30-Second Summary:

  • The best overnight shipping options for businesses in North America are almost always going to be USPS, UPS, and FedEx.

  • The best prices for businesses in need of overnight shipping are those that are negotiated with the carrier being used.

  • Shipping rates vary widely based on the size, weight, dimensions of packages, and volume.

  • There is a lot to consider when choosing an overnight shipping option including price, reliability, package integrity, guarantees, and more.

For businesses in North America that rely on shipping to conduct business, finding reliable service providers to receive supplies and fulfill orders on time can be a headache, and the pandemic has made things worse. Regardless of the realities surrounding reliable shipping and delivery options these days, staying competitive means meeting customer demands. From e-commerce businesses like Amazon to local mom-and-pop stores looking for the cheapest overnight shipping option to get their wares to their customers, a shipping company can make or break a business. The three major carriers in North America are USPS, UPS, and FedEx, and all have advantages and disadvantages when it comes to their overnight shipping services.

As we talk through what you need to consider when choosing a next-day delivery service, keep in mind that sometimes terms for Canada and Mexico delivery (including guarantees) can change, and all carriers’ terms can shift due to the volatile nature of the pandemic.

One more caveat: As a business owner or manager, it’s possible to negotiate pricing with the carrier you choose, and discounts are often available based on shipping volume. Often you can find a ballpark discount rate online, but specific and beneficial discounts are available based on your volume history, the typical size and weight of the products you’re shipping, and the like.

What to Consider When Choosing a Next-Day Shipping Carrier

Reliability

The reputation of the overnight shipping service you choose can usually be ascertained through online reviews and by word of mouth. That being said, sometimes the reliability of a shipping service can vary by locale, and generally speaking, there are more delivery problems in large urban centers. For example, New York City is notorious for packages not being delivered. According to a New York Times report, 15% of deliveries never make it to their New York City destinations at all, let alone on time.

The good news is that all shipping service providers treat next-day packages with a little more care. Still, some carriers are better than others. Businesses can determine shipping reliability by keeping a log of customer complaints regarding breakage, lateness, and nondelivery. All three major North American shippers have similar reliability rates for their overnight shipping services.

Shipping Rates

There is no such thing as cheap overnight shipping, but there are differences in prices between carriers depending on the delivery type (air or freight), package size, and weight of what’s being shipped. Most carriers ship by dimensional weight, and they price accordingly. If your packages are small, heading to the post office and using USPS is the least expensive option. Both UPS and FedEx have tiered overnight shipping options for different sizes, weights, and dimensions, so if your shipping needs are varied, they may be your best bet. You can find consumer pricing on each shippers’ website, but calling your business contact at your carrier of choice is the best way to get one-day shipping discounts related to volume.

Cut-off Times

All major carriers offer overnight delivery, but for successful, on-time shipping, you must be aware of—and honor—a carrier’s cut-off times. In many instances, overnight shipping cut-offs are earlier than general end-of-day shipping times. Some tips for meeting cut-off times are:

  • If you are taking packages to a carrier, arrive an hour before the deadline to account for lines.
  • Arrange for on-time pickups with the overnight shipping carrier you’re using from your warehouses or other storage facilities—and be sure to always have packages ready to ship before they arrive.
  • For unexpected or last-minute overnight packages, contact your carrier directly and as early in the day as possible to find out your options.

Shipping across different countries in North America can mean different cut-off times, so pay extra attention when shipping to Mexico or Canada.

Package Integrity

Safe delivery is where you’ll find big discrepancies between carriers. UPS and the U.S. Postal Service have the highest rates of damaged packages. While FedEx isn’t perfect, its damage rate of just 7% is the best among major shipping companies according to one study.

Guarantees

Along with getting your package to its recipient on time, you need a guarantee of delivery. Not all carriers guarantee their next-day services, but the big three do (USPS, FedEx, and UPS), which is why we’re highlighting them in this post. With USPS, the only guaranteed option is Priority Mail Express. USPS will refund your money if they miss the overnight deadline. FedEx will, too. FedEx claims they’ll refund your money even if the delivery is 60 seconds late. If you’re using a smaller carrier, you’ll need to inquire about guarantees and what they offer as compensation when a delivery is late. The pandemic has created some issues with delivery guarantees in addition to shipping delays, especially with the U.S. to Canada deliveries, so be sure to get the current guarantee and delivery-time information from your carrier. UPS posts its updates online.

Best Next-Day Shipping Services

UPS Overnight Shipping Options

UPS has three-tiered shipping options. For current delivery times and pricing, you’ll need to check their website. Here are the choices they currently offer:

  • UPS Next Day Air Early: Overnight delivery
  • UPS Next Day Air: Overnight delivery
  • UPS Next Day Air Saver: Overnight delivery

FedEx Overnight Shipping Options

FedEx also has three-tiered shipping options. For current delivery times and pricing, you’ll need to check their website. Here are their current options:

  • FedEx First Overnight: Next-business-day delivery
  • FedEx Priority Overnight: Next-business-day delivery
  • FedEx Standard Overnight: Next-business-day delivery

USPS Overnight Shipping Options

USPS offers one next-day service, Priority Mail Express, which is guaranteed and insured up to $100. You can purchase additional insurance and services if your items have greater value. If they don’t deliver on time, you also get your money back. Keep in mind that with USPS, overnight shipping is limited to 70 pounds. For heavier items, you’ll need to use UPS or FedEx.

The Best Overnight Shipping Options in North America

USPS Priority Mail Express is the overall best overnight shipping service, provided your packages always weigh less than 70 pounds, and you aren’t shipping anything hazardous or in need of refrigeration. USPS is also the least expensive way to send next-day delivery letters (about 26 dollars at the time of this writing). USPS is also the most reliable shipping service. If your company ships to rural areas, USPS is also the best choice, since many other companies—and not just UPS and FedEx—won’t deliver to areas they think are low profit, whereas, throughout the U.S. at least, USPS has to deliver everywhere, regardless of the cost to them.

Other delivery services have more accommodating hours than USPS, however, so if you want to ship something later in the day or on Sundays, you’ll need to choose another shipping service. USPS delivers some packages on Sundays, but they don’t do pickups. As of this writing, FedEx is the only major carrier that does Sunday pickups.

Finally, know that, as a business, you might be able to negotiate bigger volume discounts with UPS and FedEx than you can get with USPS.

The Worst Overnight Shipping Options in North America

Thanks to COVID, shipping from or to anywhere has become more precarious and volatile. That being said, without a doubt, the worst overnight shipping options in North America are those carriers that lack the reach of the three major companies. While there are regional or local shipping companies that may work for your business, if your shipping needs are consistent and extend beyond the region in which your business is located, go with one of the big three.

Keep in mind, too, that the very best test of reliability is to check your own non-delivery/damage logs from your sales records as these will provide the most accurate data regarding your customer base and any adverse delivery history.

Conclusion

Since the pandemic, shipping has become increasingly unreliable as schedules and options frequently change due to labor shortages and other problems. Pricing and guarantee times are in flux, even for next-day shipping. Businesses should contact shipping companies directly for the best rates available to them. Still, in terms of reliability and affordability, USPS is the best overall service provided the weight of the packages you ship weigh less than 70 pounds. FedEx and UPS offer the biggest volume discounts, however, if the price is your only concern and you routinely ship large packages.

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