Today is my sister Georgina’s birthday. Happy Birthday, George. She may not get her gift on time, because I waited too long to get it out, and didn’t want to pay the express shipping charges to guarantee arrival. Now that’s really not like me (though it is a bit like George ;), but if that scenario sounds really familiar to you, pay attention. This information covers two areas: Items you mail-order, and items you ship yourself.
Shipping charges run the gamut. Some companies actually make money on them, and some use free-shipping as a sales tool. (Surveys have shown it to be one of the most effective.) Some companies offer free standard shipping, and then try to up-sell express shipping. Here’s a tip: Check where they ship from. UPS Ground can be overnight in many cases, so paying an extra $3 or $30 for guaranteed overnight delivery is a waste. I find with Amazon.com, free standard shipping almost always arrives in a couple days. The gift I ordered for Bruce on Sunday from Target.com (operated by Amazon) arrived yesterday, even though the "estimated delivery date" was January 26-28. Drugstore.com and Barnes & Noble ship from the east coast, so standard delivery to my home in NY is very quick. Buy.com ships (mostly) from the west coast, so standard delivery to my home in LA is super fast. Of course the best way to save on shipping is to buy before you’re in a time crunch. Start thinking now about Valentine’s Day (P.S. I’ll have my favorite V. Day suggestion tomorrow.)
There are four big players in this business: FedEx, UPS, DHL and the USPS. Currently, I really like UPS for most packages. They offer a great combination of price, dependability, tracking and service: if you shop like I do, you know your regular UPS driver by name. What you may not know is that you can ship UPS just as easily. At UPS.com, you can calculate shipping time and cost options, print your own air-bills, and even schedule a pick-up from your house for $2-4. (tip: if you have multiple packages, schedule the pick-up for just one of them. Your driver will take all other packages for free. And if you don’t schedule a pick-up, you can hand your package to any UPS driver (there’s always one in my neighborhood), or take it to a UPS Store. The US Postal Service has gotten a lot better in the last few years, and it makes sense to use Priority Mail when you’re shipping to a PO Box, or when you’re shipping coast-to-coast, since it’s probably a couple days faster than UPS ground for about the same price. But the tracking is sub-par — no information is available between mailing and delivery, and the 2-3 day delivery time frame is not guaranteed.