Flat-rate shipping

Shipping costs add up quickly and account for much of a direct-to-consumer (DTC) retailer’s budget, so it’s critical to find a cost-effective solution. Flat-rate shipping provides a simple, transparent way of reducing your expenses while simplifying the fulfillment process.

What is flat-rate shipping?

Flat-rate shipping means paying one price based solely on the size of the box. It doesn’t depend on weight, so it can be a simple and convenient way for e-commerce businesses to send packages to customers.


How does flat-rate shipping work?

Here are the steps to set up flat-rate shipping. Keep in mind that all carriers vary slightly in their process.

1. Packaging and Materials

Most flat-rate shipping requires the use of the carrier’s specified packaging materials. Picture the standard boxes you’d find inside your local post office.

2. Customer Items

Each carrier has its shipping guidelines, so it’s best to review them on their site before sending them. Also, be sure not to exceed the weight limit. Here are some common examples:

  • UPS: 50 pounds
  • FedEx: 50 pounds
  • United States Postal Service: 70 pounds

3. Shipping Labels

Be sure to print the customer's address clearly on the label and  include a return address, just in case. 

4. Postage

Most carriers allow a wide variety of postage options, but, the primary reason to use a flat rate is to save money. With flat-rate shipping, the size of the box—not the weight—determines the cost of shipping, but this can be costly when it comes to small, heavy packages, like beverages. In circumstances like these, flat-rate shipping offers big cost savings. 

5. Tracking

Most carriers offer tracking via their website using a tracking number that corresponds to the package. The level of detail available varies from carrier to carrier, but you can expect to receive 

information about approximate arrival times to the destination on your customer dashboard. If you opt in for notifications, you can also receive updated information on your smartphone.   


Because flat-rate shipping has a standard price based solely on the box’s dimensions, it’s great for sending heavy items, as long as they fit in the carrier’s box dimensions. A product that weighs 15 pounds but comes in a relatively small container, like a drink or a 10-pound barbell, could be very expensive to ship, especially if their destination is far away, by standard shipping.

How much does flat-rate shipping cost?

Most major carriers offer flat-rate shipping, but there are differences in how they structure their fees. FedEx charges based on distance from sender to recipient, whereas the other major carriers do not. Depending on how quickly the package must arrive, this extra fee may be worthwhile.

It’s also vital to understand each company's maximum weight requirements, as previously mentioned. For example, the USPS allows flat-rate shipping up to 70 pounds whereas most others only allow up to 50 pounds.

Other cost factors include:

  • Maximum distances
  • Container requirements
  • Shipping zones
  • Limits on certain types of products you can ship

Can my e-commerce business benefit from flat-rate shipping?

Flat-rate shipping can benefit all sizes of ecommerce businesses. The main advantage is knowing your shipping costs up front, which is especially crucial for smaller companies trying to scale. This level of transparency and predictability can help retailers understand their budgets for other fulfillment costs, like storage, packing materials, and returns.

Flat-rate shipping saves time, too. No longer will you have to weigh each item or package. You’ll just need to make sure your packages stay under the maximum weight limit and fit inside the box.


What about shipping supplies?

The USPS and FedEx require you to use their flat-rate shipping packages, typically supplied at no cost to you. The one exception is UPS, which will allow you to use your own branded shipping boxes, though there are some size limitations and other guidelines to follow.


How fast is flat-rate shipping?

Flat-rate shipping can get a package almost anywhere in the U.S. within three days. Faster options, like 24-hour delivery, are available for an additional fee.


Is flat-rate shipping more economical than by-weight shipping?

Whether or not flat-rate shipping is cheaper depends on a few factors, including:

  • Package dimensions
  • Weight
  • Destination
  • Delivery speed

When shipping by weight, carriers use something called dimensional weight in addition to the actual weight of the package. Both are calculated, and the cost of shipping is billed by whichever weight is greater.

Factoring in dimensional weight means that small, heavy packages are typically cheaper to send by flat-rate shipping, while lightweight items are often better off sent another way.


What are the disadvantages to flat-rate shipping?

One of the drawbacks to flat-rate shipping is that you’re often forced to use the carrier's packaging. This robs you of the opportunity to advertise your own brand on the packaging.

Although flat-rate shipping can save retailers money in many cases, it can prove to be more costly in certain situations, like when sending lightweight packages, or when shipping over short distances. 

Still, you will probably need to use flat-rate shipping if you charge your customers a standard shipping fee. Also, if you ship more than a dozen orders cross-country each month, a flat-rate may be the way to go.

In most situations, you won't know if flat-rate shipping is the best choice for you until you try it because there are so many variables regarding product fulfillment. To get a clear look at all of the factors that affect fulfillment costs, it’s best to consult an e-commerce fulfillment professional to help you navigate the process.

Flat-rate shipping can simplify your business while saving money long term. With that said, there are several options to choose from, so you will need to do your research.

People also ask...

What is dimensional weight?

Is flat-rate shipping faster than standard shipping?

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