A Complete Guide to Shipping Zones

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Order fulfillment is a critical factor in customer satisfaction and business success. To ensure that shipping is as efficient, reliable, and cost-effective as possible, an understanding of shipping zones is essential.

Take, for instance, sending packages to multiple destinations. Determining shipping zones and the corresponding costs for each destination is critical to provide accurate information to customers. Additionally, postal zones play a role in delivery estimates, as sending packages within the same zone is typically faster than sending them to another zone.

This guide will provide an overview of shipping zones and an understanding of how carriers can use these zones to optimize shipping processes. In particular, we will answer the following questions:

We will also discuss shipping zone calculation methods, optimization strategies, and what makes these factors important for business owners and logistics professionals.

What Is Zone Rate Shipping?

Zone rate shipping is a method used by carriers such as USPS and FedEx. In this method, carriers base their delivery costs on the shipping zone of the destination. Depending on the zone, costs can vary significantly.

As such, understanding shipping zones is essential for eCommerce businesses to optimize their processes and keep costs to a minimum.

What Are Shipping Zones?

Shipping zones are geographical areas that carriers use to calculate shipping rates. These zones may vary based on the carrier, region, and country. Generally, carriers use zones to determine shipping costs and delivery times for packages based on their location.

Carriers divide zones into geographic shipping regions that encompass a broad range of destinations. These shipping regions are typically labeled using an alphanumeric system, and can range from one postal code zone (e.g. Zone 1) to over 50 zones (e.g. Zones 1-50).

Knowing your shipping zone can help you better understand costs and delivery estimates. While zones are different for each shipping carrier, the United States Postal Service (USPS) postal zone chart is generally used as a reference point for shipping zone calculations.

Shipping Zones by Carrier

Shipping zones vary by carrier. For instance, USPS has a unique shipping zone system, which uses a regional rate zone map to determine postage costs and times. Other carriers, such as UPS, use transit time maps to calculate their zones and delivery times.

When selecting a carrier, businesses need to familiarize themselves with their shipping zone system. Additionally, carriers often update their zones and systems, so it’s important to stay up-to-date on any changes.

USPS Zone Map

The USPS regional zone map has nine postal zones. Zone 1 of the USPS zone map covers the shipping regions closest to the shipping origin, while Zone 9 covers the shipping regions furthest away from the shipping origin.

The USPS regional rate zone map uses destination zip codes to group shipping regions into zones. Here are the USPS regional zones and the distances associated with each according to the USPS zone chart:

  • Zone 1: 1- 50 miles from the shipping origin
  • Zone 2: 51- 150 miles
  • Zone 3: 151- 300 miles
  • Zone 4: 301- 600 miles
  • Zone 5: 601-1000 miles
  • Zone 6: 1001-1400 miles
  • Zone 7: 1401-1800 miles
  • Zone 8: 1801 miles or more
  • Zone 9: US territories

USPS Zone Pricing

USPS zone pricing is based on their regional zone map and rate tables. Depending on the USPS service used, costs may vary between postal zones and by weight. Moreover, if you look at a USPS Priority Mail Zone map, you’ll realize that it is very different from another package zone map such as the First Class Package. This is because each of these services offers different rates.

USPS shipping rates by zone change periodically, so delivery prices may vary from one year to the next. For instance, the USPS zone pricing from 2020 differs from USPS zone pricing in 2019. Before sending a package, check the shipping zone rate tables for the most up-to-date delivery costs. 

UPS Zone Map

The UPS zone map is different from that of USPS because it uses transit days to determine shipping zones. It divides US postal regions into transit day ranges and uses the distance from the shipping origin to the destination to calculate delivery costs and times. UPS has more than 40 shipping zones, all depending on the number of transit days, ranging from one to six days. 

Shopify Zone Maps

eCommerce platforms like Shopify allow you to create shipping zones by ZIP code. Shopify uses this feature to help businesses customize costs for each shipping zone and optimize delivery times to customers. With Shopify shipping, businesses can set delivery rates for each zone and ensure that delivery costs are transparent to customers.

How Shipping Zones Affect Costs

Shipping zones directly affect postage costs. The further away a delivery destination is from the shipping origin, the higher costs are likely to be. This is because carriers typically charge more to deliver packages to postal zones further away from the origin.

Weight also affects delivery costs and this is evident in the USPS shipping zones. Generally, carriers charge more for items with higher weights, regardless of zone. 

Now if we factor in both postage zones and package weight, delivery costs can vary significantly. For example, sending a 2lb package from postal code zone 1 to zone 8 may cost more than shipping a 5lb package from zone 4 to zone 6.

This all depends on the type of delivery service used. For instance, sending a 2lb package with Priority Mail Express will likely cost more than sending the same package via USPS First Class.

If we factor in the shipping zone, order weight, and services used in calculating the postage costs, the price can vary significantly. Therefore, it is important to consider shipping zones when calculating costs to ensure accuracy. 

How Shipping Zones Affect Order Fulfillment

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Order fulfillment is the complete end-to-end process of sending a package from origin to destination. This includes order processing, inventory monitoring, shipping services, and package delivery.

Shipping zones play an important role in order fulfillment. The larger the distance between the origin and destination, the more difficult it is to process orders and deliver packages on time. For instance, sending a package from zone 1 to zone 9 may take longer and cost more than sending the same package from zone 3 to zone 4. 

How Shipping Zones Affect Order Fulfillment Costs

Order fulfillment costs are the total costs associated with sending a package from the origin to the destination. These include shipping costs, packaging fees, storage costs, intake fees, insurance, tracking, handling fees, and more.

Shipping zones directly impact order fulfillment costs. For instance, if an eCommerce business in zone 1 fulfills an order from a customer in zone 6, the order fulfillment costs will be higher than they would be for a customer located closer to zone 1. 

Shipping Zone Calculation

Carriers typically use a zone map to determine their different shipping zones. These maps use the carrier’s shipping region boundaries and zone definitions.

USPS, for example, uses a regional rate zone map. This map groups regions into nine distinct zones, with zone 1 covering the closest shipping regions and zone 9 covering the furthest regions.

Zone 1 is the location from which an order is shipped, while Zone 2 is the first zone after shipping from the origin zip code point. Further zones are determined based on their distance from the origin. As the zone numbers increase, costs and delivery times also increase.

Shipping zones also determine delivery costs for carriers that offer international shipping. Generally, delivering to international destinations is more expensive than sending within the same country, due to additional costs associated with sending international packages.

Shipping Optimization Strategies

Once carriers have identified their zones, they can optimize the costs and delivery times. Here are some optimization strategies that businesses can use to save time and money when sending packages:

Multiple Fulfillment Centers

When a business has multiple fulfillment centers in various shipping zones, this allows for reduced costs and faster delivery. These centers act as shipping hubs, allowing businesses to quickly and efficiently send packages to their customers, regardless of their location.

Before committing to multiple fulfillment centers, however, business owners must consider the following:

Historical Shipping Data

This data can help identify trends, such as which zones require the most resources or which areas have longer shipping times. With this data, business owners can make informed decisions on where to locate their fulfillment centers, to optimize costs and delivery times.

Carrier Rates

Shipping carriers may offer different rates for various zones. Business owners and logistics managers should review this pricing structure to determine which carriers provide the most cost-effective shipping options for their customers.

Analyze Shipping Costs by Zone

Logistics professionals must analyze delivery costs by zone to determine which shipping zones they should focus on. They should also review regional rates for carriers, to identify which zones have the most cost-effective rates.

Fulfillment Centers vs Warehouses

Warehouses are large storage facilities that businesses use to store inventory and fulfill orders. Warehouses do not offer shipping services, so carriers have to pick up the packages from the warehouse and deliver them to their customers.

Fulfillment centers, on the other hand, provide shipping services such as packaging, insurance, tracking, handling, and other services that help businesses save time and money when sending packages.

By using fulfillment centers instead of warehouses, businesses can improve efficiency and reduce costs. Fulfillment centers also help businesses stay competitive by creating better shipping experiences for their customers.

Flat Rates for Shipping

Flat rates for shipping are delivery costs that remain consistent regardless of zone. Flat shipping fees can encourage customers to purchase from you, as costs are predictable and reliable. Additionally, flat delivery fees make shipping easier to understand for customers, as there is no need to consult shipping zone rate tables. 

Choose Shipping Services That Offer the Lowest Costs for Each Zone

While USPS may seem like a convenient delivery option, other shipping services like FedEx and UPS may offer cheaper shipping rates for certain zones. While cost is important, business owners should also read customer reviews when choosing shipping services.

This helps identify which shipping service provides the most cost-effective delivery option for each zone. Other factors to consider include transit times, insurance, and tracking. 

Group Orders by Shipping Zone

Grouping orders by zone allows shippers to optimize costs and delivery times. For instance, sending ten packages to the same zone is more cost-efficient than sending ten packages to different zones. 

Third-Party Logistics Partners

Third-party logistics (3PL) providers are shipping experts that specialize in shipping optimization. They are familiar with carrier rate tables, zones, and regional shipping regulations. 3PL providers can help businesses reduce shipping costs by finding the most cost-efficient options for their needs.

Regular Reviews

Finally, business owners should regularly review their processes to identify areas where they can optimize delivery costs. These process reviews can help determine the most cost-effective shipping options for each zone. Considering these factors allows businesses to deliver goods to customers most efficiently and cost-effectively.

Shipping Zone Information Resources

To find zone information, carriers like USPS provide shipping zone look-up tools (USPS zone lookup) and shipping zone maps (USPS dynamic zone map). This map of USPS zones provides an overview of the shipping regions it uses to calculate costs and delivery times.

Additionally, carriers typically provide shipping zone rate tables to help shippers determine delivery costs for all zones. These domestic zone charts outline costs for each shipping zone, as well as additional services and fees that may be applicable.


Shipping zones are a critical factor in determining costs and delivery times. This is because carriers use shipping zone maps to calculate deliveries and shipping zone rate tables to determine costs.

Logistics professionals should leverage shipping zone information, optimization services, and flat shipping fees to reduce costs and improve efficiency. By doing so, businesses can create a better shipping experience for their customers, as well as increase customer satisfaction and loyalty. 

At ShipNetwork, we understand how important shipping is to your business. Our experts can help you find the most cost-efficient options for all shipping zones, as well as provide optimization services to help businesses keep shipping costs at a minimum. 

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