The 2014 holiday season marked the last Q4 end-of-year sales period where packages shipped based on actual weight. Beginning in 2015, UPS and FedEx instituted a dimensional (DIM) weight pricing structure. Since then, the US Postal Service has adopted this pricing model, also referred to as DIM weight pricing.

DIM weight pricing affects large parcels

DIM weight pricing is an important consideration in your order fulfillment plan. Your shipping costs may depend not only on the weight of the items you ship, but also on the size of the package. DIM weight is particularly important if you ship large or fragile items.

Here’s what you need to know to keep DIM weight pricing from pushing your shipping costs through the roof.

Why DIM Weight Pricing?

Carriers like UPS and FedEx have a limited amount of real estate. Every inch of space in their trailers and delivery vans is valuable. This space has become more and more prized as the volume of goods shipped continues to increase. Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) figures show an 8.1% jump in the volume of freight shipped between 2015 and 2018. The pressure on delivery services could get even greater in the future. Department of Transportation projections estimate that, by 2045, shipping volume could be double what it was in 2015.

This eCommerce shipping crunch makes space in delivery trucks and vans a precious commodity. DIM weight pricing allows carriers to charge for space as well as weight.

For small packages, carriers calculate the shipping fee based on the weight of a parcel and the zone. The zone represents the distance the package will travel. DIM pricing adds cubic volume as a factor in calculating the price.

What Is a DIM factor?

Each shipper uses a number called the DIM factor to calculate a package’s dimensional weight. The cost of shipping is whichever is greater between the DIM weight and the actual weight. A package with a dimensional weight of 8 pounds and an actual weight of 5 pounds would ship as an 8-pounds parcel. If a package with the same dimensions had an actual weight of 10 pounds, the shipping charge would be based on the actual weight of 10 pounds.

UPS, FedEx, and USPS each sets its own DIM factor. This is the number by which you multiply the package dimensions to find the DIM weight. These companies update their DIM factors every year. In 2019, the US Postal Service changed its DIM weight pricing model to apply to all packages of 1,728 cubic inches or more. DIM weight pricing doesn’t apply to USPS flat rate shipments.

Red Stag Fulfillment has created a DIM weight calculator. Enter the dimensions and the weight of a package to figure out what it will cost to ship with each of the three major freight companies.

DIM weight pricing charges based on the size of the box as well as the weight

Understanding DIM Weight Pricing

To understand the effect of DIM weight pricing on your eCommerce shipping costs, it’s helpful to look at an example. 

Let’s say you’re shipping a new, carbon fiber motorcycle helmet in a 12” x 12” x 12” box. Between the helmet, box, and packing filler, the total actual weight of the parcel is 10 pounds.

Because of DIM pricing, however, your parcel may not actually be billed at 5 pounds. To calculate your DIM weight, we take the box dimensions divided by a DIM factor.

Dimensional shipping pricing has the greatest effect on businesses shipping lightweight but bulky items such as lightweight helmets. 

DIM Weight Pricing has the greatest affect on businesses shipping lightweight, but bulky items such as bike helmets.
DIM Weight Pricing has the greatest effect on businesses shipping lightweight, but bulky items such as bike helmets.

How to calculate DIM weight

The formula to calculate DIM weight is:

(Height x Width x Length) / DIM Factor = DIM Weight

In our example, if you shipped the motorcycle helmet using USPS, you would use a DIM factor of 166. The calculation would look like this:

(12 x 12 x 12) / 166 = DIM weight of 10 pounds 

If you shipped the same helmet via FedEx or UPS, which each have a DIM factor of 139, the calculation would look like this:

(12 x 12 x 12) / 139 = DIM weight of 13 pounds 

In the case of the Post Office, the DIM weight for this parcel matches the actual weight. If you ship via FedEx or UPS, however, you will be charged for shipping 13-pounds package.

How to Reduce the Effect of DIM Weight on Your Shipping Costs

Obviously, DIM weight pricing has massive implications for eCommerce businesses. If you’re shipping kettlebells, DIM weight pricing won’t change your shipping costs. Kettlebells are heavy and compact, so their actual weight will always exceed the DIM weight. Costco’s 93” teddy bear, on the other hand, is about the same size as a refrigerator but much lighter. The giant stuffed bear in a bear-sized box could cost more to ship as a 300-pound refrigerator. 

DIM weight pricing for this bear would make it cost the same to ship as a fridge.

The good news is that there are ways to minimize the negative effects of DIM weight pricing for you and your customers.

Reduce Parcel Size

If you have the option to ship smaller, this can make a big difference. Reevaluating your box sizes and packing methods can help you fit more products into smaller boxes.

For example, if you squeeze all the air out of a 93” Costco bear and compress it into a smaller box, you can substantially reduce DIM charges. If you’ve ever ordered a mattress online, you’ve seen this packing technique in action. Your mattress arrived vacuum-packed and expanded to its full size only after you removed the packaging. That mattress probably shipped based on actual weight rather than DIM weight. An order fulfillment warehouse can provide you with expert advice on packing your orders to reduce the DIM weight.

DIM weight pricing affects large parcels

Partner with a World-Class 3PL Provider

A fulfillment warehouse has the leverage to negotiate a much better DIM factor. Your small or medium-sized business won’t be able to match this rate on its own. A 3PL company with a high DIM factor could eliminate the negative effects of DIM weight on your shipping costs.

DIM weight Pricing

Who Needs to Worry About DIM Weight?

The most common weight for eCommerce packages is between 1 and 2 pounds. If your product is small and light, DIM weight pricing won’t affect your shipping costs. Clothing items are a great example of this kind of eCommerce product. Because clothes are light and small, shipping charges are usually based on actual weight rather than DIM weight.

Where DIM weight pricing becomes a concern is for items that are bulky but not very heavy. Fortunately, for some of these items, packaging changes can reduce DIM weight (and waste). A good example of this is small electronics that come in large packages. Ask your eCommerce fulfillment company to help you find ways to ship delicate items safely in smaller packages. This will reduce the DIM weight of your shipments. You’ll also spend less on packaging. It’s a win-win.

If your products are large for their weight like the helmet in the example above, though, you might not be able to avoid DIM weight charges. The best way to reduce your shipping costs is to negotiate a higher DIM factor with your shipper. Even if your business is too small to negotiate shipping terms, you can outsource your fulfillment to a 3PL services company that has negotiated a higher DIM factor for its clients.

If DIM pricing is an issue for your eCommerce business, Red Stag Fulfillment can help you figure it out!

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