Definition of Terms: Parcel vs Package
Parcel: A parcel is formally defined as a small container or bundle that contains items to be transported from one place to another. Parcels are most commonly associated with shipping personal mail and goods. They are often used for sending gifts, care packages, or items sold through peer-to-peer ecommerce. The key characteristics of a parcel are that it is typically small, lightweight, and contains low-commercial-value contents meant for an individual recipient.
Package: A package refers to a larger container that holds higher-value commercial goods or bulk items meant for business use. Packages are commonly used by ecommerce companies and retailers to ship customer orders. They tend to exceed size and weight limitations for regular mail and are handled separately by carriers. Packages can contain multiple individually wrapped parcels inside.
While a parcel usually only has one delivery destination, a package may have items for multiple recipients. The main attributes of a package are its bulk size, heavier weight, commercial contents, and delivery speed.
In a nutshell:
|Small container or bundle for personal use
|Larger container for commercial or business use
|Size and Weight Limits
|Smaller and lighter weight
|Larger and more flexible size and weight limits
|Personal mail, gifts, care packages
|Commercial goods, business use
|Shipping Methods and Transit Times
|Ground delivery, longer transit times
|Air delivery, faster transit times
|Shipping and Handling Costs
|Economical ground shipping
|Higher shipping costs, especially for air transport
|Regulations and Restrictions
|Subject to carrier and international regulations
|Often subject to more stringent regulations
|Destination and Reach
|Limited international reach, slower transit
|Broader international reach, faster transit
|Packaging Materials and Methods
|Cardboard boxes, padded envelopes, paper sacks
|Corrugated boxes, wood crates, metal containers
|Best Practices for Packaging
|Sturdy boxes, void fill, proper sealing
|Sturdy packaging, bracing for heavy items
|Generally less expensive
|Tends to have higher shipping rates
|Slower transit times
|Faster transit times, ideal for urgent shipments
|Low-value personal items
|Valuable business inventory, specialized contents
|Limited insurance coverage
|More built-in insurance coverage and declare-value options
|Tracking and Security
|Advanced tracking and security measures
|Role in E-Commerce and Business
|Important for e-commerce logistics
|Essential for managing orders and inventory in e-commerce
Let’s Take A Look At The Context
The shipping of parcels and packages has a long history, evolving alongside advancements in transportation and logistics. Parcel delivery likely originated with postal systems, which have existed in some form for thousands of years, enabling the transport of letters, documents and small packages. Larger packages would have been shipped by merchants through carriage, wagons, boats and trains as transportation modes developed.
The term "parcel" has its origins in the 16th century from the French word "parcele" meaning a small bundle. Its meaning specifically related to postal shipments can be traced back to the 1800s. The use and definition of "package" as a larger wrapped bundle emerged in the early 20th century.
The rise of rail and steam ships enabled faster and higher-volume package shipping in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Package delivery companies like UPS and FedEx were founded in the early 1900s to facilitate domestic US package shipping for businesses. As aviation advanced, air mail expanded parcel and package transportation globally.
In the late 20th century, the dramatic growth of online commerce pushed innovations in logistics and delivery networks to better handle individual consumer packages and parcels. Package delivery services expanded into complex supply chains and last-mile delivery capabilities to serve the needs of e-commerce. The lines between parcels and packages have blurred as carriers optimized routes and infrastructure to deliver anything customers order online.
Today, the expedited shipment of parcels and packages worldwide is a massive industry, with the terms often used interchangeably. However, the traditional size and weight distinctions still provide some utility in understanding shipping options and costs. The evolution of parcel and package delivery continues to be shaped by the needs of global e-commerce.
Parcel vs Package: Unpacking Their Main Differences
Size and Weight Differences
Parcels and packages have distinct size and weight limits set by shipping carriers. These restrictions help carriers streamline their logistics operations.
Parcels tend to be smaller and lighter weight compared to packages.
For example: The maximum dimensions for a parcel shipped by USPS are 108 inches combined length and girth (the distance around the thickest part) and 130 inches for the length plus girth. Common parcel carriers like USPS, FedEx, and UPS set weight limits of 70 pounds for their various parcel shipping services.
Packages have more flexible size and weight ranges since they are shipped by freight carriers. A standard maximum size is 165 inches length plus girth for UPS Ground packages. Weight limits can reach 150 pounds for UPS and FedEx and unlimited weight for freight trucking. The limits allow packages to contain bulkier and heavier commercial shipments or multiple grouped items.
Carriers need to balance their logistics networks when setting size and weight restrictions. Smaller, lighter parcels can move efficiently through sorting centers optimized for speed. Larger, heavier packages require more handling and slower transport trucks optimized for carrying capacity over speed. Understanding these differences allows shippers to select the best option to ship their items securely and cost-effectively.
Intended Use Differences
Parcels are more commonly used for personal mail and gifts sent to other individuals. You may go to the post office to mail a birthday present or care package to a friend or family member via parcel delivery. The contents are usually something personal.
On the other hand, packages are more often used for commercial or business purposes. Companies frequently utilize package shipping services to send wholesale orders of inventory or products to retail stores. The contents inside a package are typically merchandise, documents, or other business-related items.
While individuals can use packages and businesses can use parcels on occasion, this delineation between personal versus commercial intent is a key difference. The type of contents being shipped and the reason for the shipment tends to dictate whether it should be classified as a parcel or package.
Shipping and Handling Differences
Parcels and packages are handled differently by carriers when it comes to shipping methods, transit times, and tracking capabilities.
Parcels are handled through nationwide ground delivery services by companies like USPS, FedEx, and UPS. Delivery times for parcels sent ground often range from 2-8 business days depending on the shipping distance and carrier. Tracking capabilities for parcels include the ability to monitor each leg of the delivery journey with estimated delivery dates.
Packages are more commonly shipped via air delivery methods like Priority Mail Express or overnight shipping. This allows for expedited delivery times of 1-3 days depending on destination. Packages sent by air have expanded tracking that includes signature confirmation of receipt and itemized status scans at each step. The cost of shipping a package via air is substantially higher than ground parcel delivery.
Carriers may impose some restrictions on parcels and packages based on factors like weight, dimensions, and declared value. For example, many carriers set maximum weight limits of 150 lbs for parcels but up to 500 lbs for package shipments. Understanding these restrictions can help determine the best shipping method when deciding between parcel and package delivery.
Overall, the main differences come down to delivery speed, price, and shipment tracking capabilities. Parcels offer economical ground shipping while packages provide faster air transport with more detailed monitoring.
Regulations and Restrictions
Parcels and packages are subject to different regulations and restrictions depending on the carrier or shipping regulations in the destination country. These rules dictate what can and cannot be shipped as well as labeling and documentation requirements.
Some key differences include:
- Size and weight restrictions - Carriers like USPS, UPS, and FedEx have limits on the maximum size and weight of parcels versus packages they will deliver. Exceeding these limits can result in additional fees or refusal of shipment.
- Prohibited contents - Certain hazardous, restricted, or illegal items cannot be shipped at all or have special rules for packaging and labeling. This includes things like alcohol, tobacco, firearms, batteries, and aerosols. Packages tend to have more stringent restrictions than basic parcels.
- Customs declarations - International packages and parcels usually require customs paperwork that details the contents, value, and origin. Different levels of detail are required based on the destination country.
- Security screening - Packages sent by air are subject to TSA screening. Some items like electronics or liquids may require special handling or be prohibited on air transport altogether.
- Insurance requirements - Carriers often mandate insurance for packages above a certain dollar value, while parcels have more flexible insurance rules. This affects the cost and logistics.
- Labeling standards - The addressing, hazard labels, and other markings required can vary between parcels and packages depending on contents, origin country, carrier policies, etc.
Understanding the regulations and following proper protocols for restricted items, paperwork, labeling, and screening ensures lawful, efficient shipping of parcels and packages to their destination.
Destination and Reach Differences
When shipping internationally, there are important distinctions in how parcels and packages are treated.
Parcels sent internationally are often subject to certain restrictions, customs procedures, and additional fees that don't apply to domestic mail. The specific regulations depend on the destination country but can include duties, taxes, and additional handling costs that the recipient is responsible for paying.
International parcels may also face more scrutiny at customs compared to packages. They are often limited in terms of allowable contents, value thresholds, and other import restrictions imposed by the destination country. Commercial goods bought online and shipped internationally are more likely to be sent as packages rather than parcels due to these limitations.
Packages shipped internationally through major carriers have well-established networks and procedures for moving goods between countries. They utilize centralized hubs and more streamlined customs brokerage services. Packages are more accommodating for commercial shipments as they have higher value limits, as well as options for insurance, tracking, and priority handling.
The reach for international package shipping is generally better than parcels. Packages can be shipped to a wider range of destinations, with greater reliability and shipping options based on the carrier's global infrastructure. Parcels are mostly handled domestically within a country's own postal network before needing to transfer through multiple postal systems when sent overseas, which can increase transit times.
Packaging Materials and Methods
Common packaging materials used for parcels include cardboard boxes, padded envelopes, and paper shipping sacks. Cardboard boxes allow for protection of the parcel contents and come in a variety of sizes. Padded envelopes offer cushioning and are a lower cost option for smaller, lightweight parcels. Paper shipping sacks are a basic economical choice for apparel, soft goods, and low value items.
For packages, common packaging options are corrugated boxes, wood crates, and metal shipping containers. Corrugated cardboard is versatile, lightweight and cost-effective for many packages. Wood crates provide extremely sturdy packaging for heavy equipment, liquids, and sensitive instrumentation. Metal shipping containers offer the most durable and secure transport for high value goods.
Best practices for safe parcel delivery include using sturdy boxes with ample void fill cushioning inside, properly sealing the box using quality tape or adhesives, and clearly labeling with the delivery and return address as well as any special handling instructions. Do not overstuff parcels or use flimsy boxes. For added protection, wrap fragile items separately before boxing.
When packaging heavier packages, brace the contents firmly so they do not shift during transit. Use straps, custom cut foam, or supporting structures inside the package as needed. Adhere all required shipping labels securely. Mark the weight on packages over 50 lbs. Choose water-resistant packaging for liquids. Follow dangerous goods shipping requirements for hazardous materials. Observe any restrictions and limitations from the carrier. With proper packaging and handling, both parcels and packages can arrive intact at their destination.
Choosing Between Parcel and Package Shipping
When you need to ship an item, deciding between parcel and package shipping involves weighing several factors:
- Cost - Parcel shipping is generally less expensive than package shipping for smaller, lighter items. Packages tend to have higher rates due to extra services and more involved handling. Compare rates across carriers for your specific item weight and destination.
- Speed - Packages typically move faster than parcels, as they have access to priority shipping lanes and methods. However, small parcels can still be sent via express services. Consider your timeline - packages are ideal for urgent shipments.
- Destination - If sending to a residential address, parcels are often preferred. Packages require a commercial address with a shipping/receiving department. Verify that your recipient can accept packages.
- Contents - Parcels suit low-value personal items, while packages allow shipping of valuable business inventory or hazardous materials with special services. Assess your item's characteristics.
- Size and weight - The size and weight capacity for parcels is more restricted than packages. Ensure your dimensions and weight fall within the carrier's guidelines. Oversized or heavy items may need to ship as a package.
- Insurance needs - Packages often come with more built-in insurance coverage and declare-value options. For valuable contents requiring sizable insurance, a package may provide more protection.
- Tracking and security - Packages generally include more advanced tracking and security measures during transit. For irreplaceable or critical contents, the enhanced traceability of a package may be preferable.
Choosing the optimal shipping method involves balancing these considerations against your specific priorities like budget, delivery urgency, and risk tolerance. Evaluate the trade-offs to determine whether a parcel or package better suits your needs. Test different options to find the ideal solution for each situation. With the right information, you can make an informed choice.
Role in E-Commerce and Business
The distinction between parcels and packages is critical for e-commerce businesses of all sizes. Understanding the terminology allows companies to make informed decisions when shipping orders to customers and receiving inventory and supplies.
On e-commerce platforms, merchants must set up shipping rules and options that align with how carriers classify parcels and packages. This includes setting weight and size limits for parcel shipping rates versus package shipping rates. Merchants who improperly categorize parcel-sized items as packages can incur significantly higher costs over time.
Likewise, not realizing an incoming shipment from suppliers needs to be sent as a package rather than a parcel can also drive up expenses. Savvy e-commerce sellers train staff to identify when a parcel versus package approach is most suitable for their logistics operations.
Implementing parcel management software helps e-commerce companies streamline shipping workflows. Features like automatic dimensional calculations, dynamic rate comparison across carriers, and custom business rules tailored to parcel versus package distinctions can optimize downstream fulfillment.
Overall, e-commerce success depends on efficiently moving inventory to customers and replenishing stock. Mastering parcel and package shipping strategies and guidelines gives online sellers an advantage in managing orders, inventory, and profits.