Pick, Pack, & Ship: The Basics Of Preparing eCommerce Shipments
Many brick-and-mortar merchants proudly frame their first dollar earned, hanging it up for all to see. For traditional stores, that very first sale marks the beginning of the business; it is the first tangible sign of success.
However, for online sellers, the first sale isn’t quite so straightforward. In fact, the first sale is the beginning of both their business’s success and one of their business’s greatest challenges: shipping.
As an online seller, you haven’t made that first dollar until your products arrive safely at your customer’s doorstep. And in order to move that order from point A to point B, you’ll have to navigate the complex world of fulfillment.
At Merchant Maverick, we know it can be overwhelming to choose between all of the shipping and fulfillment methods available to you. So, we’re hoping to simplify that decision-making process. This post is part of a four-part blog series on shipping. In this series, we’ll be covering packaging methods and materials, shipping software solutions, third-party fulfillment, and drop shipping. Our hope is that by the end of the series, you’ll have a better understanding of the shipping options available, as well as an idea of which route your business should take.
We’ll begin by focusing on packaging for both product safety and cost-effectiveness. We’ll also be discussing branding and how you can carry your brand over into your shipments.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
Packaging for Cost Efficiency
Let me clear things up: Cost effective shipping is by no means “cheap” shipping. You should never automatically choose the cheapest option when you’re planning out your shipping strategy. Improper and inadequate packaging can lead to damaged products and disgruntled customers.
Rather, you should aim to select a shipping method that best protects your products. Only then can you can look into reducing the expenses related to your shipping costs.
Some of the best things you can do to reduce shipping costs are to look for packaging that fits your products snugly and use a filler material to reduce impacts.
Using an appropriately sized package can reduce costs in two ways. First, it reduces the amount of filler material that you’ll need to use inside of the shipments. Second, it reduces dimension-based shipping expenses.
Make sure you stock a variety of sizes, shapes, and styles of boxes and mailers so that you can package each order properly.
Here are a few of the most common types of packages you should consider adding to your warehouse.
- Bubble Mailers
- Bubble mailers are great for small products, especially those that need just a bit of padding. You can purchase bubble mailers in bulk relatively cheaply.
- Cardboard Mailers
- Cardboard mailers are the same dimensions as bubble mailers, but are less flexible. Consider sending flat products in cardboard mailers.
- Fold-up Kraft Mailers
- Kraft mailers can be folded into different sized packages, which gives you great flexibility.
- Cardboard Boxes
- Just your basic cardboard box! Select a variety of sizes to fit your products.
- Cardboard Poster Tubes
- Large paper products can be sent safely in poster tubes.
You should note that some of these options are available under flat-rate shipping models. You should check available flat-rates on cardboard mailers and smaller boxes in particular.
When it comes to filler materials, you also have a range of options. Your choice will vary depending on the fragility of your products and your brand’s stance regarding environmental impact. Here are the most popular options:
- Bubble Wrap
- Air Pillows
- Packing Paper
- Packing Peanuts
- Molded Styrofoam
You can purchase these products in bulk from a few sources. You might first take a look at Uline Supplies, which is one of the most popular suppliers. Amazon and PackingSupplies.com also offer a good selection of packaging materials.
As you select your packaging, ensure that it lines up with UPS’s shipping guidelines. They have general guidelines and product-specific guidelines on their website. You should pay special attention to these guidelines if you’re shipping irregularly shaped, fragile, or potentially hazardous materials.
If you’re fulfilling an order on Amazon, you’ll need to check up on Amazon’s guidelines as well.
Furthering Your Brand Through Packaging
Once you’ve selected a variety of packaging materials for your warehouse, you can begin considering how you’ll carry your brand over into your packaging. Online stores use packaging to further their brand.
You want your customers to have an “unboxing experience.” Customers should feel like they’re unwrapping a gift when they open your packages. If you have the resources available, you can purchase branded packaging materials. If that’s too expensive, you might instead look into purchasing a sticker creator that can print your brand logo.
Branded inserts are another excellent way to extend your brand. Here’s what you can consider including in your shipments:
- Packing Slips and Receipts
- You should include packing slips and receipts in every shipment. Make sure your packing slips display your company logo and contact information. It’s also a good idea to include return information on your packing slips.
- Thank You Notes
- Thank you notes are by no means a necessity, but they are a nice touch. Hand-written i best.
- Coupons for the Next Purchase
- Turn your one-time buyer into a loyal customer. Include a coupon code with an offer of free shipping or 10% off the next purchase.
- Marketing Material about Upcoming Products
- If you have a new product series coming out, let you customers know! Allow your brand to shine through.
You can choose to include any combination of these inserts at different points in your marketing campaigns.
Calculating Shipping Rates
Because so many variables affect shipping rates, it is impossible to determine the best shipping method for every merchant. Individual sellers have to discern for themselves what shipping method works best for their company and products.
The variables that affect shipping rates are as follows:
- Distance (Shipping Zones)
- Package Dimensions
- Dimensional Weight (Determined by volume divided by a set variable)
- Shipping Carrier
- Shipping Speed
- Flat Rate Shipping Options
With so many factors to consider, you’ll have to determine for yourself which packaging methods and shipping carriers work best for your business. Here are a few resources that will help you do that:
- USPS calculator
- UPS calculator
- FedEx calculator
- RedStag Fulfillment’s Dimensional Weight Calculator for FedEx and UPS rates comparison
These resources will give you access to shipping calculators that take into account a shipment’s weight, dimensions, shipping speed, and destination. They will help you make an informed decision about which carrier you should use for your fulfillment.
Figuring Out What Works Best For You
Every merchant has a different shipping strategy depending on their business model and industry. Do what you can to research your shipping options and get started! Don’t be afraid to take your shipping approach through a bit of trial and error. Purchase and test a variety of packing materials to see which make the most sense for your products, and dig into shipping rates to get a good understanding of future expenses.
If all this manual calculation is too much for you, click the link below to read the next article in our shipping series. We’ll discuss using the correct shipping software to help automate your fulfillment processes.
See More Articles From Our Shipping Series