April 16, 2024

A Comprehensive Guide to Shipping Heavy Items with the Cheapest Carrier Rates

Retail e-commerce sales have exceeded $5.7tn globally in 2022. Shipping heavy items is costly due to high fees and surcharges. To save money, businesses must consider cost-effective solutions. Shipping heavy items poses unique challenges, including cost, capacity constraints, packaging, handling, storage and insurance. Shipping costs depend on weight, dimensions, distance and speed. Continue reading...

Undoubtedly, the e-commerce industry has witnessed exponential growth in recent years, propelled by advancements in technology and changing consumer preferences. According to Statista, retail e-commerce sales surpassed 5.7 trillion US dollars globally in 2022 and are expected to reach over $8 trillion by 2027. Although e-commerce is an indispensable part of almost every retail business, it comes with unique challenges, especially when shipping heavy items.

For e-commerce businesses selling heavy products, shipping can be quite expensive, given the exorbitant fees and surcharges associated with handling such goods. Fortunately, there are numerous strategies for your business to save money when shipping these items. The e-commerce logistics experts at FirstMile provide a comprehensive guide on the most cost-effective way to ship heavy items.  

What qualifies as heavy items in the shipping industry?

For most carriers, any parcel weighing over 70 lbs is considered a heavy shipment. Typically, very heavy items that weigh over 150 pounds are known as freight. Most shipping carriers calculate shipping costs based on both the weight and dimension of the box, referred to as DIM weight. The DIM weight is calculated by multiplying the package height x length x width, then dividing it by the carrier's DIM factor. As such, heavy or oversized items tend to cost more to ship than lighter goods. In addition to DIM weight, carriers may also add a large package surcharge if your package exceeds a certain weight or size threshold.

Common challenges that businesses face when shipping heavy items

As mentioned earlier, shipping heavy items comes with unique challenges that companies must tackle. These include:

  • The cost: Since shipping is based on weight, shipping heavy items can be expensive due to their weight and size. Unless carefully managed, the cost of shipping such items can quickly eat into your bottom line. There is a need to choose cost-effective solutions to save business expenses and maintain profitability.
  • Capacity constraints: One of the primary challenges in shipping heavy items is finding carriers with the capacity to handle them. If a carrier doesn't have the necessary equipment or space, it can lead to delays as you may need to wait until they have room on their trucks or vessels.
  • Packaging: Heavy items require sturdy packaging to prevent damage during transit. Finding appropriate packaging materials that can withstand the weight and protect the item can be a challenge.
  • Handling: Heavy items may require special equipment and intricate procedures, especially during loading and unloading. Investing in the necessary resources and trained personnel to handle heavy items safely is essential.
  • Storage: Heavy items often occupy significant space in warehouses or storage facilities. Properly organizing and storing these items can be challenging, especially if space is limited.
  • Insurance: Shipping heavy items increases the risk of damage or loss during transit. Businesses need to consider adequate insurance coverage to protect against these risks. Ultimately, this will drive business costs further.
  • Delays: Heavy items often require specialized handling and transportation, which can lead to delays in the shipping process. Weather conditions, traffic congestion, and unexpected logistical issues can further exacerbate these delays. It is worth mentioning that delays can adversely impact customer satisfaction and operational efficiency.

Factors Affecting Shipping Costs

Here are some of the factors to keep in mind when calculating shipping costs:

Weight and dimensions

As mentioned earlier, carriers charge your shipment based on the actual weight and dimensions weight. Generally, weight-based pricing is straightforward, as it assumes that the heavier the package, the higher the shipping cost. On the other hand, dimensional weight pricing is determined by the box's length, height, and weight. It appreciates the fact that although the package might be light, it may take up a considerable amount of truck floor and wall space. This is why, as a business, you must choose your packaging boxes carefully. Opting for the smallest reasonable packaging material for your item can help you save on transportation and packaging materials costs. Here is a practical example to illustrate the correlation between weight and shipment cost:

  • If you are shipping an item whose actual weight is 41 lbs and DIM weight is 30 lbs, you will be charged for shipping 71 lbs. Now, assuming you are using UPS overnight delivery, you will pay between $177.58 and $225.24 to ship your package, depending on the specific package you choose.  


The distance to the final destination is another crucial factor determining the overall cost of shipping. Generally, the greater the distance, the higher the shipping cost since more resources and time are required for transportation. As such, carriers often incur additional costs for fuel to cover longer distances. Longer distances also increase the depreciation of the vehicle, the number of handling operations, and delivery costs. These factors can increase requirements and costs associated with global shipping. Compared to domestic shipping, international shipping involves additional complexities and costs related to customs clearance, transportation modes, regulations, and documentation. As an e-commerce business, you must consider these factors carefully when planning international shipments and budgeting for shipping expenses.

Delivery speed

The delivery speed is another factor that affects the cost of shipping heavy items. Typically, the quicker you need your package delivered, the more expensive shipping becomes. Urgent shipping often requires dedicated resources, streamlined processes, and deviations from standard routes or modes of transportation. Such maneuvers incur additional expenses, including expedited handling fees, premium transportation charges, and priority processing costs. Here is a real-world scenario showcasing different delivery timelines and their cost differentials for USPS:

  • Priority Mail (1-3 days): Priority Mail takes between one and three days. Prices range from $6.95 for the small envelope to $17.60 for the large box. This can be an ideal option for small to medium-sized heavy items with no big rush to get to the customer.
  • Priority Mail Express (overnight): This overnight shipment gets your package to its destination as quickly as possible. Items weighing less than 70 pounds start at $22.50. However, this rate applies specifically to flat-rate shipping envelopes, and costs may increase for other packaging options. This can be the cheapest option if your heavy item can be squeezed into the flat-rate envelope.
  • Media Mail (2 to 10 days): Media Mail gets your package to the customer in 2 to 10 days. It is the smallest niche for this carrier, ideal for any kind of media, such as books, CDs, and DVDs. Media Mail costs range from

Packaging material

Packing materials can also contribute to the overall cost of shipping. Studies reveal retailers in the US spend up to 10% on packaging compared to what they spend on the actual item. To minimize these costs, consider choosing purposeful packaging. This strategy entails selecting materials and designs that protect the contents during transit, optimize space utilization, and reduce excess weight. Choosing lightweight yet durable options can reduce shipping expenses without compromising product safety. You can also customize the packaging to fit the specific dimensions of the products being shipped. This eliminates unnecessary space within shipping boxes, thereby reducing the volume and weight of shipments.

Overview of major shipping carriers

A carrier is an entity that transports goods around the country or internationally. They have the assets, experiences, and skills necessary to move goods around the globe. These may include trucks, trains, planes, ships, personnel, and equipment dedicated to the shipment. Some of the leading carriers include:

  • UPS: Founded in 1907, UPS is renowned for its extensive network and comprehensive range of shipping solutions. With operations spanning over 220 countries and territories, UPS offers diverse services, including express delivery, freight forwarding, logistics management, and supply chain solutions. Its commitment to innovation, sustainability, and customer satisfaction has solidified its position as a leader in the industry. UPS considers items over 70lbs as heavy. The company requires clients to attach a heavy sticker to all packages weighing more than 70 lbs. If your package weighs over 150 lbs, you must ship it through UPS Freight. UPS freight costs depend on whether you need ground or air freight. You may need to pay additional charges for value-added services, including lift-gate, limited access, and extreme length.
  • FedEx: Established in 1971 and based in Memphis, Tennessee, FedEx has revolutionized the shipping industry with its pioneering overnight delivery service. The company operates a vast fleet of aircraft and vehicles, enabling swift and efficient transportation of packages and freight. FedEx provides various shipping options, including express delivery, ground shipping, freight services, and e-commerce solutions. With a global presence and a focus on technology-driven logistics, FedEx continues to set benchmarks for speed, reliability, and convenience in shipping. FedEx has a dedicated service for shipping heavy items weighing over 150 lbs, known as FedEx Freight shipping.
  • DHL: As one of the world's largest logistics companies, DHL offers a comprehensive range of services encompassing express delivery, freight transportation, supply chain management, and e-commerce solutions. Headquartered in Bonn, Germany, DHL operates in more than 220 countries and territories, providing businesses and individuals with seamless shipping options tailored to their needs. DHL's commitment to innovation, sustainability, and customer-centricity has earned it a reputation as a trusted partner for global shipping and logistics solutions. The company offers a heavy shipment service called the DHL Express' Heavy Shipment Service, dedicated to heavy items weighing up to 3,000kg.
  • FirstMile: Recognized for its focus on last-mile delivery solutions, FirstMile specializes in bridging the gap between businesses and consumers by offering efficient, cost-effective shipping services. With a strong emphasis on technology and data-driven logistics, FirstMile optimizes delivery routes, reduces transit times, and enhances the overall customer experience. Based in the United States, FirstMile serves a diverse clientele ranging from e-commerce retailers to small businesses, providing tailored shipping solutions to meet their specific requirements. FirstMile has dedicated freight shipping service for packages weighing over 150 pounds or large boxes, ensuring efficient shipping.

Comparative analysis of carrier rates

Leading carriers such as USPS, FedEx, and UPS offer competitive services for heavy packages. It is essential to note USPS has a weight limit of 70 pounds for shipping through its services. This makes UPS and FedEx ideal for heavy packages. Let's compare the cost of shipping a 71 pound between UPS and FedEx:

  • Overnight/next-day delivery: It will cost you between $177.58 and $225.24 to ship an item weighing 71 pounds with UPS service. You will pay between $33.87 and $68.04 to ship the same item with FedEx service. Choosing FedEx over UPS could result in savings of up to 84.93%.
  • 2nd-day delivery: It will cost you between $121.38 and $ $133.56 to ship an item weighing 71 pounds with UPS service. You will pay between $22.59 and $25.37 to ship the same item with FedEx service. Choosing FedEx over UPS, you would save approximately 81.21% on shipping costs.
  • Ground delivery: It will cost you between $29.40 to ship an item weighing 71 pounds with UPS service. You will pay $10.10 to ship the same item with FedEx service. If you choose FedEx over UPS, you would save approximately 65.5%.

Additional costs and considerations

Apart from the carrier rates, there are additional costs to consider. These include:


Heavy items often come with a higher risk of damage and loss during transportation. Insurance provides coverage against these risks, ensuring businesses don't suffer financially if their items are damaged or lost in transit. In addition to protecting the items themselves, insurance also provides liability coverage in case the heavy items cause harm or damage to third parties. This protects businesses from legal expenses and compensation costs from accidents or incidents involving heavy items. Besides, many industries and jurisdictions have regulatory requirements mandating businesses to have insurance coverage for heavy items. Failing to comply with these requirements can result in fines or legal consequences, highlighting the necessity of insurance.

Tracking services

You should also consider the cost of tracking services related to the shipment of your heavy goods. A study by McKinsey reveals incorporating tracking technology in shipping operations can reduce customer complaints by 90%. The right tracking solutions allow you to monitor the movement and location of your shipments in real-time. You can quickly identify any deviations from the planned route, enabling immediate action in case of potential risks or delays. Besides, having detailed insights into the whereabouts of your shipments ensures increased visibility and control over your supply chain operations. Such visibility allows you to proactively manage risks and optimize your logistics processes for efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Handling and other fees

When shipping heavy items, several potential hidden fees can significantly impact the total shipping cost. It is crucial to be aware of these charges to avoid surprises and accurately budget your shipment. Here is a checklist of standard extra charges to look out for:

  • Residential delivery surcharge: If the shipment is delivered to a residential address rather than a commercial one, carriers may apply an additional fee.
  • Liftgate service fees: If the pickup or delivery location lacks a loading dock or forklift, a liftgate may be required to load or unload the shipment. Carriers typically charge extra for this service.
  • Limited access fees: Locations that are difficult to access, such as rural areas or construction sites, may incur additional charges.
  • Inside delivery charges: Carriers may assess an inside delivery fee if the shipment needs to be delivered beyond the front entrance, such as inside a building or up flights of stairs.
  • Redelivery fees: Redelivery attempts may result in extra charges if the recipient cannot receive the shipment during the scheduled delivery window.
  • Reconsignment or rerouting fees: Changing the delivery address after the shipment is in transit can lead to consignment or rerouting fees.
  • Fuel surcharge: Carriers may apply a fuel surcharge to compensate for fluctuations in fuel prices.
  • Customs fees and duties: When shipping internationally, customs fees, import duties, and taxes may apply, significantly increasing the overall cost.
  • Palletization fees: Carriers may charge extra for this service if your heavy items need to be palletized for shipment.

Tips for reducing shipping costs

With shipping costs based on weight and dimension, it can be quite expensive for e-commerce businesses to ship heavy and oversized packages. To reduce weight, you need to adopt the right cost-effective shipping strategies. Here are some of the tips to minimize your shipping costs.

Packaging strategies

The right packaging method seeks to protect the item and reduce size-related costs. Experts recommend that you choose packaging materials tailored to the size of the item being shipped. Since the price is based on DIM, avoid excessive packaging that increases the weight and costs. Lightweight materials such as corrugated cardboard or recyclable plastics can offer sufficient protection without adding unnecessary weight. Consider also using custom foam inserts, corrugated cardboard dividers, or inflatable air cushions to safeguard fragile items and minimize excess packaging material. Some of the other best practices for packaging heavy items for transport include:

  • Use secure cushioning: Use ample cushioning materials such as foam inserts, bubble wrap, or air pillows to protect heavy items from shocks and vibrations during transport. Ensure that the cushioning is tightly secured to prevent shifting.
  • Distribute the weight: Distribute the weight evenly within the packaging to maintain stability and prevent strain on the container. Place heavier items at the bottom and distribute lighter items strategically to balance the load.
  • Use sturdy sealing: Seal packaging securely using heavy-duty tape or strapping to prevent accidental opening or shifting of contents. Reinforce seams and edges to withstand the weight of the package.
  • Provide handling instructions: Clearly label packages containing heavy items with handling instructions such as "Team Lift" or "Fragile Heavy" to alert handlers to exercise caution during transport. Provide proper training to personnel handling heavy packages to minimize the risk of accidents.
  • Comply with regulations: Ensure compliance with relevant rules and guidelines for transporting heavy items, including weight restrictions, labeling requirements, and safety standards. Failure to comply can result in delays, fines, or item damage.

Consolidate shipments

Consolidated shipping involves combining multiple orders into one shipment. One of the most significant benefits of this approach is cost savings. Carriers often offer discounts for larger shipments because it is more cost-effective for them to transport one large shipment than several smaller ones. Consolidating multiple heavy items into a single shipment allows you to take advantage of these volume discounts and reduce the per-unit shipping cost. Besides, bundling your shipments together can reduce handling and administrative costs. It allows you to streamline logistics, reduce labor costs and minimize administrative overhead. Here are some consolidated shipping strategies to help you optimize efficiency and cost savings:

  • Geographical consolidation: With geographical consolidation, the business groups shipments based on proximity. By doing so, you minimize the distances and time needed for transportation. For instance, if you have several customers within the same region, you can group their shipments into a single load. This will save you the cost of long-haul transportation.
  • Vendor consolidation: This involves combining shipments from the same supplier or vendor. This strategy allows you to optimize the procurement process and negotiate better terms with the vendors.
  • Mode of transport consolidation: This strategy involves combining shipments using the same transportation mode, such as rail or truck. Grouping the consignment allows you to maximize cargo space within one transportation mode.
  • Container or pallet consolidation: This method maximizes space with the containers or pallets. The approach involves arranging items to minimize space within the storage units.
  • Time-based consolidation: Time-based consolidation is where orders for specific days or times are batched together, leading to more efficient delivery routes. In a nutshell, this strategy seeks to group shipments together based on their delivery schedules.
  • Technology-driven consolidation: This strategy leverages advanced software and data analysis to make informed consolidation decisions. It utilizes algorithms and data-driven insights to identify the most cost-effective way to combine shipments.

Negotiate rates

Another effective way to control shipping costs is to negotiate with your carrier for more favorable terms. Before you sit down with your preferred carrier, research rates for alternative shippers. Knowing the carrier's competition firsthand makes you more likely to earn concessions during negotiations. The carrier may be obliged to reduce some fees if they think you might shift to their competitor. Remember to negotiate with your carrier before finalizing any long-term shipping contracts. This allows you to explore multiple options and secure the best rates. Where possible, take advantage of seasonal fluctuations in demand and capacity to initiate the negotiation. Carriers are more willing to negotiate during slower periods with excess capacity. Here are a few quick tips for dealing successfully with better shipping rates:

  • Know your shipping volume: Clearly understand your shipping volume and frequency. Carriers are more likely to offer favorable rates to high-volume shippers.
  • Understand market rates: Research prevailing market rates for shipping heavy goods. This information provides negotiation leverage and ensures you're getting a competitive deal.
  • Emphasize long-term partnership: Highlight the potential for long-term cooperation. Carriers are often more inclined to offer discounts and preferential treatment to reliable, repeat customers.
  • Seek multiple quotes: Obtain quotes from various carriers and use them as leverage to negotiate better rates.

Alternative shipping

The following are some other cost-effective shipping options for your heavy items.

Freight shipping

Freight shipping can be an attractive option for transporting extremely heavy or large items due to its ability to handle oversized cargo efficiently. Freight carriers typically have larger vehicles and equipment designed to accommodate heavy and oversized items and optimize space, translating to lower shipping costs. Compared to parcel carriers that charge based on weight, dimensions, and distance, freight carriers typically offer volume-based pricing, which can be more cost-effective for heavy or oversized shipments. However, one drawback to freight shipping is the delivery time. Freight shipments often follow less direct routes, especially for international or long-distance transport, which can increase transit times. On the other hand, parcel carriers prioritize smaller packages and expedited services, offering faster delivery options compared to the often more scheduled nature of freight shipping.

Local delivery services

You can also consider a partnership with local delivery companies, especially when shipping to short distances. Smaller, localized carriers often have lower overhead costs than larger delivery companies. Ultimately, this often translates to lower delivery fees for customers. Besides, compared with large shipping companies, local carriers offer quicker delivery times since they are familiar with the area and can navigate it more efficiently. However, local delivery services have unique drawbacks worth considering. First, local carriers may need more coverage areas, which could restrict their ability to serve customers outside of specific regions. They may also lack the capacity to handle large deliveries, especially during peak times or busy seasons.

Lower the cost of shipping heavy items with FirstMile

Shipping large or heavy goods is challenging for most e-commerce businesses. Since shipping costs are primarily based on weight and dimension, sending heavy packages can be quite costly for the SMEs. To save costs and enhance efficiency, businesses must optimize their packaging and explore alternative shipping methods, such as freight shipping and local delivery services. Additionally, utilizing advanced technology and negotiating favorable rates with shipping carriers can further streamline the process and reduce expenses.

Undoubtedly, the best strategy to reduce shipping costs for heavy items is to work with the pros. At FirstMile, we pride ourselves on being the experts in heavy, bulky, and oversized freight logistics. We also specialize in shipping smaller items and are happy to provide tailored solutions for all your products. Contact us today to explore Xparcel delivery methods or to request a quote.