A Comprehensive Review: The Best Solution for Subscription Box Shipping

When is comes to subscription box shipping, there are several large carriers to choose from. Our experts analyze the industry and provide suggestions for choosing your provider.

Subscription Box Shipping

Shipping is one of the core operations of your subscription business. It’s built directly into your COGS (cost of goods sold), and can be a defining factor in customer experience. You may wonder, then, which carrier is best for subscription box shipping.

Generally, it comes down to four main carriers: the United States Postal Service (USPS), UPS, FedEx and DHL. Each carrier offers slightly different services, uses different technology, and will affect operations in different ways.

About the Carriers: An Overview

One thing is true about these carriers: they aren’t the same. Each will provide a different experience for you and for your customers. Here’s the general consensus on each, along with some notes about our experiences with them and subscription boxes.

Shipping with the USPS:

USPS generally is the most safe, secure and reliable shipping service. USPS tracking, while easy to access online (you just simple enter a tracking number into Google and be directed to the tracking page), can have errors at times, where packages are apparently never delivered (we’ve seen 1% or lower in general). This isn’t uncommon with across all shipping providers. USPS also typically offers the best rates for packages under 2 pounds, and their cubic pricing structure is a simple, affordable way to ship anything above First Class mail but under 20 pounds of weight. USPS is also guaranteed to deliver to all domestic locations, APO, FPO, and DPO addresses. Another benefit of using the USPS is their standards when it comes to fleet cleanliness, which are higher than UPS, FedEx, and DHL – that means boxes arrive less damaged, scuffed up, or dirty.

Shipping with UPS:

UPS is also a highly reliable shipping provider. UPS has a huge number of locations, their shipping dashboard is (mostly) easy to navigate (meaning relatively simple tracking code lookup for support staff), and from our internal experience, UPS is responsive, professional and eager to understand and offer streamlined solutions that may work for your business.

Shipping with FedEx:

FedEx was originally championed because of their next day air. FedEx, arguably a reliable provider themselves, also offers a mostly simple dashboard by which to track packages. FedEx Smart Post is an affordable way to get large yet low-weight deliveries to residential address, as well, which delivers to all US states, APO, FPO and DPO addresses.

*FedEx Smart Post can take 12-14 days to arrive. This service is in partnership with the USPS, called a DDU injection, where FedEx hands off packages to the Post Office. This is great for home addresses, but they do not deliver to PO boxes.

Shipping with the DHL:

What primarily sets DHL apart from other providers is their international shipping networks, with locations in 220 countries and covering over 12,000 destinations worldwide. If you’ve imported products, you’ve likely used DHL. However, DHL does have its drawbacks for a domestically based subscription service. Generally, DHL’s competitive rates, in turn, provide poor delivery time. Their tracking dashboard is also slow, cumbersome, and difficult to navigate.

Other Shipping Services:

Another option is using shipping services like Newgistcs. These services have built their own transportation network and then utilize USPS DDU injection (like SmartPost) for final delivery. This is usually referred to as  ‘Last Mile Delivery.’ There can be huge savings here, but the trade-offs are the time it takes to arrive and the spotty tracking accuracy.

Here’s a table that compresses each carrier’s information. The following is defined as:

  •      Cost: Cost of smaller packages, usually under 20 pounds
  •      Reliability: The chances packages will be delivered in a timely and secure manner.
  •      Deliverability: Range of delivery, address flexibility.
  •      Ease of Access: Difficulty requires to lookup packages and view tracking information.

Cost

Reliability

Deliverability

Ease of Access

USPS

Great First Class and Cubic Rates Strong Strong Domestic/US Territory Very Easy
UPS

Generally More Expensive

Strong

Strong Domestic/US Territory

Mostly Easy

FedEx

Similar to UPS, but with SmartPost (Affordable Option)

Strong

Strong Domestic/US Territory

Mostly Easy

DHL Generally Cheap Good Weak US Presence, Better for International

Difficult

The Real Winner: USPS for (Most) Subscription Box Shipping

So what do we suggest in terms of shipping? Hands down, we recommend USPS. When considering efficiency (always 2-4 day delivery), tracking accuracy (especially compared Fedex and UPS) and the cleanliness of USPS trucks, USPS provides a great solution for your subscription box. Plus, when you work through a cubic contract, which is accessible through some secondary postage providers, you get great rates.

Cubic Pricing with the USPS

Cubic pricing is based on 5 different tiers, which can be determined with the following formula (keep your eyes open for our new Shipping Calculator!): Length x Width X Height / 1728 = Cubic Feet

Keep in mind that the longest dimension may not exceed 18″

Here are the tiers provided by the USPS

  • Tier 1: Packages up to .10 cubic feet
  • Tier 2: Packages more than .10 and up to .20 cubic feet
  • Tier 3: Packages more than .20 and up to .30 cubic feet
  • Tier 4: Packages more than .30 and up to .40 cubic feet
  • Tier 5: Packages more than .40 and up to .50 cubic feet

Here are the current (2017) USPS cubic rates, with an estimated 10% markup from cost prices. Mark-ups aren’t uncommon, and 10% is a good estimate for most services:

Max Cubic Feet Local Zones 1 & 2 Zone 3 Zone 4 Zone 5 Zone 6 Zone 7 Zone 8 Zone 9
0.1 $6.33 $6.89 $7.01 $7.18 $7.33 $7.38 $7.74 $10.55
0.2 $6.81 $7.16 $7.32 $7.85 $8.20 $8.48 $8.75 $12.31
0.3 $7.26 $7.38 $7.63 $9.01 $10.09 $10.92 $11.25 $16.50
0.4 $7.38 $7.99 $8.44 $10.16 $12.31 $13.33 $15.06 $21.11
0.5 $7.57 $8.45 $9.45 $11.40 $14.71 $16.42 $18.72 $26.15

Note: If your package weighs under 16 ounces, First Class mail through the USPS will be a more cost effective solution over Cubic Shipping. 

What it Comes Down to: A Checklist for Shipping

When deciding your shipping carrier, it really comes down to just a few things, as outlined above: cost, reliability, deliverability, and ease of access (for your customer service team). Beyond that, it’s highly recommended that you make sure your carrier can perform scheduled pick-ups – where they send trucks to pick up your boxes for you. This is a huge time saver and almost every carrier should be able to accommodate this request.

Be sure to check out our shipping calculator, and if you have questions, leave them in the comments below or ask our experts directly!

Cratejoy includes all the tools you need run a subscription box business: secure checkout, shipping tools, analytics, marketing, and listings optimized to bring you sales.

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About Jesse Richardson

Jesse Richardson is an author, educator and co-founder of several successful subscription businesses. He focuses on building engaging communities and has been described as "insanely customer centric." Find him in the Subscription School group or at his blog.

41 Responses

  1. Jessa Graves

    Hey Jesse!

    Just shared this info with my fellow lady co founders. Verbatim? “THIS IS A RAD ARTICLE.” I found this to be not only insightful, but extremely relevant (not to mention helpful) for anyone starting up a subscription box. Many thanks from EggDrop.us!

  2. Kristina

    Hi Jessie,

    thank you for the information. I live in Bali Indonesia and want to create a subscription box with shipping to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and US. What are another international reliable carriers to work with?

  3. Rich R.

    @ Kristina, I do not see a response to your request for International shipping. My experience shows that DHL is a great carrier in your region and throughout most of Southern Asia.

    Good luck!
    -Rich

  4. Whitney

    How about Canadian companies that want to ship to the US. I’ve heard if we’re close to a border we can go across and ship via USPS to knock a few dollars off. Does anyone know if in order to do that we need a US return address? Any help with this would be very much appreciated!

  5. Rudy Jordan

    Hey, I was wondering if you could help me with shipping from the UK internationally. The rates here are EXTREMELY expensive and the cheapest rate I could find was £19 per box which is $27. Please help!

  6. Ally Wagner

    Hello, according to the USPS website it appears that cubic pricing is available to companies who ship over 50,000 packages annually. This is a hefty goal for a new business. Are new companies obtaining this pricing based on their association with Cratejoy? Guess I am not understanding how most new start ups will qualify for this pricing otherwise? Thanks!

  7. Maxine

    How would you find a company to partner with that has a postage provider who resells their cubic postage? If not how do you get a flat rate like this under 50,000 boxes?

  8. Jaya

    Hi Jesse!

    What are your thoughts regarding a weekly subscription box, vs monthly? I don’t know if you already have an article posted about this or not (I couldn’t find one!). Obviously this would affect shipping logistics and raise the cost, though not necessarily by 4x since each week could be a smaller box size than what the monthly would’ve been. Any guidance or thoughts regarding a weekly model would be so helpful! Thank you so much!

  9. Robert

    Hi jesse,

    I was wondering about your thoughts as DHL as a carrier with Germany. Are they considered a reliable, cheap service with a good reputation?

    Many thanks,

    Robert

  10. Ken Moholt-Siebert

    Just a note here, that while the USPS is great for many things (you can even ship live chicks!), you are prohibited from shipping certain items, such as alcohol.

  11. Anjali Bharadwa

    Where do you put your USPS label for prospurly? The box is so nice and I feel like the label ruins it. I have thought about putting it on the bottom but then the box would be carried upside down by USPS. Any advice?

  12. Mia

    Hello Jessie

    Great info with this post. I’m currently starting my first subscription box and this post put some ease to my shipping scares. I’d like to know more about fulfillment warehouses and how would I go about working with one?

  13. Faith

    Hey Jesse!

    I loved your post! I was thinking of starting a box subscription site and shipping cost is my only concern. If my box is over two pounds and I wanted to ship through USPS do you know what the cost what be? I would also like to make a custom box, do you know which website/company does that efficiently and at a low cost?

    Thanks so much.

  14. Kelley

    Thanks Jesse for your helpful post. How do I use the Cratejoy shipping service? I’m shipping my first batch in less than a week. I was banking on using this service when I first got started. Thanks!

  15. Packers5th.in

    Thanks for posting blog about best solution for subscription box shipping. Its really helps to know more about these shipping company and also helps to hire them according to their needs. Thanks for sharing this useful blog.I hope it will helpful to others also.

  16. AY

    Hi. I’m not sure if this has been answered yet, sorry if it has been. In my case, I’m not too worried about the carrier or size. I’m just more curious as to how exactly do you ship out your sub boxes? Like do you put the sub box inside another box or pack it inside a really sturdy poly bag to prevent damage and whatnot? My sub box will contain some glass material and I’m worried about the items inside breaking. I don’t want to spend too much by investing in another box to pack the sub box in.

    1. Felicity Fromholz

      Ay,

      The majority of boxes ship in the actual box they use for the subscription, this way they save money. You just have to make sure you’re purchasing a sturdy enough box – which is pretty easy since most are traditionally labeled as “shippers” by box makers. If you’re shipping fragile things, I recommend wrapping them in bubble wrap or paper.

      Best,

      Felicity

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