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[ The PC Guide | The PC Buyer's Guide | Purchasing PCs and Components | Delivery Methods and Issues ]

Delivery Methods and Carriers

Most companies will provide you with choices regarding which delivery method and carrier you wish to use. However, some provide more options than others. It seems to depend mostly on the deals that the vendors and manufacturers work out with the different carrier companies--if a carrier wants the company's business badly enough, they might even offer that company a deal so good that they get exclusive rights to ship their packages.

The most common carriers for deliveries of computer equipment are the following (again, I am being Americentric here, sorry):

  • United Parcel Service (UPS): Probably the most popular carrier because they are inexpensive, especially for ground shipment. UPS does a good job of shipping most items, though some people do have occasional problems with them. They also offer air shipments, including next-day delivery. They do not deliver on weekends or holidays.
  • Federal Express: Probably the most popular of the overnight delivery companies, FedEx is usually a good choice if you need a smaller item delivered in a hurry. Some companies will even offer early AM or Saturday delivery. However, FedEx is usually more expensive than UPS, and the cost only increases the faster you want the package sent.
  • Other Air Couriers: There are a host of companies that compete with Federal Express, such as Express Airborne and DHL. They are similar to Federal Express in most respects, but are not as commonly used unless they have a special arrangement with the vendor.
  • The United States Postal Service (USPS): The USPS is a great option for some types of packages, that most people don't consider (and many vendors don't offer). It is best for smaller items of relatively low value, since unlike the other couriers, regular US mail parcels aren't trackable. It's biggest strength? Small items sent from far away. I live in New England, and if I order a small item from California it can take six days to get it here by UPS ground. The USPS will usually do it in three days for around the same cost, or even less.

Most very large items are shipped by UPS, because they provide the best balance of speed and cost, particularly for items weighing more than 20 pounds. However, UPS has a maximum weight limit of 150 pounds. If for some reason you are buying something that exceeds that weight, you'll need to make arrangements for the item to be sent by common carrier (commercial truck). Of course this has no relevance to ordinary desktop PCs and even most larger systems, but some large servers can weigh over 150 pounds. So can some uninterruptible power supply systems, due to the weight of their batteries.

When you place your order, always ask the person taking the order to tell you all the options for delivery, and what they cost. Sometimes companies have special arrangements with one carrier, so the prices don't always make a lot of sense relative to the speed of delivery. Company "A" might want $10 to send a package by ground and $25 to send it by air, while company "B" might want $15 for ground delivery and only $20 for air shipment on the same item. I've even seen air shipment sometimes cheaper than ground delivery!

A final option in some cases, if you live physically close to a mail order or online vendor, is to offer to pick up your order. The advantage of this is that you save on the shipping charges, but it's generally impractical. Aside from the fact that time has value too and most reputable companies have reasonable shipping charges, it's rare for most people to find a good vendor that is geographically close enough for this to make any sense. Also, many companies won't do it, not because they have "something to hide" but simply because their system has no way to set it up, or they don't want customers at their warehouses. Don't forget that many online vendors also ship from several different warehouses as well, so the "main address" of the company may not be of relevance for determining your proximity.

Next: Order Tracking

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