Boxing Basics

Proper packing techniques protect your item and your image.

by staff writer
- Mar 04, 2008

When packing an item for shipping, think of it as dressing for a job interview. The presentation of your merchandise—and the care with which it's packaged—can go a long way toward creating buyer good will, encouraging great feedback and even stimulating repeat business.

Look at it this way: You've put a lot of thought and effort into creating a professional-looking listing title and description, and provided top-notch customer relations throughout the auction or sales process. Everything up to this point has helped build your eBay seller image. Why blow it now by hastily throwing some newspaper over the item and shipping it in a flimsy old shoe box?

It's probably safest to pack items using new materials. Not only does it make you appear more professional, but some boxes and fillers weaken with repeated use. If you do reuse materials—whether your reasons are environmental or purely economic—make sure they are sturdy and appear like-new.

Rigid, corrugated boxes work best. Choose one that is large enough to hold the item and still leave plenty of room for cushioning. Most experts suggest allowing a good two to three inches of space on all sides between the item and the outer box. Make sure the container is strong enough to ship the item securely. The maximum gross weight of a box is often printed on the bottom. Just remember that a box's weight capacity will degrade over time and use, so don't push it. If you're repurposing a copy paper box, for instance, keep in mind that it might not be able to hold its original weight capacity.

When boxes are reused, remember to remove any previous shipping labels and markings for a cleaner look and to eliminate confusion and comply with postal regulations.

Not everything needs to be shipped in a box. Non-fragile items, soft-cover books or clothing can sometimes be shipped in padded envelopes or waterproof, tear-proof bags like the Priority Mail envelopes used by the United States Postal Service. Just be sure to wrap the item securely before slipping it inside.

It's a wrap

If more than one item is being shipped in the same package, wrap each individually. Depending on what kind of item it is, bubble wrap, foam wrap or corrugated dividers can be used. But for glass or painted items, use tissue paper. Anything hollow, like a vase, cup or bowl, should first be filled with crumpled paper or packing peanuts to make it more solid.

Electronics should be wrapped in the original factory packing whenever possible, or use plastic anti-static bags—especially if any components are exposed. Artwork should never be covered in paper, hardboard or corrugate. If there's any glass, remove it and cover with low-tack protective tape and package separately.

Where to Get Low-Cost Packing Supplies

Local shops: Check around at neighborhood retailers, drug stores, electronic stores and the like. These shops receive a lot of shipments and often have to pay to recycle the boxes, crates, packing foam, etc. They might be willing to give them away.

Post office: The U.S. Postal Service provides Priority Mail supplies at no charge, and will even deliver them to you for free.

eBay: If you ship a lot, it may be more cost-effective to buy supplies in bulk. A plethora of sources can be located right there on eBay. Look in the Business and Industrial category under Shipping and Packing Supplies.

Online: Major stationary retailers like Office Depot and Staples are good sources for occasional shipping supply needs but can be expensive for higher volume users. However, it can't hurt to keep an eye on these for special offers and free shipping deals.

Secure the wrapping with everyday cellophane tape. Don't use packing tape for this. It can make unwrapping difficult and frustrating for the buyer.

Cover the wrapped item with a sealable plastic bag or waterproof envelope, or consider lining the inside of the entire box with plastic. That way, if the package gets left out in the rain or a blizzard, at least the item inside will have some protection from the elements.

To cushion the item inside the box, use packing peanuts, crumpled or shredded paper, Styrofoam pieces, or even egg cartons. Peanuts are the lightest material, but may not be secure enough for heavier items, which can shift during transit. If you use peanuts, fill the box to the top, and give it a little shake to allow the pieces to settle under and around the item. Then add more, and repeat. You want to make sure that when the box is completely closed up, no movement can be heard inside.

TIP: To save on shipping costs, use packing peanuts or air-pillow fillers. These are lighter-weight alternatives to crumpled or shredded paper.

Seal the box with packing tape that is 2 in. to 3 in. wide. Don't use ordinary cellophane tape or string. They're not made to withstand the rigors of shipping. Protect your merchandise by using pressure-sensitive plastic, nylon-reinforced or water-activated paper tape. Tape up the opening of the box, and reinforce all seams.

But before you seal up the carton, enclose a packing slip or something containing the shipping information, just in case the shipping label gets separated from the package. Slip your business card inside with the Web address to your auctions or e-commerce site.

It's also a nice gesture to enclose a "thank you" note with a reminder to let you know when the item has been received. It's the professional touches that promote customer satisfaction and inspire positive feedback.

About the Author

Auctiva staff writers constantly monitor trends and best practices of those selling on eBay and elsewhere online. They attend relevant training seminars and trade shows and regularly discuss the market with PowerSellers and other market experts.

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