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All Things Shipping | December 9, 2021

Shipping School Guest Post: National vs. Regional Carriers: Choosing the Best Fit for Your Small Business

As we approach the holidays, it’s crunch time for shippers everywhere. The time around the holidays is peak season for shipping, and these crucial few weeks are when your small business will truly get put to the test. Peak season is what separates the pros from the rookies; the men from the mice; the…well, you get the idea.

The point we’re making is: the weeks just before the holidays are the perfect time to evaluate which kind of shipping carrier is right for you. When shipping domestically, there are two types of carrier partners out there—national and regional—and each of them offers benefits that the other doesn’t. So, whether you’re a seasoned shipper or just getting your online store going, Shipping School is here to help you decide how to pick the right carrier for your small business.

National vs. Regional Carriers: What’s the Difference?

There are three major national shipping carriers in the United States: the US Postal Service (aka USPS), UPS, and FedEx. Generally speaking, USPS is often the best option for sending smaller, lightweight items, while UPS is the go-to carrier for heavy shipments and emergency delivery. Lastly, FedEx is almost always the most expensive option out of the three, and is utilized more for business-to-business deliveries, as well sending niche items like shipments containing frozen food.

Regardless of their specialties, USPS, UPS, and FedEx are known in the industry as “long-range carriers” that provide their customers with door-to-door services. In a nutshell, this means that they’ll transport your packages and deliver them to anywhere in the United States, as well as international locations.

Regional carriers, on the other hand, aren’t long-range, and only cover specific cities or regions. In this sense, their name kind of gives it all away. Since they only focus on certain smaller areas as opposed to the entire country, regional carriers are often able to provide better rates to their serviced areas than the bigger national carriers can.

There are several regional carriers in the United States, who all service different areas. Some of the top regional carriers in the country are:

Now, you might be asking yourself, “Why should my business use a regional carrier if I haven’t heard of any of them?” However, before you go writing them off, think twice! While regional carriers may not have as much name recognition as the major national carriers, odds are that one of them has delivered a package to your door at one time or another. For instance, Amazon uses LaserShip to deliver a majority of its packages in the Northeast, including all of New York City.

If a regional carrier is good enough for the biggest e-commerce behemoth of our time, it’s probably good enough for your small business—for some of your shipments, at least!

When Does Choosing a Regional Carrier Make Sense for Your Business?

Whether you want to go national or regional, choosing the right shipping carrier is all about determining what your small business needs, and what you’re shipping. Here are some key things to consider when evaluating whether or not a regional carrier is right for you:

Location of Your Customers

You’ve heard the famous real estate phrase, “Location, location, location,” right? Well, when it comes to choosing a regional carrier, figuring out the location of your customers is also of the utmost importance.

For instance, if you have customers spread out all across all 50 states, it would be wise to work with a “one-size-fits-all” carrier that can offer you reliable delivery to anywhere in the United States at affordable rates, such as USPS. However, if the majority of your customers are concentrated solely on the West Coast, it may make more sense to work with a regional carrier who specifically services that area, such as GSL or OnTrac.

The Cost of Shipping

Shipping is a numbers game, and every dollar counts. That’s why saving as much money on shipping as possible is so important; keeping these costs low can literally make or break your small business! Since regional carriers only focus on specific areas of the country, they’re able to leverage contracts to offer lower shipping rates to clients. Compared to a major carrier like USPS or UPS, choosing a regional service may result in you saving only a few cents or so sometimes…but if you’re sending hundreds or thousands of packages, these little increments add up fast!

Does Same-Day Delivery Matter to You?

These days, it seems like “same-day delivery” are the most-uttered buzzwords in the shipping business. Customers want their products, and they want them now. However, while achieving same-day delivery capabilities is a goal for almost every shipping company under the sun, the major carriers’ logistics networks have a long way to go before they can make it happen.

On the flip side, some regional carriers already carry out same-day delivery, which none of the major national carriers are yet able to offer. The fastest services with the three major carriers are all for overnight delivery, at best…and these services can often cost well over a hundred dollars.

So, if shipping speed is important to your business, why not work with a regional carrier who can execute same-day delivery of your packages? The best part is, you’ll be able to get your products into your customers’ hands as quickly as possible, and you won’t have to spend an arm and a leg to do it. It’s a win/win situation!

‘Tis the Season…or Not

On top of offering lower rates to certain regions of the country, regional carriers also present themselves as a viable option during the holiday season. Why, you might ask? The answer comes down to two simple words: peak surcharges.

Here’s what we mean: every year during the holidays, major carriers add holiday surcharges. These extra fees always hit small businesses where it hurts—their wallets—and unfortunately, there’s no getting around them. Peak season shipping surcharges are as certain as death and taxes…and they’re only going to get worse as time goes on.

However, while this trend rings true for the three major carriers, it’s not entirely the case for every shipping company out there. Many regional carriers don’t apply peak surcharges at all during the holidays—and even if they do, they’re often way less than the surcharges you’ll see when shipping with USPS, UPS, or FedEx.

A Breakdown of the Top Regional Carriers

If you think that working with a regional carrier might be the best option for your business, there are several you can choose from. Here’s a simple breakdown of some of the most popular regional carriers, along which area of the United States they each focus on, as well as the time it typically takes for them to deliver packages:

How Shippo Makes Partnering with the Right Carrier Easy

When you use Shippo to enter your package and recipient info, Shippo’s proprietary software presents you with a variety of options for that particular shipment. For every shipment you create, you’ll see the available services from all of the national carriers and regional carriers laid out for you to choose from, just like picking out your favorite dish in a buffet. In fact, Shippo offers services from more than 85 carriers throughout the country! All you’ve got to do is select a service, print your label, slap it on the outside of your package, and you’re ready to rock.

All in all, Shippo does the heavy lifting for you by showing you all the services at your disposal. They’ll even show you which service is the fastest option, and which one will save you the most amount of money. That way, it’s easy to make the best decision for all of your shipments, whether you’re just sending a single package or fulfilling thousands of orders each month.

By presenting all of your options for both kinds of carriers and showing you how much you’ll save on each available service, Shippo’s software takes the guesswork out of shipping so you can focus on doing what you do best: growing your small business.

This guest post is by Rockwell Sands, a shipping guru and wizard with words. Over the years, he has worked in various e-commerce startups and learned the ins and outs of shipping properly… and not. After growing frustrated with all of the inaccurate (and boring) shipping resources out there, he decided to combine his love of writing and shipping into educational articles on Shipping School. He’s on a mission to shed light on shipping so small businesses can succeed, and hopes for Shipping School to become a go-to resource for new shippers to get the information they need, when they need it.

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