Shipper tips

March 16, 2023

- Written By

Annie Asai

Regional Parcel Carriers vs. National Carriers: Which Offers Better Value for Your Business?

The task of streamlining your shipping operations can sometimes feel like you're putting a puzzle together. You need to ensure that the different components involved—i.e., your ecommerce platform, OMS, and order fulfillment processes—all fit and sync well together. Then you have your carriers. Shipping carriers are a crucial piece of this puzzle as they play a pivotal role in efficiently delivering your products.

Most shippers who are optimizing their operations and working to lower costs often find themselves asking if they should keep using national carriers (like UPS, FedEx, and USPS) or if it's worth partnering with regional parcel carriers.

If you can relate, keep reading.

In this article, we'll tackle the key differences between regional and national carriers to help you understand how each type of carrier operates.

Here's what we'll cover:

  • Regional vs. national carriers: an overview
  • Comparing their service areas and delivery time
  • Differences between regional and national carrier costs
  • Who has better customer service?
  • How do their tech stacks compare?
  • Managing multiple carrier relationships

Regional vs. national carriers: an overview

Regional and national carriers are two primary types of parcel carriers businesses use to transport goods and packages.

As its name suggests, a regional carrier typically operates within a specific region, while national carriers have nationwide coverage.

Regional parcel carriers offer several advantages to businesses, such as faster delivery times within their specific regions, personalized customer service, and lower shipping costs. Since they have a limited service area, regionals can offer more specialized and customized services.

Here's an overview of some of the top regional carriers in the United States.

Regional parcel carrier Areas served Shipping services and delivery time Additional services
Lone Star Overnight Certain areas in Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana 1 to 3 days; choose Express for delivery by the next business day on or before 8:30am Shipping supplies ordering, standing pickups, ability to create and maintain an address book of regular recipients
GLS Certain areas in the West, including California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Utah 1-5 days depending on origin and destination Parcel and freight services, digital freight shipments, drop boxes, flexible pickup options
Lasership Eastern U.S., Midwest U.S., and Washington D.C. Same day and next day delivery services; outsourced and dedicated fleets are also available Transcontinental ecommerce delivery, custom routed couriers
Spee-Dee Delivery Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, North and South Dakota, along with certain zip codes in Nebraska, Missouri, and Michigan 1-5 days depending on your account; on-call pickup services with same and next day pickup are also available On call pick up services, pick up tag services
CDL Northeast and Mid Atlantic U.S.A. Regional next day and overnight delivery; same day delivery services are also available Warehousing services, retail home delivery and assembly, customized shipping solutions
Better Trucks Greater Midwest, and expanding to the Northeast, Southwest, and most of Texas 1-2 days; same day and next day services are also available Labeling services, pick up and drop off locations, sorting services, SMS notification

On the other hand, national carriers like FedEx and UPS offer a more comprehensive service area, including international shipping and a wider range of shipping options and delivery speeds. They have a more extensive network of facilities and distribution centers, which enables them to provide a wider shipping footprint.

One thing to note is that deciding on a shipping carrier doesn't have to be an "all or nothing" decision. Most businesses can benefit from a hybrid approach where they use regional carriers to ship orders to select zip codes (which can lower costs) while relying on national carriers to cover other areas.

Pro tip: This is exactly what we help businesses with. At Tusk Logistics, we specialize in connecting shippers with top regional carriers. Our goal is to help you leverage the advantages of working with regional carriers—without the stress of juggling multiple vendor relationships or integrations.

Comparing their service areas and delivery time

Regional parcel carriers

  • Can typically deliver in 1-2 days max

National carriers.

  • Deliveries can take a day or over a week, depending on distance and shipping method.

As mentioned above, regional parcel carriers have a smaller footprint than their national counterparts. Regionals usually limit their services to select states, and most of the zip codes they serve are in dense urban areas.

Regional carriers are an excellent option if you regularly ship to specific regions and have warehouses or hubs in areas where these carriers operate.

For example, Texas is a large state with a growing population and a business-friendly environment, making it an attractive location for apparel retailers to locate their fulfillment centers and warehouses. If you happen to have a fulfillment center in Texas, then you’d want to work with a company like Lone Star Overnight to cover certain areas in the state and neighboring locations like Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana.

Now suppose you have another fulfillment center in Pennsylvania (i.e., another state that’s popular with apparel retailers due to its central location on the East Coast). In this instance, you can partner up with CDL, which serves the Eastern US, and has hubs in various areas across Pennsylvania.

National carriers, on the hand, have coverage across the entire country—and then some, thanks to international shipping.

As such, if your warehouses or hubs are in a particular part of the country, and you routinely ship goods over large distances, then it's a good idea to partner with a national carrier that can get your products into your customers' hands no matter where they're located.

Regional vs. national carrier costs: which option is cheaper?

Regional parcel carriers

  • Usually have lower rates because of limited coverage and overhead costs.

National carriers

  • Usually have higher rates due to larger overhead costs.

The short answer: regional carriers typically have lower shipping rates compared to large national carriers.

Since they have a regional focus, regionals can deliver packages at a lower cost and with greater efficiency. In fact, most carriers can deliver packages within 1-2 days. Plus, they're able to leverage their local infrastructure and relationships to offer customized and personalized services that meet the unique needs of businesses within their region.

As for national carriers, these companies usually charge more for shipping. Their extensive service areas require national carriers to maintain a larger fleet of trucks, planes, and other vehicles. This infrastructure comes at a higher cost, which is reflected in their shipping rates.

At Tusk, we regularly analyze and compare shipping rates for our clients, and it's not uncommon to see immense savings when switching from a national carrier to a regional one.

In a recent analysis, we found that a shipper typically spends $17.28 to ship a 10lb package from their Houston warehouse to their St. Louis customers using a national carrier. By leveraging Tusk's regional network, we're able to get that price down to $7.72—resulting in 55.32% in savings.

All that being said, it's important to remember that shipping rates are negotiable. Depending on your shipping volume, contract terms, and carrier relationships, you may be able to score better rates.

Pro tip: Tusk's technology provides easy access to pre-negotiated rates from top-tier regional carriers, so you always get the best price without a complex negotiation process.

Who has better customer service between regional and national carriers?

Regional parcel carriers

  • More agile and better equipped to provide personalized customer service.

National carriers

  • Offers self-service tools; it may be more difficult to reach live representatives due to their high volume of calls.

As far as customer service goes, there's no clear "winner" between regional and national carriers. Each carrier type has its strengths and weaknesses, and in the case of regional carriers, the level of customer service will vary depending on the company.

Generally speaking, however, national carriers often have standardized and robust self-service options—such as online tracking and reporting tools—that offer real-time updates on your shipments. In addition, national (and international) carriers have larger customer support teams to deal with the high volume of inquiries.

On the flip side, the customer support offerings of national parcel carriers will vary from one company to another. Some companies, for example, may have phone support, live chat, email, and an online knowledge base. Others may only offer phone and email support. Your volume will make a big difference in how much attention you receive from the national carriers, particularly during peak times. Smaller shippers often report not feeling valued when they need support.

Providers also have specific preferences for their communication channels. While one company may use Slack, another may prefer email.

In any case, it's usually easier to get a hold of a real person when dealing with regional parcel carriers. While companies like FedEx and UPS have customer hotlines, you're more likely to be placed on hold for a more extended period due to the large volume of calls these carriers receive.

Regional carriers tend to have lower support inquiry volumes, allowing for more direct (and personalized) communication with a live representative.

Moreover, regional parcel carriers can typically be more flexible and adaptable. Let's say you need to reroute a package or update the shipping address. If you're working with a small regional provider, it's easier to implement these things compared to a larger carrier.

Pro tip: Working with Tusk gets you the benefits of working with a regional as well. We provide high-touch and proactive customer support to address shipping issues or concerns. Whether you’re checking in on the status of your shipments, modifying the details of an order, or rerouting a package—we’ll work with carriers on your behalf to get the job done.

How do their tech stacks compare?

Regional parcel carriersNational carriersTech capabilities will vary from one carrier to another.Have more robust technology capabilities.

Technology-wise, national carriers usually have a leg-up because they can invest more in advanced and sophisticated systems. Plus, national carriers likely have more software integrations compared to national carriers.

Large national carriers have more extensive tracking and reporting capabilities, giving businesses real-time updates on their shipments' status and location. They may also offer more advanced online portals you can access from anywhere. Case in point: FedEx, UPS, and USPS have mobile apps.

This isn't to say that regional carriers don't have any of these capabilities—some do. But similar to customer support, the tech capacities of regional carriers will depend on the company.

Pro Tip: Tusk handles the software integration to regional carriers, and connects them directly to your shipping software. Connecting to the entire Tusk network of top-tier regional carriers is simple, and makes it easy to compare Tusk  rates with the national carriers, selecting the best option each time.

Managing multiple carrier relationships

There are several advantages to working with regional carriers. As discussed earlier, these companies are usually more cost-effective, can ship faster, and can offer personalized customer service.

However, one drawback of working with regional carriers is the need to handle multiple vendor relationships. Since these companies serve smaller areas, you'll need to partner with several carriers in order to get the coverage you need.

This means having a carrier on the West coast, a separate carrier to handle east coast shipping, and another in the Midwest. Staying on top of all those partnerships takes a lot of time and effort. And if you're like most merchants, you likely don't have the bandwidth to manage several carriers.

But here's the good news: You can still unlock the benefits of working with regional carriers without having to juggle multiple relationships.

When you partner with Tusk Logistics, we'll connect you to our network of regional carriers, enabling you to tap into their coverage and ensure your orders are delivered in the fastest and most cost-effective way possible.

Even better, we'll manage those relationships for you, so you'll only have to deal with one point of contact (i.e., Tusk).

After submitting parcels to the Tusk network, our team proactively monitors each shipment for issues. If any problems arise, Tusk resolves them directly with the carrier partners, requiring minimal action from you, the shipper. Tusk also advises you proactively if there is a potential issue with a parcel, allowing them to notify your customers in advance.

Tusk puts shippers like you first, and we strive to provide you with reliable service, predictable pricing, and proactive support.

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