The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Regarding FedEx Smartpost and UPS Surepost

If you have ever bought something on the internet that didn’t ship solely via USPS, then using either FedEx Smartpost or UPS Surepost was likely an option; they are both shipping options that use the United States Postal Service for the final leg. In other words, UPS or FedEx will deliver the packages to your local Post Office, and the Postal Service will handle the actual delivery.  The concept sounds good, but in practice it can be anything but.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Regarding FedEx Smartpost and UPS Surepost
The Good

For the e-tailers, it’s a really good deal.  They setup the contract with UPS or FedEx, and they get shipping rates that are much more economical.  The Post Office gets a steady source of income from UPS and FedEx.  Customers will find that this option is usually is the basic shipping level, and it is usually free or has a very low cost.

The Bad

UPS and FedEx will show up at the local Post Office at the most inopportune times and dump as many as 5,000 packages; according to some anecdotes on Amazon, the Postmasters hate Smartpost because of this.  Since what I read were mostly anecdotes, I thought I would verify this with a friend who works for the US Postal Service. I briefly talked to him about this, and asked if what I had heard was true; he verified that it was.  Even the mail carriers hate these packages.  Once UPS or FedEx drops them off at the Post Office, you’ll get no updates on tracking at all; once your package hits the Post Office, it goes into oblivion until it gets to you.

The other really bad part about the service is that sometimes you won’t even know if your item is shipping via UPS Surepost or FedEx Smartpost until it’s too late; you may not even have a choice.

The Ugly

I mentioned that you usually don’t get a choice about how your item will ship, with the option being hidden under the standard shipping.  The ugly part of this is how long it may take for your item to arrive.  For instance, on a recent gift I ordered, standard shipping said it would take 3-5 days for arrival.  I figured that would be before Christmas, so they should get it in time.  AFTER the item had shipped, it was indicated that the package had shipped FedEx Smartpost, and the delivery estimate was now December 27.  That’s not 3-5 days; it’s more like 11!

I find, on average, that it seems to take anywhere from an extra day to as many as 7 to ship via these services, but I’ve heard MUCH worse.  People might never never even get their package — or they’ll receive it days later than expected.

The one good thing here is that this usually is the free shipping option;  the bad news is that it takes FAR longer than it should.  If I pay $9.70 to ship a package to Anna, TX via first class mail, it should get there in 2 days.  This is cheaper than FedEx 2 day shipping, and it’s actually more convenient for me.  I’d rather pay a nominal amount and have a close estimate of when the item will arrive.  With SurePost or Smartpost you get neither, it’s neither sure nor smart.


If you have a choice, I would not select UPS Surepost or FedEx Smartpost for any shipments — even for non critical purchases.  If you have a choice, my suggestion is that you select only shipping modes that stay 100 percent with that particular shipping company, be it USPS, UPS or FedEx.  If you have to pick from less obvious shipping methods like Standard (ala Amazon), Two-Day or whatever, then pick Two-Day.  You may pay more; sometimes a lot more, however you will at least have a more accurate on the status of your package at any moment along its journey.

In this economy, I do not blame UPS or FedEx for taking advantage of the deals that the Postal Service offer them.  However, I have more confidence in a shipping solution when there’s only one shipping company to blame.  At least you know who to hold responsible when your package is lost or late!

Do you have any horror stories from shipping via UPS Surepost or FedEx Smartpost? Do tell!

About the Author

Joel McLaughlin
Joel is a consultant in the IT field and is located in Columbus, OH. While he loves Linux and tends to use it more than anything else, he will stoop to running closed source if it is the best tool for the job. His techno passions are Linux, Android, netbooks, GPS, podcasting and Amateur Radio.
  • Mitch

    Well, you get what you pay for.

  • Bill Storm

    Actually, Mitch, we DIDN’T get what we paid for. My wife paid $15 to ship a pair of shoes via FedEx, was told the usual 3-5 days, and then after the purchase was told it was shipping via FedEx SmartPost. The package never arrived, and USPS says they delivered it. Another SmartPost package has also gone missing for us, with tracking info indicating “in Transit” from our local Post Office for nine days. Nine days.

    So vendors are baiting with FedEx shipping, and switching to the budget service. So no, it’s a ripoff, and it makes me wonder if e-commerce is going to really continue to dominate.

  • The Vegetarian Site

    First Class Mail for $9.70? That would be a serious overpricing. USPS First Class is valid for packages up to 13 ounces, and the maximum price is still less than $4. (Or did you mean Priority Mail?)

  • Mike

    I guess my comments are more of a whine than horror story, but I’m someone who believes people should do what they say they will do. I don’t care if I chose free shipping, if you can’t get it to me for 12 days, then tell me upfront. I suppose the reason they don’t is because no one will chose that option anymore. For me it was irritating enough to reduce the number of purchases I make at Amazon.

  • Chuck

    Yeah, I paid 9 dollars shipping for one t-shirt from Target they didn’t have in store. 3-5 days was shipping time given with no choice in carriers. Then I find it is being shipped Surepost: time estimate 7 days at earliest. Not cool, and that’s not a cheap shipping price imo for one mens medium tee. Pocketing extra bucks at customers expense for cheap service without complete tracking or accountability.

  • Linda from KY

    We were not given a choice on sure post . What happened to us is this: We live in the country 8 miles to either small town. We get out mail in one of those towns although we live close to UPS outpost pick up only.
    First package . a gift. Never showed up although marked delivered. Second package was left at outpost site. They do not know us and have no way to contact us. Found that out by accident that perhaps they delivered it there. Took the woman time to find it as it was tossed on some unused shelf.
    All this is being said. The UPS drives by our house every day!!! That outpost is just around the corner and they can not deliver to us?????

  • Tachikara

    Everyone needs to write Amazon, FedEx, UPS and any vendor they use that ships them a package and inform them that you will not accept any package that uses the SmartPost or SurePost methods. I’ve done it and told them any package sent by this method will be refused. If enough people do this, those shipping methods would disappear.

  • dittoheadadt

    I’ve long despised FedEx SmartPost, and always with good reason. I realize your column is 4+ years old but I just had to share my most recent absurdity (May 2017). Ordered something small from FitBit directly. Their website says shipping takes 5 business days, 7 tops. They use FedEx StupidPost.

    The item took 18 calendar days to reach me. It was off the grid for 12 days after departing Georgia. Tracking info was all but useless.

    The FedEx tracking info on their website gave the package’s dimensions and weight. No side was > 12″ and the weight was 5 oz. Had the idiots at FitBit bothered to use JUST the US Postal Service, the package would’ve arrived in 3 days (from Indiana to Puerto Rico) via First-Class mail (not even Priority Mail!), for $2.85. I don’t know how much FedEx StupidPost cost FitBit to ship that package, but even if it was free, saving that $2.85 cost FitBit a customer.

    I never buy from merchants who use FedEx StupidPost. Period. I’ve dropped Keurig, LifeProof, FitBit, and Yeti, among others.

  • MichaelMac365

    I have been waiting on a package ordered from GNC for 19 days now. I finally got an update. It is being delivered today to the post office in Phoenix AZ for the post office to deliver it to me. I hope the post man likes a nice long scenic drive since I live in Temple Tx.