures consistency in delivery speed to domestic locations, especially in places where expedited delivery options are not available. This makes shipping selection much easier for brands to manage.

Lower carbon footprint. Because standard shipping makes use of ground shipping methods, it emits much lower emissions than expedited shipping services like air freight. With consumers becoming much more conscious about climate change and environmental impact, promoting your standard shipping method as the most environmentally sustainable option can be a good way to increase usage.

Disadvantages of standard shipping

Slower delivery times. Naturally, standard shipping services take much longer to arrive on the customer’s doorstep than express shipping. In a time where customers have come to expect rapid delivery for online orders, this can create frustration and impact customer satisfaction. A longer timeframe between ordering and delivery also creates more risk of customers finding alternative products that deliver more quickly and canceling their order.

Limited tracking capabilities. One of the ways that standard shipping cost stays low is by limiting the amount of additional support features, such as parcel tracking. This makes it difficult for customers to check how far away their order is from delivery, which can substantially increase the number of WISMO (Where Is My Order?) requests that your customer service team receives.

Doesn’t meet the needs of customers with urgent orders. Only offering a standard shipping option can alienate shoppers who require more urgent delivery options, such as for special occasions or essential purchases. If they aren’t selling one-of-a-kind items, brands may lose valuable sales to businesses that offer faster shipping options.

How to improve your standard shipping service in e-commerce

Make standard shipping your free shipping option

Consumers are more likely to accept the slower speed of standard ground shipping if they don’t have to pay extra for it. When it comes to the question of fast shipping vs. free shipping, free shipping continues to be preferred by a wide margin. Shippo’s 2023 State of Shipping Report found that 75% of consumers would choose free shipping over speed, thanks to a dislike of extra fees. By footing the cost of standard shipping, brands can substantially boost customer satisfaction and conversions.

If your business cannot afford to foot the cost of free standard shipping on all orders, consider implementing a free shipping threshold to avoid making a loss on lower order values.

Compare parcel carriers to find the best value option

Not all standard shipping options are alike, so it’s important to research different shipping companies to find out which offers the best service for their needs. Every courier service will guarantee different delivery timeframes at different price points. Also consider that some standard shipping costs will include shipping boxes or envelopes as part of the rate, while others require the sender to supply it.

For example, if you’re shipping internationally, FedEx’s International Economy option may qualify as expedited international shipping since it delivers in 5 days or less to major markets. However, it is one of the more expensive standard options, so this needs to be weighed up against the impact on your profit margins.

Support standard shipping with expedited shipping options

Making standard shipping your only available delivery service is off-putting for customers who want their orders more quickly, and may cause them to purchase elsewhere. By offering multiple shipping options to your customers, you can ensure that every customer can find the delivery method that works for them – for a price.

Same-day delivery is the most expensive shipping method, thanks to the narrow delivery window. However, it’s unlikely to be available to all of your customers. Next-day delivery and overnight shipments are other options to consider that meet the needs of more urgent orders. For example, augmenting USPS Ground Advantage with Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express options gives customers delivery options anywhere between 1 to 5 business days guaranteed.

Partnering with a 3PL to access lower shipping costs

While standard shipping might be cost-effective, shipping is still one of the largest operational costs faced by retailers and brands. Choosing the slowest shipping option might increase profit margins, but will come at the cost of frustrated customers who may decide to take their business elsewhere. This is why it’s so important for brands to find the perfect balance between cost and speed in the shipping options to offer their customers.

Partnering with a 3PL that can offer advanced shipping method selection and cost optimization is the key to managing shipping costs effectively and offering customers the best possible service, whether shipping domestically or internationally. For example, Ryder E-commerce’s SmartRate Shipping Selection tool uses real-time analytics to formulate the best shipping strategy for a business’s needs, enabling brands to meet customer expectations while still keeping costs down.

How Ryder E-commerce helped FullWell lower shipping costs by 25%

Thanks to Ryder E-commerce, supplements company FullWell was able to achieve a massive 25% reduction in overall shipping costs, freeing up valuable resources to reinvest in their business:

“Our previous 3PL used their own packaging and didn’t have a strategy to manage dimensional weight, meaning our shipping costs could vary wildly. We were used to managing cartonization ourselves, so it was a huge bonus to have the support of Ryder E-commerce. They contacted a box engineer and had samples made for us to review and select. This was integrated directly into the ordering process, which took it completely off our hands.” Chelsea Mays, Senior Director of Operations at FullWell.

Find out more about FullWell’s journey to lower shipping costs in our case study.

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