UK couriers – As an e-commerce retailer, you know that the success of your business depends on how well you manage shipping and returns. If you’re shipping merchandise to customers inside the UK (either domestically or internationally), it can be a challenge to figure out which courier best suits your needs. After all, the UK is Europe’s largest e-commerce market. That means competition among couriers here is at an all-time high—and so are customer expectations.
To make things a little easier for you, we’ve compiled this one-stop overview of the main delivery company options at your disposal for UK shipping. The goal of this article is to help you make a more informed choice, so that you get the best results from your courier partnerships in the UK. That means keeping your own costs under control, making your discerning UK customers happy and growing your e-commerce business.
But…. Before we start there’s a present for you: here you can download for free our carrier comparison guide. Find out pros, cons, pricing, services, shipping methods and much more. You’ll find detailed information for the principal UK couriers and a final positioning chart!
So many UK couriers, where to begin?
The logistics industry in the UK has never been more competitive than it is today. The enormous increase in e-commerce sales since the beginning of 2020 has resulted in a golden era for couriers around the world. Since the UK is Europe’s e-commerce epicentre, it is also one of the world’s leading markets for logistics companies. With so many more consumers relying on parcel services to receive goods, many couriers are now offering retail partners increasingly complex offers in an attempt to outshine other logistics brands.
Perhaps you’re choosing a UK courier for the first time. Or maybe you’re simply exploring your options to make sure your existing courier is the best match. Either way, the information contained in this article gives you exactly what you need to know. We’ll take a detailed look at these top UK couriers:
On top of this, we’ll also give you some useful guidance on how to determine which courier is likely to be the best fit for your business. As you know, logistics is one of your biggest expenses as an e-commerce retailer. That’s why it’s extremely important to weigh your logistics options carefully. What are the important factors you need to consider when choosing a courier? And how can you tell you’re getting the best possible service for your investment? Here’s an overview of the topics we’ll be covering in this article:
- Choosing UK couriers: what do I need to know first?
- Choosing the right UK couriers for your e-commerce business
- Quick guide to UK couriers (international and domestic)
- UK couriers for bulky shipments and pallets
- UK couriers: which is the most popular?
- UK couriers: is one enough for your customers?
As with any important choice related to your e-commerce business, there’s rarely a one-size-fits-all solution. No two e-commerce businesses are alike. In this guide, we provide the important questions that help you along the path to the right solution. But just remember: it’s up to you to answer those questions for yourself. And your answers will be based on your experience, how well you know your business, and what your shipping goals are for your UK customers.
Say your business is new to the UK market or you’re considering switching to a new UK courier for your existing business. What’s the first step to choosing the right courier to serve your UK customers?
Start by answering these key questions (and be sure to involve other members of your team in this process, if you don’t have all the answers yourself):
- What’s your current shipping volume? How many parcels are you shipping each month?
- What are you shipping? Are you shipping primarily standard-size packages, or do you often ship bulky/oversized items that require a special service level? How much do your parcels weigh on average?
- Where are you shipping to and from? Domestically inside the UK? From the UK to international recipients? From outside the UK to UK recipients?
- What is a feasible monthly or annual budget for your shipping costs?
- What do your customers expect of your shipping, in terms of price, speed and other services?
- What goals do you want to achieve by choosing the best UK courier? (For example, do you want to boost customer retention by offering better shipping? Or perhaps you want to achieve a specific amount of savings compared to your current courier?)
- Do you want to work with only one courier for all your UK shipments, or are you considering using multiple couriers?
From a business standpoint, it’s also crucial to have a clear idea of how much you want to spend on shipping. Establishing a budget gives you a guideline to ensure that your shipping spending remains on track.
Let’s look at Amazon.co.uk as an example. It is the UK’s top online retailer and it has become synonymous throughout the nation with fast, free shipment. But did you know that its parent company, Amazon.com, spends nearly 15% of its net sales on its fulfilment (order shipping) process each year?
The company also states in its official filing with the American Securities and Exchanges Commission that it expects for its spending on shipping to increase in the years ahead, as more of its customers take advantage of its premium shipping options. Meanwhile, Amazon has experienced over 20% growth in international sales year on year for the past four years. This clearly raises the question of how heavier spending on shipping might influence business success in general.
If you approach shipping from a customer-centric perspective, as Amazon does, you see that it enhances the customer’s perception of your brand and makes them more likely to return to your shop for repeat business. Yet, you also have to be realistic about what you can afford as a business owner. In any case, it’s worthwhile to offer the best possible shipping solutions that your budget will allow. The last thing you want is to risk losing loyal customers because of negative shipping experiences.
So, you’ve answered the questions above and set a budget for your shipping. Think of this information as your company’s ‘shipping profile’. It contains a quick overview of what makes your company’s shipping needs unique and what you expect in a shipping partner. Sounds a bit like online dating, doesn’t it? Well, just like online dating, you’re looking for a perfect match: that means a logistics partner that ticks all the right boxes.
Now it’s time to see which UK courier has what it takes to win your business. To get you moving in the right direction, we’ve compiled a list of the UK couriers, along with useful information that helps you see how they all stack up.
Check out the quick guide below and compare the features that each of these couriers offers. How well do these features line up with your company’s unique shipping profile? Be mindful that there may be more than one courier capable of meeting your company’s needs. Then it’s time to consider whether you might not want to partner with more than one at a time (and let’s just forget about that online dating comparison at this point!).
There’s hardly any courier more deeply connected with everyday life in the UK than Royal Mail. As the UK’s official postal service, it delivers to 29 million addresses throughout the country, 6 days a week. It also offers a wide range of both domestic and international shipping services for business customers. In addition, Royal Mail has recently begun offering specialised business support services that help retailers expand their business both within the UK and beyond.
Price: Royal Mail is one of the most competitively priced couriers in the UK. For small parcels (weighing up to 2 kg), for example, domestic shipping prices range from around £4 to £40, depending on delivery speed, insurance coverage and other factors.
On the low end of the price range, Royal Mail 2nd Class shipping within the UK costs under £4. This means three-day delivery (on average), along with up to around £20.00 of insurance coverage for loss or damage during shipping.
As with other leading couriers, Royal Mail offers a wide range of delivery services depending on the desired speed of delivery. Royal Mail Special Delivery ensures that items are ordered before certain times on the following day. For a 2 kg parcel, you can guarantee next-day delivery as follows:
- Before 9 a.m: around £40
- Before 10 a.m: around £30
- Before noon: around £20
- Next day (anytime): around £17
Compared with other couriers, Royal Mail offers fast delivery at a relatively low price. Another advantage for business customers is that Royal Mail currently offers free weekday pickup service from your location if you spend more than £15,000 on shipping with them each year (regular weekday collection normally costs approximately £800 annually for businesses that spend less than the £15,000 threshold with Royal Mail).
Special services: Royal Mail offers a range of useful services for business customers:
- Local Collect: Enabling your customers to conveniently pick up their parcels at the nearest post office.
- Tracked Returns: Allows customers to return merchandise by handing over their packages at the post office.
- Wide range of shipping options: Many different options (and prices) to choose from, depending on the service level you want to offer.
- Business services: Including CustomerFinder (which helps retailers locate potential customers), AddressNow Data, a vast database of UK customer addresses and AddressNow Capture, which helps automatically fill out customer address information.
- Warehousing: Royal Mail offers what it calls ‘tailor-made solutions’ for storing your company’s merchandise.
Reliability: in recent market research, Royal Mail ranked number 3 on a list of the UK’s best parcel delivery services. Because of the company’s iconic brand recognition, its extensive network and local expertise, it is highly popular and trusted. Its pick-up and drop-off services are also highly effective, because most UK citizens are highly aware of their nearest post office location and many even visit it regularly. This is not always the case with other courier collection points.
Drawbacks: while it offers speedy delivery at a low price, Royal Mail is not as highly ranked among consumers as some other UK couriers on the popular review site Trustpilot. Frequent complaints target the company’s online services and international parcel deliveries in particular. You can’t please everyone, of course, but if your goal is to offer your customers a more premium shipping experience, you may want to look to a more highly rated courier.
DPD is now a subsidiary of the French postal service, La Poste, but it originally began operating in 1970 as a UK-based company called Courier Express. Today, the company is still extremely popular in the UK. According to its website, DPD has recently opened a £100 million ‘Superhub’ in Hinckley that can sort up to 72,000 parcels per hour.
Price: DPD offers personalised pricing for business customers, based on your shipping profile. These require a contractual commitment and minimum order on your part, but might be a cost-effective solution if DPD offers all the shipping services that you are looking for.
For a next-day delivery on a parcel weighing up to 5 kg, DPD charges around £20. For around £23, you can ship a standard parcel weighing up to 30 kg for a next-day delivery. This means that DPD is quite flexible in terms of its weight classes, which is beneficial if your parcels tend to be on the heavy side.
Special services: So, how does DPD compare when it comes to special services that benefit you and your customer?
- Extensive pickup network: DPD claims that its parcel shop network is the best in the UK, with a network of 2,500 pickup locations (but this is a fairly small number compared to the 11,500 post offices serving Royal Mail customers throughout the country, and other couriers offer more parcel shops too).
- Convenient returns: DPD Pickup Returns allows customers to hand over returns at their local DPD parcel shop.
- Ship to Shop: This is a special business service that lets your customers have their orders shipped directly to a parcel shop rather than to their home.
- Flexibility: DPD gives recipients the flexibility to ‘divert’ parcels that are already in transit (to a local DPD parcel shop, for example). This is a very popular service for customers who may not always be at home to receive their incoming parcels.
- Logistics Solutions: DPD also offers warehousing and logistics solutions for business customers.
Reliability: DPD UK is one of the most highly rated UK couriers on Trustpilot, with 82% of consumers giving it a score of ‘Excellent’. It also topped the list of ‘best couriers’ according to a recent survey of UK consumers, with its subsidiary, DPD Local, coming in at number three on the same list. This suggests that UK consumers have a positive perception of DPD, which might reflect well on your brand if you let your customers choose DPD as their shipping method.
Drawbacks: Since DPD’s price categories for parcels are based on fairly broad weight ranges, you might wind up paying more with them for shipping smaller items than if you were using a different courier that offers lower prices for low-weight parcels (although, on the other hand, as mentioned before, this could be an advantage if you’re shipping heavier items).
Though its parent company is headquartered in Germany, Hermes now claims to be the UK’s number-one courier in terms of volume, handling 245 million parcels each year. The company’s local success may be due in part to the many top UK online retailers that it works for, such as ASOS, Tesco and John Lewis.
Price: Hermes offers discounted rates to business account holders. Its standard prices for parcels are highly competitive, comparable with those of Royal Mail. Next-day shipment for a package of up to 2 kg costs as little as £6, and that’s without a business-rate discount.
The company also offers very low rates on parcels sent internationally from the UK to other parts of Europe, with prices generally ranging from around £6 to £10 for a 1 kg parcel, depending on the destination country.
Special services: Hermes already serves a number of high-profile business customers in the UK. Will your company be the next? Here’s what they’re offering:
- Business rates: Discounted shipping for business account holders who ship more than 150 parcels a week.
- Specialised local support in the UK: Existing Hermes customers often point to the excellent customer service experience they receive.
- Convenient pickups: With 4,500 local parcel shops in the UK, Hermes outnumbers many other couriers by far.
- Manage My Delivery: An online service that uses GPS information and secured photo location to provide a highly detailed tracking experience.
Reliability: Though less beloved than DPD, Hermes still fares pretty well on Trustpilot, where 72% of reviewers say it is an ‘Excellent’ company to do business with. However, the consumers polled in the market research mentioned above had a less positive view, considering Hermes one of the bottom three couriers, with only 29% of them giving it a score of ‘Great’.
Drawbacks: Despite good value for money and a vast network of pickup locations, Hermes is not quite as popular among UK consumers than some other couriers. That means it could be a stumbling block if the only shipping option you offer your UK customers is Hermes.
Part of the DHL Group, UK Mail specialises in printing services and postal delivery within the UK. It operates 52 hubs and claims to deliver to 30 million homes in the UK every day, making it the UK’s largest postal operator. The company is also eager to promote its high-tech and environmentally-friendly shipping solutions. These include ‘Hybrid Mail’ which enable business owners to simply upload digital documents to a web portal. UK Mail prints these documents and posts them on the business customer’s behalf.
While it is popular in the UK for its postal services, UK Mail does not offer its own parcel deliveries. These are handled instead by its parent company, DHL (for detailed information about DHL shipping service, see the section on DHL below).
Parcelforce is a subsidiary of Royal Mail dedicated specifically to domestic and international parcel shipping. As a result, it offers even more flexible and specific options for shipping parcels than its parent company. It specialises in fast delivery, with most of its parcels being delivered within the UK in under two days.
Price: Parcelforce’s prices are similar (and, in some cases, identical) to those of Royal Mail, although it does not offer standard (slower) delivery services within the UK. The lowest price for shipping a 2 kg parcel within the UK is around £12 (for 48-hour delivery time), with next-day delivery options ranging in price up to £40 (see the Royal Mail price information above).
International shipments with Parcelforce are usually delivered within 2 to 4 days. Prices are determined according to a ‘zone’ system, with each region around the world being categorised into a specific zone. For all Western European zones, shipping a 2 kg parcel ranges in price from around £20 to around £55, depending on selected speed of delivery. Prices are higher for other parts of the world (around £33 – £68 for shipping to the US, for example).
Special services: Parcelforce is a dedicated parcel courier, offering fast shipment at very attractive prices. With benefits like these, could it be your key to the UK market?
- Vast pickup and delivery network: Complete overlap with the Royal Mail delivery network, including access to 11,500 UK post offices.
- Rewards4U program: Shippers enjoy 15% savings when they ship more than one parcel a week.
- Express deliveries: Fast deliveries throughout the UK, even on Sundays.
- Generous insurance coverage: Included as standard with all delivery options, plus the choice to purchase additional cover for even higher-value items.
Reliability: Parcelforce is by far the least popular major UK courier on Trustpilot, where 70% of consumers give it a ‘Bad’ rating. However, the UK consumer survey cited above is a bit kinder, with 41% saying they think Parcelforce is ‘Great’.
Drawbacks: Despite many benefits for retailers (especially low price and fast delivery), Parcelforce is not as popular among UK consumers as some other couriers. This means it might be off-putting to offer Parcelforce as the only shipping option for your UK customers to choose from. Also, because Parcelforce specialises in express shipment, it is more expensive than other couriers that offer slower delivery options.
DHL is one of the world’s largest logistics companies, operating in 220 countries, with a global workforce of 380,000 employees. Though the company originated in the UK, it positions itself largely as an international logistics firm today, offering competitive cross-border shipping prices for parcels to and from the UK. It is also a popular choice for domestic shipping.
DHL Express is a subsidiary of DHL that offers only international shipping. Its prices are equivalent to those offered by its parent company, DHL.
Price: DHL offers special volume-based discounts for business customers. Domestic shipping within the UK for a 2 kg parcel, for example, is:
- around £3 for next-day delivery from a DHL depot to another DHL depot
- around £7 for door-to-door shipping (collection from your location and delivery to the customer’s address)
These low prices, combined with DHL’s fast delivery service, make it an appealing choice for online retailers in the UK.
Like Parcelforce, DHL uses a ‘zone’ system to categorise each destination country around the world. Depending on the zone, it can cost anywhere from around £50 to around £70 to ship a 2 kg package using DHL’s Economy Select service.
For DHL Express Worldwide shipping, prices for a 2 kg package range from around £53 to around £106.
These international shipping prices make DHL one of the more expensive couriers. However, DHL and DHL Express operate one of the world’s largest logistics networks, which means they can be trusted for shipping to and from nearly any location.
Special services: DHL is a popular choice for both domestic and international e-commerce shipping. Are any of these services important for your business?
- Customs services: For a fee, DHL helps prepare international shipments for customs clearance. They also offer an online tool that helps you fill out customs documentation.
- MyDHL portal: Business account holders have access to a special dashboard where they can manage and track all their inbound and outbound shipments.
- GoGreen Climate Neutral: Offer your customers environmentally friendlier shipping for just a few extra pence on each kilo of shipping weight.
- Very flexible pricing: The DHL pricing chart is one of the most detailed in the UK, with prices based on very specific weight categories and shipping zones.
- Vast depot and pickup network: DHL operates over 3,500 ServicePoints in the UK, which means it has better coverage than some other UK couriers.
Reliability: DHL is a relatively popular choice among UK consumers, with 71% giving it an ‘Excellent’ score on Trustpilot. The survey of UK consumers quoted above was less generous. Only 41% of UK consumers polled gave DHL a score of ‘Great’.
Meanwhile, international shipping recipients in the UK have a fairly poor view of DHL Express, according to Trustpilot, where the company scores only 2.6 out of 5 stars.
Drawbacks: Though DHL offers highly competitive domestic shipping, its international shipping services are relatively expensive. It also offers only two service levels for international shipping from the UK, and the price for its lower-cost option (‘Economy’) shipping is already higher than many competitors.
Also, DHL Express is also not very well-regarded by UK customers, which means that it may not be the most popular choice for shipping an international order to them.
US-based UPS is a direct competitor of major international logistics firms like DHL. Accordingly, it also operates in over 220 countries worldwide and maintains a vast international delivery network. In recent years, it has become better established in the UK as a domestic delivery service, and now serves many online retailers in the country.
Price: In terms of price, UPS is quite comparable to DHL, though slightly more expensive in some cases. For a domestic shipment of a 2 kg parcel in the UK, prices range from around £4 to around £12, depending on the selected level of service.
For next-day door-to-door delivery, the 2 kg parcel would cost around £9 to ship using UPS (compared to only around £7 using DHL).
International shipping with UPS from the UK to another country is relatively expensive. UPS also uses a ‘zone’ tariff system. In addition, it offers a wide range of service levels with various delivery times and other conditions:
- For UPS Standard service, the price for shipping a 2 kg parcel internationally from the UK ranges from around £29 to around £92, depending on the destination country’s zone (with Western European countries all falling into the cheapest zone for shipping from the UK).
- UPS Express international shipping for the same 2 kg parcel costs between around £53 and £130.
Special services: UPS is a trusted name for retailers around the world. Will its special services make it a good fit for your e-commerce business?
- Flexible international shipping: Of all the major couriers operating in the UK, UPS offers the widest range of international shipping options, with as many as seven different levels of service to choose from.
- Supply-chain management: UPS offers customs clearance and supply-chain management services designed to lower your business’s time to market.
- Sizeable pickup network: Though not as large as some other UK couriers, UPS maintains a network of around 2,800 Access Point pickup locations in the UK.
- Predictable pricing: UPS uses a specific formula for determining its prices, based on the parcel’s destination zone and billable weight.
Reliability: Based on its Trustpilot rating, UPS is by far the least popular of the major couriers in the UK. Nearly 92% of consumers who rated UPS UK gave it a ‘Poor’ rating. In the UK consumer survey cited above, however, UPS came out around the middle of the rankings, with 42% of respondents giving it a ‘Great’ score.
Drawbacks: Despite offering flexible domestic shipping at competitive prices, UPS is slightly more expensive in most cases than its main premium shipping competitor, DHL. Additionally, it may not be the most popular choice among UK customers, based on its rather poor ratings on Trustpilot.
One of the largest couriers in the United States, FedEx has been expanding throughout Europe for more than three decades. Along with its subsidiary, TNT, it is a popular solution for UK retailers for both domestic and international shipping.
Price: FedEx is less transparent about its pricing for domestic UK shipping compared with other couriers. This makes it difficult to compare FedEx in terms of price. However, UK-based businesses can set up a business account with FedEx to request pricing quotes for their shipments.
For international shipping, a next-day delivery of a 2 kg parcel shipped from the UK to a Western European country, FedEx charges between £92 and £118, making it clearly more expensive than other couriers.
Special services: is FedEx on your radar as a possible logistics partner for the UK? Here’s a look at what it offers e-commerce retailers:
- FedEx Global Returns: An online portal that lets you manage return shipping, including customisable email shipping labels.
- Personalised quotes: Discounted personalised rates for business account holders.
Reliability: like its fellow American competitor, UPS, FedEx is also not widely admired by the UK public, judging from its 90% ‘Bad’ rating on Trustpilot. Yet, again, the consumer survey is a bit kinder, placing FedEx near the middle of the pack with 41% of consumers giving it a ‘Great’ score.
Drawbacks: FedEx is more expensive for international shipping than its competitors. It is also less transparent about its pricing, which makes it difficult to compare. In addition to this, it is not widely popular among UK customers, based on its poor performance on Trustpilot.
Yodel is a UK-based provider of low-cost shipping that caters specifically to retailers who ship smaller items (under 25 kg in weight). The company launched in 2010. Since then, it has gained popularity among UK retailers because of its affordability and heavily digitised product offering. It operates a network of 50 depots across the UK, enabling it to deliver domestic shipments within 48 hours, though its international shipping does not compete on speed.
Price: Yodel offers either next-day or two-day delivery, with both starting at prices around £6 (next-day delivery is around 25 p. more expensive than two-day delivery).
It also offers international shipping starting at around £9.50 for delivery within 3 to 5 working days.
Special services: your business is up and coming. Will you trust your shipping to a fellow newcomer like Yodel? Here’s what it offers:
- No frills, low-cost shipping: If you are looking for a low-cost shipping partner that offers basic shipping service, Yodel might be a good choice. It offers only three service levels (two for domestic and one for international shipping), which means it is fairly transparent in terms of price.
- Numerous integrations: Yodel offers multiple shipping tools that its customers can integrate into their own third-party shipping tools or CRMs.
Reliability: judging from Trustpilot, Yodel has a strong reputation in the UK, with 73% of consumers giving it an ‘Excellent’ rating. However, the consumer survey respondents were not so enthusiastic: Yodel came out at the bottom of the list, with only around one in five UK consumers saying it was ‘Great.’
Drawbacks: Yodel provides a fairly basic product offering, with only three service levels to choose from. Despite its low prices, which are attractive to many retailers, its stripped-down service is less flexible, which may make it less of a hit among customers.
The couriers described above offer unique mixes of services that cater to different types of business customers. But what if you need to ship oversized items or pallets? In that case, your courier options are somewhat more limited, but there’s fortunately still plenty to choose from.
Of the top UK couriers described in this article, DPD, DHL, UPS, Parcelforce and FedEx all offer special services for shipping pallets and oversized goods.
UK citizens are by far the most likely people in Europe to use courier services, with an average of 48 shipments per person per year (with Germany in distant second place at 41 per year).
With the popularity of e-commerce and delivery services in the UK, logistics is a billion-pound industry here. But which delivery companies are leading the pack when it comes to sheer volume?
According to market research from insurancefactory, the top five most-used UK couriers in 2018 were:
- Royal Mail
- Amazon Logistics
It is remarkable that Amazon Logistics is now outperforming even major couriers like DHL and UPS in terms of volume in the UK. Another striking statistic is that Royal Mail leads this list by a huge margin: it delivered 1.2 billion parcels in 2018, compared to 314 million delivered by Hermes and 228 million by Amazon. In other words, Royal Mail delivers about three times more parcels than its nearest competitor, Hermes.
Now that you’ve seen what each of the UK’s leading couriers has to offer your business, remember to consider each of them through your customers’ eyes too. Does one courier have all the services that you need to offer a competitive, attractive shipping policy to your UK customer base?
Increasingly, online retailers are choosing to partner with multiple logistics partners so they can offer customers the flexibility they desire. Many customers are happy to pay additional costs in exchange for faster, more convenient shipping options. Others are less concerned with speed of delivery and prefer the cheapest shipping costs possible (especially free shipping).
If speed is not a major factor for your deliveries, it may be advisable to offer a lower-cost ‘standard’ delivery option (like Royal Mail). However, you may also wish to offer a faster ‘express delivery option’ in addition (like Parcelforce, DHL or UPS).
Your customers may not expect you to offer free same-day delivery, but it is worthwhile to consider offering free ‘standard’ shipping. This helps you stand out from your competitors and compete head-on with the UK’s e-commerce giants like Amazon.co.uk.
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