While proper packaging is required all year long, doing the job correctly takes on new meaning during “the holidays". Not only are many of the packages we send out over the next few weeks destined to be gifts for our customers family and friends, but with the increase in shipping volume at this time of year the chances of your packages being handled more roughly than normal is virtually assured to happen. The sheer volume the shipping companies are trying to move and deliver during this “crunch time" is tremendous and in that attempt to handle everything and get it where it needs to be, small corners are cut in an effort to save time and space.
With the above paragraph being commom knowledge to experienced sellers and shippers, it's always a good idea for anyone shipping packages this time of year to take a few minutes to review some of the basics and make certain that everything is in place before the rush hits and we get caught unprepared for it and try to cut corners ourselves. Depending on what your product is, chances are it might be a gift for someone and there is basically only going to be one chance to ship it out and get it there on time and in one piece. If it arrive damaged and the process has to start over, what are the chances of the second package making it there on time?
Starting with the outside of the package, usually a cardboard box of some kind, choose one that will allow a good 2" on each side of extra clearance room. This extra room is for the cushioning material used to protect the item inside. This extra room is also a good idea if you've ever seen how packages are kind of jammed into nooks and crannys in the trucks used to transport and deliver packages. Every square inch of truck space is a valuable commodity so if there is a 5" space and they have a 6" box, guess what - you got it, that 6" box WILL fit in that 5" space!
Next is the cushioning material used to fill the space. Be sure to have a good supply of whatever it is you will need - bubble wrap, packing peanuts, blank newsprint paper, kraft paper or whatever your favorite material is. If you are shipping fragile items such as glass or china, a good way to package them is a combination of both bubble wrap and peanuts. Wrap the item in bubble wrap and tape to secure. Then using the peanuts - preferably the “C" or “S" shaped ones that won't crush and settle during transit - create a bed for the item on the bottom of the box, place the item in the center of the box and fill the rest of the void with more peanuts making sure the peanuts settle into place so that no open spaces are left. Crumpled newsprint or kraft paper can also be used to fill open areas as well.
Getting a box of the proper size can be challenging at times especially for those who re-use boxes from incoming shipments. Choose one to small and the result can be a damaged product. Choose one too big and you have to use extra void fill to fill in the space. You can't stretch a box to make it bigger, but you can trim one down to size quickly and easily with what is known as a box sizing tool. Basically this tool is nothing more than a multi-pointed wheel that perforates the inside wall of a box so it can be easily folded over at the desired location. An adjustable bar that hooks onto the top of the box makes a straight and even line possible. Simply ste the sliding bar to the proper height and then go around the box with the tool. After that, slit the corners of the box from the perforated line to the top and fold the sides in. Even a large box can be trimmed down to size in less than 20 seconds.
To give your packages a little more impact and visual appeal during the holidays, you can throw in a splash of color. Colored tissue paper, mailing tubes and tape can be used to create eye catching packages that are remembered. Color tape is available in masking tape for inside boxes and also in carton sealing tape for closing and securing the exterior box. Red or green tape on a white box automatically makes it look like a wrapped gift.
Even the packing peanuts can be used to create a visually appealing effect. Mix white and pink peanuts together for a nice soft look that will compliment and enhance the item inside. A nice touch that many of our customers have complimented us on in regards to using peanuts is that we will put peanuts in a poly bag and seal the end shut. This way when the package arrives at its destination the receiver only has to remove the bagged peanuts and not a bunch of loose peanuts that usually blow all over the place and annoy people. It can't be done in every instance, but we try to do it when we can.
The use of “FRAGILE - Handle With Care" or “Do Not Bend" labels is a debate that may never be settled. While it may be a good idea to mark potentially fragile packages in the hope of it being given at least a little extra care, I have seen and heard shipping employees take those labels as a challenge to see just how well packed the box is by throwing and kicking it around. This is the exception to the rule as the vast majority are really trying to do a good job for the customers.
The last thing is what holds it all together - tape. Resist the urge to save a few pennies here by buying the cheap stuff. While you don't have to spring for the top shelf, high dollar tape, a good quality tape will be worth its cost. The cheap tape tends to tear easily and does not stick well, especially in a cold enviroment such as will be encountered during its journey during the month of December in the back of a tractor trailer. The best overall tape for sealing boxes and taping bubble wrap or foam around items a good quality 2" wide, 2 mil tape in either 55 or 110 yard rolls. Both sizes fit in standard tape guns and do a good all around job in the shipping department.
Keeping some of the basics of proper packaging in mind will help insure everyone has a happy and joyous holiday season.
About the author - Steve Madsen is the owner of http://www.pacnseal.com , a Suffolk, Virginia based packing and shipping supply company that ships throughout the US and Canada. He has written numerous articles to help business owners with their packaging operations and participates on several internet forums answering questions and offering advice.