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The Formula for How Long Ground Shipping Should Take

Every year it feels like customer expectations for delivery speed increase. For years, the logistics industry was driving that pace.

Big businesses like Amazon used to boast same-day delivery for their Prime subscribers. And in countries like China, some city-dwellers could expect goods to be deposited on their doorsteps within four hours of ordering from businesses like JingDong ( About the same amount of time it took to mow your lawn and make a sandwich after.

But today things aren’t quite like they used to be. While Chinese delivery speed still remains a global anomaly due to warehouses proximity to suppliers, Amazon rarely gets goods to your door in a single day. Delivery speeds are evening out right now to between 1-5 days.

As a growing business looking into ground-shipping options, you want to compete with the big businesses like Amazon. But if everyone is starting to slow down, how quickly do you actually need to ship your items? Does 2-day shipping really make a difference? Is it worth it?

At OTW Shipping, we’re a 3PL specializing in warehousing and fulfillment and we're proud to offer two-day fulfillment to 90% of the US. We’re going to explain what goes into ground shipping today and what you should look for in third-party providers if you want to stay competitive.

Standard Shipping Times for Major Shipping Providers

How fast is ground shipping? Ground shipping times within the USA typically range from one to five business days. This doesn’t include additional time for warehouse fulfillment or for orders to non-continental US locations like Hawaii and Alaska.

Here are general guidelines from popular US-based carriers:

  • USPS offers ground shipping through its Ground Advantage service, which generally takes between 2-5 business days.

  • UPS Ground typically delivers within 1-5 business days depending on the distance. They claim 90 percent of goods ship in three days or less.

  • FedEx Ground also usually promises delivery within 1-5 business days across the 48 contiguous states.

Shipping times typically depend on the distance the package needs to travel and the specific carrier's service standards. 

Some factors that can affect shipping times include: 

  • The origin and destination of the package – A package going to an apartment in a major hub like Chicago will likely transit much quicker than one going to a house in the mountains somewhere in Wyoming.

  • The specific shipping service chosen – Shipping services offer more economical ground shipping options or more expedited air shipments depending on your needs. You’ll need to charge more or less depending on how quickly your customers want goods shipped.

  • Poor label prints / improperly packaged items – If your label is not scannable, the package may be over-labelled after someone manually enters it into the system or it may just get returned. And if the package is not properly taped and secured, goods may get damaged or lost in transit! No one likes receiving an empty envelope.

  • Potential delays such as weather or operational issues – Issues like backed-up orders due to holidays, weather, or other events can severely delay packages. For example, mass employee illnesses at USPS during COVID-19 in 2020.

Why Has Amazon Slowed Down Shipping Speed?

Amazon can get goods to you the same day in certain instances, but even they have struggled to maintain two-day promises for Prime.

They’ve slowed down for a couple of reasons:

  • 1-2 day ground delivery requires an incredible amount of time and effort to get right. Placing inventory in a multitude of warehouses requires a lot of data, perfect timing, and flawless execution. You need to have the right amount of product in at least 3-4 warehouses to even think of economically delivering all shipments within one to two days. And if anything goes wrong, it can be costly. Sell out in one warehouse before more stock comes in? You will have to pay much more for expedited shipping to meet your delivery promises from a further warehouse. And you’ll have to rapidly send more inventory from one of your in-stock warehouses to get back into stock too.

  • Amazon warehouses and other providers were working at an unsustainable pace leading to high injury rates and burnouts.

  • Big businesses realized shipping speed isn’t worth it if customers receive wrong or damaged items or if it didn’t work with their margins.

So, you're probably thinking, it's time to forget 2-day shipping then if Amazon is still trying to get it right? Well, let's first analyze what can impact this decision for you.

What Factors Contribute to Shipping Speed?

  • Strategic Warehouse Locations: Amazon, for example, places its fulfillment centers and warehouses close to major urban areas. You can find a large Amazon warehouse on the outskirts of New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and many much smaller cities. Their proximity allows for faster processing and delivery times because the travel distance to most customers is relatively short.

  • Optimized Transportation Network: Use a variety of last-mile providers depending on where you are shipping and how quickly it needs to get there. A good 3PL provider will be able to rate shop different carriers and ship methods and select the cheapest one that will get to where it needs to go in the time you need it to get there. Rather than use 2 Day Air to ship an in-state order, you can use UPS Ground and get it there in the same amount of time for much less.

  • Data-driven - using good software that connects to your storefront and allocates orders to the closest warehouse, while providing inventory forecasting to notify you when you need to restock so you’re always shipping from the closest location. 

  • Highly Systemized – Businesses that have a clear process and execute well when fulfilling orders get orders out the door faster. The quicker orders get out the door, the more leeway you have on delivery timelines.

Amazon can provide the network and speed they do because they’re Amazon. They’re the largest ecommerce business in the world and they spend gobs of their annual budget to keep it that way. And even then, you don’t get the same shipping guarantee from them you used to because there are just too many variables to provide a consistent 1-2 day delivery experience across all goods to all locations.

However, because Amazon manages enormous volumes of goods, it’s easy for a growing business to fall in the cracks. Normally, you need their business much more than they need yours so they have little flexibility if you don’t fit their mold.

That, along with the ever growing list of new and increased fees for sellers, is why many savvy businesses are switching to 3PLs. Today, many provide acceptable networks and speeds compared to Amazon but with much more transparency and control. Not to say you can guarantee 2-day ground shipping everywhere, but it doesn't need to be far off if you have the order volume to justify splitting inventory.

So, how do you ensure a fulfillment center can ship like the big boys? We’ll break it down for you.

How to Tell if a 3PL Can Ship Fast

3PLs can’t control how quickly UPS delivers the package once they have it, but they can control how quickly they get orders on pickups once they’ve been placed. Now, every 3PL will tell you they can fulfill orders at the speed, but are there signs they can put their money where their mouths are? You’ll want to look at their SLAs to determine what their cutoff is for same-day orders.

For a more in-depth list of things to look for when choosing a 3PL, read our blog How to Choose a 3PL.

At OTW Shipping, we’re a 3PL that offers fast two-day ground shipping to 90% of the US. Here’s how we do it:

  • Bi-coastal distribution – We run all of our operations out of two strategic warehouses in the US. One on the west coast, in Utah, and one on the east coast, in Connecticut.

  • Same-day shipping – Orders in our system placed by 12PM will ship that same day. That’s fast.

  • Good tech – We don’t settle for simple warehouse management systems (WMS) like ShipStation. Our WMS makes your integrations and processes miles more efficient. 

  • Scalability – We can handle sudden spikes in order volume that could send other fulfillment centers into a game of catch-up.

  • Easy delivery customization – Customize which carriers and ship speeds you'd like so you can make sure your customers get the delivery experience you want.

  • Intelligent rate shopping – Make sure your customers get the delivery experience you want in the most cost-effective manner.

Ship With OTW Shipping For Fast Shipping

Most 3PLs treat client relationships like transactions. We designed our business to feel like in-house fulfillment for your business. We created OTW Shipping for growing ecommerce brands that crave the same service large brands receive every single day!

When you ship with OTW, you get:

  • 99.99% order accuracy

  • Transparent rates and custom quotes to fit your needs

  • 2-day ground shipping to over 90% of the US

  • Access to a Slack-like channel where you can chat with our team directly

  • State-of-the-art warehouse management software

  • And much more

Interested in a quote? Get your personalized rates now.


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