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Shipping Bits: Who's Faster on the Web? FedEx, UPS, or DHL?

Speed of delivery is important on and off the Web. Just ask three of the top overnight shipping companies, FedEx, UPS, and DHL. All offer speedy delivery of packages the next day, and even the next morning. But how do they deliver to their customers on-line who absolutely have to have it within 8 to 10 seconds? To find out, we compared these three shipping staples for speed and accessibility. How well did these shipping sites deliver?

All three US homepages were better than average, while one worldwide homepage took over a minute to load. All three US homepages did not meet our speed guidelines. FedEx bested UPS and DHL in the online homepage speed race, with a home page over 40% smaller and 20% faster than DHL and UPS. DHL.com was over three times larger than FedEx.com's US home page.

To see how well they comply with the speed guidelines published in my book Speed Up Your Site (http://www.speedupyoursite.com) we analyzed the US home pages of FedEx.com, UPS.com, and DHL.com. Each home page was analyzed using our free Web Page Analyzer plus an additional tool to detect dynamic content. The results of our analysis are listed in Table 1, sorted by total page size.

Table 1: FedEx.com versus UPS.com versus DHL.com US Home Page Speed Analysis (file size in bytes)

Shipping CompanyTotal Page SizeHTTP RequestsHTML SizeJavaScript Size/ FilesCSS Size/ FilesImage Size/ FilesFlash SizeDownload Time* (seconds)
FedEx.com (US)56,7751822,77911,614/23,222/1 19,170/14N/A14/16
DHL.com US95,6901822,9330/00/0 72,757/17N/A11/20
UPS.com (US)96,5351931,2219,927/213,255/1 42,132/15N/A19/22
DHL.com175,7162942,26383,060/1024,900/3 25,493/15N/A65/78^

*The download times were measured on a Macintosh PowerBook with a fast 56Kbps connection. The first number is the time in seconds it takes for useful content to display. The second figure is the time it takes for the entire page to load (i.e., useful content/entire page)

^DHL.com includes a "Select Your DHL.com" popup that takes 177 seconds to load in a 56Kbps modem (see Figure 1). DHL.com's worldwide home page was over three times slower to load than their US home page.

DHL.com select your country page - Jan. 15, 2004

Figure 1: DHL.com country selector popup

Results Summary

FedEx had a US home page of 56,775 bytes. FedEx's HTML file size was 22,779 bytes, with 11,614 bytes in two external JavaScript files. One CSS file contributed 3,222 bytes, while 14 images contributed 19,170 bytes to the total page size. Overall, the total page load time was 16 seconds on a 56Kbps modem, taking 14 seconds to display useful content to the screen. (see Figure 2).

FedEx.com US Home Page - Jan. 13, 2004

Figure 2: FedEx.com US Home Page

The DHL US home page came in second for total page load time and first for loading useful content. DHL US was 95,690 bytes in total, with 18 total HTTP requests. HTML contributed 22,933 bytes, with no external JavaScript or CSS files. 17 images added 72,757 bytes to the total page payload. DHL US loaded useful content in 11 seconds, and took 20 seconds to fully load on a 56Kbps modem (see Figure 3).

DHL.com US Home Page - Jan. 16, 2004

Figure 3: DHL.com US Home Page

The UPS US home page weighed in at 96,535 bytes in total. The UPS home page consisted of a 31,221 byte HTML file, 9,927 bytes in two external JavaScripts, 13,255 bytes in one external CSS file, and 15 images contributing 42,132 bytes to the total page size. Overall, the US home page of UPS.com loaded in 22 seconds on a 56Kbps modem, taking 19 seconds to display useful content (see Figure 4).

UPS.com US Home Page - Jan. 13, 2004

Figure 4: UPS.com US Home Page

Of the three shipping worldwide home pages tested, DHL.com came in last in both size and download speed. DHL.com was 175,716 bytes in total, with 29 total HTTP requests. HTML made up 42,263 bytes, 10 JavaScript files contributed 83,060 bytes, three CSS files chipped in 24,900 bytes, while 15 images added 25,493 to the total page size. DHL.com loaded useful content in over a minute (65 seconds) and took 78 seconds to fully load on a 56Kbps modem.


For most US homes that use a "narrowband" connection of 56Kbps or less (King 2004) all of these home pages take over 11 seconds to load useful content to the screen. This is above the attention threshold of most users. Ideally, you want to deliver something useful for your users to interact with within 1 to 2 seconds. Overall, users prefer page load times of 8 to 10 seconds without feedback, regardless of bandwidth (King 2003).

For US homepage speed, FedEx is the clear winner compared to UPS and DHL (see Figure 2: FedEx.com Home Page [US]). FedEx's smaller total size (56,775 versus 95,690 bytes for DHL, and 96,535 bytes for UPS) is the product of tighter HTML, optimized images, and well-abstracted CSS. The attention to detail shows, the FedEx page feels more responsive.

Page size and complexity have a direct influence on download and display time. Slow load times are the number one complaint of users on the Internet, and can raise bailout rates, bandwidth costs, and frustrate users. In fact, some studies have shown increased blood pressure, heart rates, and decreased blood volume in users who were subjected to slow (Scheirer et al. 2002) and ill-designed sites (Ward and Mardsen 2003). While the total response time of a web page is the product of many factors, page size and complexity determine in large part page display speed (Zhi 2001).

Delivery Problems

We observed some trends across these home pages. Both FedEx and UPS used about 10K of JavaScript in two external files. However, FedEx could save 10,787 bytes by using server-side statistics versus the client-side stats shown below:

<script language="javascript1.1" defer src="http://www.fedex.com/css/hb.js">

Note the "defer" attribute here. This boolean gives a hint to the browser that for the enclosed script, it is safe to defer execution until later in the execution sequence. The file still loads, but doesn't necessarily have to execute, speeding up display time for most modern browsers. See this week's Speed Tweak, JavaScript: Defer Execution with the Defer Attribute, for more details.

UPS uses some of the 9,927 bytes of JavaScript to browser sniff and conditionally write style sheets customized for various browsers. They could save some time and JavaScript by sniffing on the server and dynamically including the CSS within their home page at the server.

The DHL US home page shows admirable restraint in JavaScript and CSS use (3,190 bytes internal JavaScript only) with no external JavaScript or CSS files. Accordingly, it loads useful content the fastest of the three in about 11 seconds. The new design for their US home page is clean and fairly quick. We'd suggest that they adopt a similar design for their global home page to speed up download times.

The DHL.com worldwide home page uses 81.1K of JavaScript in ten JavaScript files, larger than the FedEx US home page in its entirety. While they use nearly twice as much CSS as UPS, they are relatively parsimonious with their graphics (25,493 bytes). In summary, the most common performance problems that we found were:

Suggested Solutions

All three of these US home pages were fairly fast, in the grand scheme of things. But there's always room for improvement. While the HTML of FedEx is pretty well optimized, they could optimize it further to reduce their initial load time. A better solution would be to convert from their table-based layout to a CSS-based layout. Designers who have made the switch typically experience 25 to 50% savings off of their XHTML file size. FedEx could save over 10K by adopting server-based statistics versus their JavaScript-based stats. UPS had a similar number of images (15 versus 14 for FedEx) but over twice the file size (41.1K versus 18.7K for FedEx). By creatively cropping their images, optimizing the remainder and crunching their CSS UPS could significantly improve their page display speed. Server-side sniffing could also replace the JavaScript sniffing to deliver customized CSS files, and save HTTP requests to further improve speed. While it was relatively quick to load, DHL's US home page had 71K of images, which could be replaced by graphic text, optimized, and combined where possible.


In our opinion, all of these shipping home pages need faster delivery times. While all US home pages were faster than the average page we've tested, DHL.com took over a minute to display useful content. Overall, FedEx was over 40% smaller and 20% faster than DHL and UPS. FedEx pioneered the tracking of packages online, and appears to still lead when it comes to online delivery speed.


King, A., The Bandwidth Report, Web Site Optimization, LLC, 2004. Most home users connect to the Internet at 56Kbps or less. As of November 2003 58.5% of US home users connect at 56Kbps or less. Source: The Bandwidth Report (http://www.websiteoptimization.com/bw/) and Nielsen//NetRatings.
King, A., "Response Time: Eight Seconds, Plus or Minus Two," in Speed Up Your Site: Web Site Optimization (http://www.speedupyoursite.com), Indianapolis: New Riders Publishing, 2003. The consensus among HCI researchers is to deliver useful content within 1 to 2 seconds (navigation bar, search form) and your entire page within 8 to 10 seconds (8.6 seconds was a figure most cited).
Scheirer, J., Fernandez R., Klein J., and R. W. Picard, "Frustrating the User on Purpose: A Step Toward Building an Affective Computer," Interacting with Computers 14, no. 2 (2002):93-118. Using galvanic skin response and blood volume pressure, Scheirer found that random delays can be a cause of frustration with computers.
Ward, R. D. and P. H. Mardsen, "Physiological responses to different WEB page designs," International Journal of Human-Computer Studies 59 (2003): 199-212. Ward and Mardsen found that users subjected to ill-designed sites showed higher skin conductance and heart rates, and lower finger blood volume.
Zhi, J. "Web Page Design and Download Time" (PDF, 740K), CMG Journal of Computer Resource Management, no. 102 (2001): 40-55. Shows the factors that affect download times for threaded and non-threaded browsers. The number of TCP/IP packets necessary to send a web page is linearly related to download time.

About the Author

Andy King is the founder of five developer-related sites, and the author of Speed Up Your Site: Web Site Optimization (http://www.speedupyoursite.com) from New Riders Publishing. He publishes the monthly Bandwidth Report, the weekly Optimization Week, Speed Tweak of the Week, and the WebReference Update.


Any trademark or tradenames used in this article are owned exclusively by their owners and they do not endorse or sponsor this site. Optimization Week and the author are not affilliated with FedEx, UPS, or DHL in any form, and we do not endorse these companies. All opinions expressed herein are based on information that we believe to be reasonably accurate at the time of publication. If you find any errors or misstatements of fact please contact us.