Parcel Shipping Services:  Understanding SmartPost and SurePost

June 18, 2019 by Dan Galassi

By now, you’re probably well-acquainted with the potential for parcel shipping services like UPS SurePost and FedEx SmartPost to save you big money.  The basic model of each service is the same.  Packages start with UPS or FedEx and end up at a USPS sorting facility for final delivery by letter carriers on their regular routes.

But what else do you really know about the ins and outs of these hybrid delivery solutions?  More important, how can you tell if they’re right for you and your company? 

Try your hand at this ten-question quiz to find out.  The answers follow the questions, so no peeking.  It’s the honor system.

1. Which is older? UPS SurePost or FedEx SmartPost?

SurePost is older –  but just by a hair.  Launched as UPS Basic in November 2003, it became UPS Surepost in 2011.  By contrast, FedEx began offering some variation of its hybrid delivery service in September 2004, when the parcel consolidation company and service formerly known as Parcel Direct became a subsidiary. A month later, it rebranded that service as FedEx SmartPost

parcel shipping services2. From a shipper’s perspective, why are SurePost and SmartPost services less expensive for shippers than other UPS and FedEx ground solutions?  Is it because there is no residential delivery surcharge, no Saturday delivery surcharge, or lower extended delivery area surcharges?

Actually, it’s all of the above.  Although being able to avoid FedEx’s and UPS’s residential delivery surcharges is often cited as the largest economic advantage of using SurePost and SmartPost, all of the factors mentioned offer some degree of potential shipping savings when compared to other UPS and FedEx service offerings. 

3. What’s the primary difference between how SurePost and SmartPost hand packages off to the USPS for final-mile delivery? And does it really matter?

UPS SurePost delivers to the USPS location that is closest to an end user’s address, which means it’s often handing them off at area post offices.  By contrast, FedEx SmartPost uses a hub-to-hub protocol that involves handing packages off to the nearest USPS regional hub. 

Some say this could make SurePost as much as a day faster than SmartPost, since post offices are typically closer than postal hubs. But generally speaking, we at Amware have seen little to no difference in either service’s overall delivery times.

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4. Do SurePost and SmartPost offer shipment tracking?

Yes. Both parcel shipping services provide their customers with end-to-end shipment tracking, just like they do with their other services.  And both allow you to make this shipment tracking available to your end customers.

5. True or False: When you ship via SurePost or SmartPost, UPS or FedEx will always handle and ship your parcel for the first and largest portion of its journey.

True.  When you ship via SurePost or SmartPost, FedEx and UPS will always handle the first mile, just as they do for their many other services. 

6. True or False: When you ship via SurePost or SmartPost, the USPS will always handle the final-mile portion of your parcel delivery.

False. While each service relies heavily on the USPS to execute the final-mile portion of their parcel deliveries, both UPS and FedEx have the option of carrying your parcels 100% of the way if that option is more feasible for them.  

In fact, UPS already makes an estimated 60% of SurePost deliveries, while FedEx currently makes an estimated 20% of SmartPost deliveries and recently announced that it hopes to handle “the vast majority” of SmartPost deliveries by the end of 2020. 

7. Which of the following is NOT an additional benefit of using SmartPost or SurePost instead of using other FedEx and UPS parcel shipping services: ability to make deliveries to P.O. boxes; ability to deliver to military personnel (FPO and APO addresses); or guaranteed next-day or same-day delivery?

Guaranteed next-day or same-day delivery.  Smart Post and SurePost expand the number of U.S. locations they can ship to and significantly reduce accessorial charges for things like residential and Saturday delivery.  However, neither hybrid service promises delivery times of less than two days, so if that’s something your customers really, really want, then SurePost and SmartPost may not be the best options for you.

8. What is the average delivery time for SmartPost and SurePost deliveries?

According to UPS’s and FedEx’s web sites, you can expect SmartPost and SurePost deliveries to take anywhere from two to seven business days.  It all depends on how far a shipment has to travel and what kinds of parcel volumes are traveling through the pipeline at that time.  These longer shipping times are a key reason why the companies are able to offer such substantial shipping savings.  (The other key reason is the fact that they’re leveraging the USPS’s network as needed.)

9. UPS’s and FedEx’s average rate increases for 2019 both clocked in at approximately 4.9 percent. Yet their respective 2019 rate increases for SurePost and SmartPost were considerably higher than that.  Why?

They had to factor in the USPS’s latest rate increase, which was one of the largest in its history – and which now includes zonal pricing policies that previously weren’t in place.  Both UPS and FedEx needed to find a way to account for these higher costs in their hybrid service pricing.  Even so, both services still cost less than their companies’ other offerings.  And now that postal rates are increasing, they may also become more competitive with full USPS moves. 

10. Which of the following extra services or benefits are available to SmartPost and SurePost customers: free Fed Ex/UPS/USPS packaging; signature proof of delivery; and evening delivery?

Actually, none of the above.  Much like flying “coach” precludes you from enjoying perks like bigger seats, complimentary cocktails and better food, using SmartPost and SurePost doesn’t give you access to a lot of the usual bells and whistles.  But the upside is, you get your goods delivered reliably and cost-effectively and can make free or reduced-price shipping much more accessible in the process. 

So, how’d you do? 

Are you already a parcel shipping ninja, or just on your way to becoming one? 

Of course, if you prefer to skip the learning curve and tap into Amware’s parcel shipping expertise immediately, contact us today. Many of our eCommerce fulfillment customers use our combined warehousing and parcel management solution to reduce total fulfillment costs. 

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Filed Under: Parcel Transportation