2020 Update: The following dimensional weight rules apply and have accurate, current dimensional weight factors. 

A while back, I wrote a post on how to calculate dimensional weight. Starting in 2015, the dimensional weight rules changed for FedEx and UPS, so I felt a new post was necessary. Now, here in 2017, FedEx just recently announced that their dimensional weight rules will be changing again.

Starting on January 2, 2017, FedEx will change its dimensional weight divisor from 166 to 139 for U.S. Ground and Express shipments. The United Parcel Service (UPS) have also changed their dimensional weight rules for 2017. For any packages that are over one cubic foot in size, or 1,728 cubic inches, UPS will also have a dimensional weight divisor of 139. If the package is less than one cubic foot in size, UPS will use 166 as the divisor.

You will find specific examples of how to calculate dimensional weight using the 2017 rules below….

How Dimensional Weight Works

It used to the be the case that, as an ecommerce seller, you only had to worry about dimensional weight when shipping large packages. That is no longer the case. Now FedEx and UPS have new dimensional weight rules that apply to all packages.

Now, FedEx and UPS have a dimensional weight divisor of 139. For FedEx, that divisor applies to all packages shipping within the United States. With UPS, the divisor varies by rate type: 139 for Daily Rates; 166 for Retail Rates.
For example, let’s say you have a box that measures 12” x 12” x 6”. Multiplying those dimensions together gives you 864 cubic inches. To determine the dimensional weight for FedEx, you simply divide the total cubic dimensions by 139. So, in this case, the dimensional weight is….864 / 139 = 6.2 lbs.

What this means is that, when shipping this box, you’ll be billed at a minimum of 7 lbs (the carriers round up to the nearest pound). If the package happens to weigh more than 7 lbs., then you’ll be billed for shipping at the actual weight. If the actual weight is less than 7 lbs….for example, let’s say it’s 4.5 lbs….then the dimensional weight will apply and you’ll be billed at 7 lbs.

Why Do Carriers Apply Dimensional Weight?

For years, FedEx and UPS did not charge dimensional weight, which meant that packages, regardless of size, were only billed based on the actual weight.

Let’s say you sold those foam swim noodles online. If you ship one of those things, it would take up a big chunk of space in the FedEx truck. But, since it weighs next to nothing, your shipping cost would also be next to nothing.

So, shipping carriers started charging dimensional weight to help ensure that the costs they incur to deliver a package more closely aligned with the fee they charge to the shipper. Basically, FedEx and UPS wanted to be paid for the space that was occupied on their trucks and planes for big, lightweight packages.

When they implemented dimensional weight, it was a big deal. But, at first, it only applied to packages over 3 cubic feet, which meant that it did not apply for the majority of parcels. That has since changed, and their new rule is that dimensional weight will be calculated with each and every package.

How Dimensional Weight Will Work in Future Years

Over the past few years, the dimensional weight rules have been changing. In 2017, the U.S. dim divisor has gone down with both FedEx and UPS, which will again increase shipping expenses for many online sellers.

With the annual changes, many are already asking what will be next? Will FedEx and UPS continue to make it more cost prohibitive for many ecommerce merchants to ship large packages? At this point, we can’t say; however, regardless of how the dimensional weight rules will change in the coming years, the basic practices to help minimize dimensional weight continue to apply.

How to Reduce the Impact of the New Dim Rules

There are a number of things that sellers can do to help keep their overall order fulfillment costs low in the wake of these changes.

1. Minimize Wasted Space

FedEx and UPS implemented these new rules for a simple reason….they want to receive what they feel is adequate compensation for the space being utilized in their vehicles.

These carriers have found over the years that shippers weren’t too concerned with minimizing the wasted space in their packages. They changed the rules, and it is now in the shipper’s best interest to analyze their shipments and do what needs to be done to reduce any wasted space in their packages.

Getting back to the example above, maybe the shipper using the 12” x 12” x 6” box has used that size simply as a matter of convenience. Upon further investigation, he finds that the product can actually fit in a 12” x 12” x 5” box. So, rather than having the dimensional weight increase this year for all shipments in that box, the seller could reduce the height of the box by one inch and maintain the same dimensional weight.

2. Look at Alternative Delivery Options

You’ve noticed that throughout this post only two carriers have been mentioned….FedEx and UPS. While they’re two of the largest parcel delivery companies in the world, they’re not the only ones.

One obvious alternative is the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). USPS wants more ecommerce business, which means they’re in direct competition with FedEx and UPS, and they see these new dim rules as an opportunity to get more of that business.

The current dimensional weight rules for USPS are different than FedEx and UPS. For USPS, if the package is over 1 cubic foot, it is subject to dim weight, and applies when shipping to all zones. Additionally, USPS has a dim divisor of 166. Check out our Online Seller’s Guide to Dimensional Weight for a quick overview of how dim rules differ between DHL, USPS and FedEx.

USPS can continue to expect to get more of the parcel delivery business that UPS and FedEx once had, as they have no plans to change their existing dim rules. If you sell big items that are fairly lightweight, USPS may be the way to go. But the Postal Service isn’t the only alternative to consider, as some merchants are looking into regional carriers to handle at least a portion of their shipments.

To help our clients sort through dimensional weight challenges, we provide the Best Rate Tool, which automatically chooses the most economical shipping method and provider for the order, taking into account the size of the shipment, weight and where its going.

3. Try to Negotiate

FedEx and UPS do negotiate their dim rules, but generally it requires that a merchant is doing big order volume. The negotiation that these carriers will typically make is increasing the dim divisor to a higher number.

If your order volume is substantial, it is worth reaching out to FedEx and UPS to see if you can get a deal. If your order volume isn’t yet substantial, you can also look to outsource order fulfillment to take advantage of the fulfillment center’s ship rates, software and expertise that you may not be able to get on your own.

Dimensional weight rules can be a headache, especially for certain types of merchandise. And while the headache is seemingly going to grow stronger year over year, merchants should view this as an opportunity to be more strategic and tighten things up with their order fulfillment and shipping operations.

And if it’s something you don’t want to have to deal with, give us a shout. We’d love to take the hassles of shipping off your plate.