With over 400 couriers in operation around the world, it can be overwhelming to know which ones to use for your eCommerce business. However, if you familiarize yourself with the different types of couriers available and the services they offer, it’ll be a lot easier to decide which shipping solutions fit your business best.

Here is some basic information about courier services that should come in handy as you develop your eCommerce shipping strategy.

What does a courier service mean?

A courier service is a company, usually a private firm, that facilitates the shipping of parcels and important documents. Courier services can either specialize in a specific type of shipping within certain destinations (for example, same-day local shipping or regional shipping) or cover an array of shipping services with destinations worldwide.

Types of courier services include:

Time-sensitive shipping: There are courier services that aim to deliver goods worldwide within specific time frames (such as 1-3 business days) and within specific hours during the day (for example, 8-10 AM). DHL Shipping and FedEx courier services are examples of courier companies with these goals.

Local shipping: Some courier services focus on providing speedy, same-day delivery for parcels and important documents within the limits of a major metropolitan city. An example of this is Breakaway Courier in New York City.

International shipping: You can also find courier services with overseas networks that can help you ship your goods to foreign destinations. They may also include services such as frequent tracking or tax and duty handling at an extra cost to ensure your shipment has reliable transportation and can pass through customs without any issues. China EMS, DTDC, and Aramex are couriers that fit this example.

What is a postal service?

A postal service is a shipping company that’s normally operated by national governments. Postal services can be used for delivery of your parcels and important documents, but many businesses prefer to use them to send non-urgent, routine communications to business partners and customers.

Examples of postal services include: United States Postal Service (USPS), Hong Kong Post, SingPost, Australia Post, and China Post.

Is USPS a courier service?

Based on our definition of a courier service, we wouldn’t classify USPS as a courier. However, the USPS express mail service (known as Priority Mail Express) could technically qualify as a courier service since it’s meant to be a domestic, overnight delivery service to most US addresses.

Is Royal Mail a courier?

No. Although Royal Mail is no longer government owned and was fully privatized in 2015, it is still the designated Universal Postal Service Provider and part of the Universal Postal Union, the UN agency that coordinates postal policies with every country’s postal service.

However, Parcelforce Worldwide is a division of Royal Mail, and they provide UK and international courier services.


Main differences between a courier service and postal service


Postal services are simple and relatively affordable: you mostly pay for the shipping costs.

Courier services provide fast and reliable delivery services - at a price.

Service quality

While postal services do provide affordable shipping rates, you run the risk of getting what you pay for - longer delivery times, infrequent tracking, and lack of customer service.

Also worth noting is that not all postal services are created equal - some countries will have a more reliable service than others.

Courier services offer pricier services which include additional costs such as fuel surcharges, remote area surcharges, and parcel-handling fees.

Still, these pricier offerings can provide a lot of value to your business. You should consider if it’s worth paying to ensure that your product is handled correctly and gets where it needs to be in the given timeframe.

How international shipping works

When you use an express courier to ship something internationally, they will be responsible for handling your package from the origin country all the way to the destination country.

The process is slightly different for postal services. For example, if you use USPS to ship something to Hong Kong, USPS will handle the delivery up until the package is received in the customs department at the destination country. Once it passes customs, the destination country’s postal service will handle the rest of the delivery.

Drawbacks of using the postal service to shipping internationally

Due to the nature of postal services, there are a few things you should consider when shipping internationally.

If there are problems with the delivery of your parcel, it could be difficult to get assistance. Since a country’s postal service doesn’t handle the entire delivery of your item and tracking may not be consistent across postal services, it may be a challenge to find a customer service rep who can figure out where your package went astray.

On the other hand, as express couriers are responsible for delivering your package for the entire journey, it’ll be easier to find a customer service rep who can tell you exactly what’s happening.

Using postal services can also be troublesome if duties and taxes apply to your shipment. Many express couriers offer services (at an additional cost) to pre-pay duties and taxes for a smoother delivery experience.

Postal services do not offer this feature, which means that the customs department will have to contact the recipient directly and wait for payment. Until payment is settled, the shipment will not be delivered.

Which is cheaper: UPS or USPS?

This depends on the details of your shipment - it’s weight, category, and destination can determine whether UPS or USPS is a cheaper option.

For an in-depth comparison of these two popular eCommerce shipping solutions, check out our blog post UPS vs USPS: Which is best for eCommerce?


Now that you know the differences between postal and express couriers, you are now prepared to find the right courier for your shipment! Think about your shipping goals and what you expect from them (such as speed, cost, service quality, and tracking) and you are good to go.

Need to get a quote for a shipment? Check out our rates!