The eCommerce Merchant’s Guide to UPS 2nd Day Air

UPS offers a host of services to ensure that your packages are delivered quickly to customers. Small improvements in which service you pick can have a big impact on customer experience and profitability, so in this guide we’ll walk you through your options and how to make the right choice for your business

What is UPS 2nd Day Air?

UPS 2nd Day Air is one of a few expedited shipping options from UPS, and they describe it as their “economical option for shipments that do not need overnight service”. As you can imagine, 2nd Day Air ensures that a package will arrive at its destination in two business days, but the ‘type’ of 2nd Day Air you choose will affect the delivery time. 

As customer expectations for fast shipping increase, services like UPS 2nd Day Air gain prominence. It’s simple – slow delivery speeds blunt online store growth because products with slow shipping are added to carts less frequently, and their carts are abandoned more often than products that ship quickly. A late 2021 McKinsey study of consumer preferences found that >90% of online shoppers see 2- to 3-day delivery as the baseline, and a quickly growing 30% said that they expect same-day for many purchases.

UPS’ large fleet of planes supports its 2nd Day Air service

There are two different types of 2nd Day service – the standard service and AM. When someone absolutely needs an item from you first thing in the morning, you need to spring for the much more expensive 2nd Day Air AM. Without it, UPS only guarantees an end-of-day delivery time, which can of course stretch late into the night.

In addition to 2nd Day Air, UPS also offers 1-day and 3-day expedited services. The 1-day service is called UPS Next Day Air, and as you can imagine the 3-day service is called UPS 3 Day Select. 

How Much Does UPS 2nd Day Air Cost?

Cahoot’s internal shipping metrics show that UPS 2nd Day doesn’t come cheap – in fact, we observe that it’s often roughly 2 times as expensive as UPS Ground

If you’re used to paying $8 or $9 to ship your packages via Ground and seeing them take a week to deliver, 2-day delivery is going to cost you somewhere in the upper $10 dollar range. In the hyper-competitive eCommerce world, an extra $5-10 in shipping costs can often be the difference between making and losing money on a product. 

UPS 2nd Day Air AM balloons the cost of shipping far beyond the standard version of 2-day. Our data shows that the AM option nearly doubles the cost of standard – so it often comes in at nearly 4 times more expensive than UPS Ground. To us, the small added benefit of an early delivery won’t often justify the large added cost.

How to Ship Fast Without UPS 2nd Day Air

To quickly recap – customers expect fast shipping, so you need to offer it to boost growth. Fast shipping, though, is prohibitively expensive. If you’re like the vast majority of eCommerce merchants and can’t eat $10 extra in shipping on every single item, you need a better way.

The trick is to ensure that you always have inventory close to the customer so that UPS Ground delivers in 1- to 2-days without the extra cost – many call this a “distributed fulfillment strategy”. Typically, this means ensuring that you never ship farther than Zone 4, and it requires ~4 fulfillment locations strategically placed throughout the United States. This simple principle, though, is anything but simple in execution. 

You need 4 fulfillment locations across the United States to achieve 99% 2-day shipping coverage.
Here’s the three ways that merchants can adopt a distributed fulfillment strategy:
  1. Open Multiple Fulfillment Centers: merchants can open multiple US fulfillment centers and manage the four walls themselves. While having control may seem appealing, there’s never been a worse time to try to stand up merchant-operated fulfillment. Warehouse rents are hitting record highs, and if you can even find people to work for you, you’ll have to pay them $22.50 per hour to compete with Amazon’s rates. This strategy is also time-consuming and risky – you’ll spend countless managerial hours on operations instead of selling, and you’ll have to tie up significant capital.

  2. Marketplace Fulfillment Services: Amazon and Walmart offer their own in-house fulfillment networks, Amazon FBA and Walmart Fulfillment Services, for sellers on their platform. They enable fast shipping nationwide, and crucially, they allow vendors to place Prime Badges and Walmart TwoDay tags on their listings to boost visibility and conversion. While attractive, these solutions come with significant drawbacks. They’re designed for small products, so FBA is much more expensive for large items, while Walmart doesn’t accept them at all. Additionally, they’ll only solve your fulfillment needs for the marketplace itself. Amazon FBA’s multi-channel solution, Amazon MCF, is significantly more expensive than FBA, while WFS only works for Walmart orders.
Walmart Fulfillment Services covers the whole nation with 2-day shipping.
  1. Third-Party Logistics Companies (3PLs): Your last option is to outsource fulfillment to one 3PL with national fulfillment services, or to multiple single-location 3PLs. The best 3PLs will have 10 or more locations across the United States, so they can strategically place your inventory right near your customer base. Modern 3PLs designed for eCommerce also have built native integrations with all major marketplaces and shopping carts, so you can use one provider for all of your fulfillment needs. Fulfillment costs will vary between 3PLs, though, and not all of them can meet the strict SLAs needed to win the Buy Box on every marketplace. Be sure to use something like a 3PL request for proposal (RFP) template to get an apples to apples comparison.

Cahoot Enables 2-day Shipping at Ground Rates

Cahoot’s nationwide network of over twenty warehouses provides affordable national eCommerce order fulfillment for eCommerce merchants. Thanks to our dense network, we’ll strategically distribute your inventory so that you reach 99% of the country in 2 days, but always pay low ground rates.

Unlike other providers, Cahoot has the flexibility to upgrade existing merchant-owned warehouses (if you have them). We’ll analyze your existing network and customer base, then add a few locations of our own to seamlessly extend your network into a nationwide footprint. With this approach, you can continue to get value out of your existing assets while delighting your customers and your bottom line with affordable fast shipping.

Getting started with Cahoot is fast and easy – with pre-built integrations for major eCommerce channels like Amazon, Walmart, Shopify, and BigCommerce, we can get merchants started in as little time as it takes to send us your inventory.

Talk to one of our experts today and explore how we can be the key that unlocks the next level of your profitable eCommerce growth.

Offer 1-day and 2-day shipping at ground rates or less.

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