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Shipment Weight: Actual Weight Vs. Dimensional Weight

Shipment Weight: Actual Weight Vs. Dimensional Weight

Ever sent a package and ended up with a postage bill bigger than the package itself? Or maybe you've received a package that was practically filled with air, yet the shipping cost was sky-high.

It's all about the battle of the weights: actual weight vs. dimensional weight. But you might be thinking, "Weight is weight, isn't it?" Not quite in the world of shipping! 

In this article, we will help you discover the mystery of shipping weights for you. So, take a break from bubble-wrapping, dust off your scales, and let's delve into this together, so you can make your next shipping experience less of a guesswork game.

The battle between actual weight and dimensional weight plays a significant role in shipping costs. Actual weight refers to the weight of the package itself, while dimensional weight takes into account the size and space the package occupies during delivery. Carriers often charge based on the greater weight between the two.

1. Actual Weight: Understanding the Basics

When you think of shipping a package, the first thing you probably consider is "How much does it weigh?" That's what we call the actual Weight. It's quite simple – this is the weight of the package when you put it on your scales.

It includes the weight of your item and, of course, the packaging. The box, protective wraps, stickers, your super cute thank you note – everything that's going to travel with your item adds to the actual weight. 

If you want to measure the actual weight, gather your item along with everything else you're going to pack it with and pop it all onto a scale, and voila! That's your actual weight. 

Typically, the actual weight is measured in pounds (lbs) or kilograms (kg), depending on your location and your shipping carrier's preference. It's important to know your package's actual weight because it's often the first factor that carriers look at when determining shipping costs. Think of it as the first hurdle to clear. 

2. Dimensional Weight: Factoring in Size and Space

Dimensional weight takes into account not just the weight of your package, but also the space it's going to occupy during the delivery process.

You see, shipping isn't just about weight. It's also about space. Ever noticed how a huge, light box can cost more to ship than a small, heavy one? That’s because it takes up more room in the delivery truck or plane, and space is valuable real estate in the shipping world.

How do you calculate dimensional weight, you ask? You'll need to multiply the length, width, and height of your package, then divide by a specific number called a "divisor". This "divisor" or dimensional weight factor varies depending on the carrier and sometimes the destination of the package. In addition, it's important to note that shipping companies often round up the dimensional weight to the next whole pound.

Why care about dimensional weight? Well, shipping carriers use dimensional weight to ensure they're charging accurately for the space a package takes up in their vehicle, not just its actual weight. In cases where the dimensional weight exceeds the actual weight, they will use the dimensional weight to calculate the shipping cost. Essentially, they'll charge for whichever is greater.

3. Determining the Chargeable Weight

Remember when we said the shipping carrier will charge for whichever weight is greater – actual or dimensional? That's the chargeable weight. 

Let's say you have a package with an actual weight of 4 lbs (1.8 kg), but its dimensional weight comes out to be 6 lbs (2.7 kg). In this case, you'll be charged based on the 6 lbs because it's greater.

Knowing how to calculate your chargeable weight gives you the power to predict your shipping costs more accurately. No more surprises at the checkout! It’s like knowing the final price of a sweater after tax before you even reach the counter. 

4. Factors Influencing the Importance of Each Weight Type

The importance of weight type varies depending on what you’re shipping and where it's going. Sometimes you need to prioritize actual weight, other times dimensional weight. 

Here are some factors to consider when making decisions about your packaging and shipping methods. Understanding these factors can potentially lead to significant savings. 

Package Size

If you're shipping large, lightweight items (think fluffy teddy bears or pillows), dimensional weight is likely to have a greater impact on your shipping costs. The same goes for packages that are bulky and occupy significant space relative to their weight.

Package Weight 

When shipping heavy, small items, the actual weight tends to be the key factor. Actual weight is more significant when your packages are relatively dense or heavy compared to their size, such as with books or weights.

Carrier Rules

Different carriers have different rules and "divisors" or dimensional weight factors for calculating dimensional weight. It's always a smart move to check the specific policies of your chosen carrier.


For international shipping, carriers might give more consideration to dimensional weight due to space constraints on aircraft.

5. Optimizing Your Shipping Strategy

Now you've got your heads wrapped around the nitty-gritty of actual and dimensional weights. But how do you apply this newfound knowledge to your shipping strategies? Let's talk about how you can put it to use to optimize your shipping strategy.

  • Efficient Size: Choose packaging options that match your products' size to avoid excessive empty space or bulky packaging. Avoiding excessively large boxes for small items can help reduce the dimensional weight, hence lowering the cost.
  • Packaging Innovations: Stay updated on new packaging solutions designed to optimize both actual and dimensional weight for cost-effective and eco-friendly shipping. 
  • Minimizing Weight: Consider lightweight and eco-friendly packing materials to reduce the overall weight of your packages. At Impack, we offer a range of such materials that are good for the environment and your wallet. Our biodegradable mailer bags are made from eco-friendly materials that are designed to break down naturally over time, which reduces their impact on the environment. 
  • Carrier Comparison: Understanding the pricing models of various carriers can help you find the most cost-effective solution. Remember, different carriers may calculate dimensional weight differently. Consider carriers that offer favourable shipping rates based on your specific product dimensions and weights.
  • Shipping Volumes: If you typically ship in large volumes, negotiate rates with your carrier. Leveraging your shipping volume can lead to significant savings.
  • Regular Audits: Regularly reviewing and adjusting your shipping strategies based on your most common shipments can help keep costs low. Audit the size, weight and destination of your shipments to identify where savings can be made.

In Closing: Unbox Your Shipping Potential

Shipping doesn't need to become a weight on your shoulders. With some strategic thinking and a good understanding of actual vs. dimensional weight, you can optimize your process, provide better service to your customers, and keep your costs down. 

Remember, every product you ship represents your brand reaching out to your customers. And now, you're not only delivering great products, but you're also optimizing those deliveries for the best customer experience and cost efficiency. Talk about a win-win!

Feel like there’s more to explore in the world of smart shipping? There certainly is! For more tips, advice and eco-friendly packing supplies, click here. Let’s journey together toward greener, smarter, and more cost-effective shipping. Happy shipping! 


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