Running an ecommerce business involves much more than simply selling products online. Undoubtedly, one of the most vital considerations is how you pack and ship your merchandise. The packing materials you choose significantly impact the safety of your product during transit and—yes really—they also reflect the culture of your company. With increasing eco-conscious customers favoring sustainability, the demand for green packaging options is rising.
By familiarizing yourself with the different packing materials available, you can make informed decisions that ensure the safety of your goods and align with your customers' expectations and brand values. Each option has its own set of advantages and potential downsides. So, let's delve into the world of packing materials, exploring the pros and cons to aid you in making the right choice for your ecommerce business.
Understanding Packing Materials: Packing Boxes & Mailers
You'll face two major decisions when figuring out how your products should be packaged to reach your customers safely: what packing materials you use as the container and which you use as the filler or padding. We'll get to the later further on in this article.
Different Packing Box Options
There are various types of boxes that ecommerce businesses can use for packaging, and each presents unique advantages. The most typical ones are corrugated boxes, rigid boxes, and mailer boxes.
Corrugated boxes are the classic choice. They are made of three layers of paper that includes an inside liner, an outside liner, and a fluted medium in between. This construction provides strength and durability, making it ideal for shipping heavier items. On the downside, they can take up a lot of storage space because of their size and rigid structure.
Rigid boxes, on the other hand, are known for their luxury feel—you might think of high-end electronics packaging or subscription boxes. These boxes are strong and sturdy, but their non-collapsible nature may require more storage and transportation space. While they enhance the unboxing experience and boost the perception of quality, they come at a higher cost than other options.
Lastly, mailer boxes (or mailers for short) are a blend of the first two. They’re made from corrugated cardboard but designed in a way that’s easy to assemble and elegant to present. They’re commonly used for clothing and subscription boxes, as they provide enough protection while still being lightweight and aesthetically pleasing. However, the price per unit can be higher than standard corrugated boxes, depending on the customizations.
Why Corrugated Boxes are a Popular Option
Corrugated boxes, in essence, are the heavy-duty cardboard boxes you most likely think of when discussing packaging materials. Built with a unique structure to increase strength and durability, these boxes are primarily used for shipping in the ecommerce world. Their persistent popularity among packing supplies is because they're cost-effective and protect packed items well.
One of the main advantages of corrugated boxes lies in their protective capabilities. The fluting (the ruffled paper inside) effectively cushions goods, safeguarding them from damage during transit. This durability makes them ideal for both packing and stacking. They're also lightweight and can be easily assembled and disassembled, making them convenient for shippers and customers.
Despite the numerous advantages, it's worth noting that there are a few downsides to consider:
- Corrugated boxes are bulky, taking up valuable warehouse space unless stored flat.
- They may not be the most suitable option for more delicate items that need an additional layer of bubble wrap or foam for enhanced safety.
- In extreme weather conditions, the boxes may lose some of their load-bearing capabilities.
That said, the balance of strength, practicality, and cost-efficiency has facilitated their standing as a popular choice for ecommerce businesses.
Comparing Cardboard Mailers and Poly Mailers
You're likely familiar with cardboard mailers—they're rigid, offering high protection, especially for flat or slim goods, like books and DVDs. They're also widely recyclable, making them a greener choice. However, they're bulkier and heavier than other options, which can impact shipping costs.
Conversely, poly mailers are flexible, lightweight mailing envelopes made from a durable, moisture-resistant polyethylene material. Because of their lighter weight, they can offer reduced shipping costs compared to cardboard. Poly mailers are perfect for shipping clothes or other non-fragile products—they're waterproof, tear-resistant, and take up less storage space. However, unlike cardboard, they may not be suitable for shipping fragile items as they offer less protection against impact or crushing.
Choosing between cardboard and poly mailers would depend on what you're shipping. Poly mailers may be a more cost-effective solution for non-fragile, lightweight items. But if you're shipping fragile or rigid items, the enhanced protection of cardboard mailers would be worth the extra cost.
Understanding Packing Materials: Inside Packaging
When your product journeys from the warehouse shelf to the customer's door, the packaging materials inside the box must provide the right amount of protection. Ranging from the classic bubble wrap to innovative air pillows, there are numerous inside packaging options, each with its unique pros and cons. Knowing your choices and making informed decisions can significantly enhance customer satisfaction, reduce returns due to damage, and streamline your shipping process. They include:
- Bubble Wrap: Long trusted, it provides cushioning for fragile products.
- Foam Packing: Offers solid protection and fills voids effectively.
- Air Pillows: Lightweight and inflatable, they protect without adding weight.
- Packing Peanuts: Handy for filling empty spaces in boxes and providing additional security.
- Packing Paper: Great for wrapping fragile products and recyclable.
- Cardboard Inserts: Ideal for separating items within a package.
- Shredded Paper: An eco-friendly alternative for cushioning and void fill.
- Packaging Tape: Not just for sealing boxes, but also securing items internally.
Each of these options has potential benefits and drawbacks, and they are worth exploring further to determine what will best suit your unique ecommerce needs. From the practicality of bubble wrap to the environmental value of shredded paper, making the right inside packaging choices can help ensure your products arrive safely and impressively to your customers.
The Pros and Cons of Bubble Wrap
Bubble wrap is a transparent, pliable packing material known for its distinctive air-filled bubbles. It is primarily used to protect fragile goods against damage during transit by absorbing shock and cushioning the product. This quick and easy packaging solution also adds minimal weight to the package, making it a cost-effective choice for eCommerce businesses.
The benefits of bubble wrap are numerous. It's lightweight, reducing shipping costs, and its versatility means it can conform to the shape of almost any item. Moreover, its transparency allows for quick inspection of goods without unpacking.
Despite these advantages, bubble wrap isn't without its limitations. It's not as eco-friendly as some alternatives, and it can take up significant storage space in your warehouse. Furthermore, it's less effective for very heavy items, as the pressure can pop the bubbles and reduce the protective benefits.
Exploring the Benefits of Foam Packaging
Foam packaging, otherwise known as expanded polystyrene or EPS, is a lightweight, versatile packing material that is frequently used in the ecommerce industry. Its primary purpose is to provide a protective barrier for products during shipping, ensuring they reach their destination unharmed.
EPS foam packaging is typically used for items that require extra protection. This includes products that are fragile or delicate, such as electronics, glassware, or delicate machinery parts. Its superior insulating properties also make it an excellent choice for products that require temperature-controlled shipping, such as perishable goods or medical supplies.
When considering the advantages of foam packaging, its protective qualities stand out. EPS can absorb impacts effectively, keeping your products safe from damage throughout transit. Moreover, it’s lightweight, which can help to keep shipping costs down.
However, foam packaging does come with some trade-offs. One significant downside is its environmental impact. EPS cannot be easily recycled, and it can take hundreds of years to break down in landfill sites. Also, while EPS is lightweight, it is also quite bulky, which may take up more storage space in your warehouse or during transit.
Understanding the pros and cons of foam can help you make an informed decision about whether this material is the right choice for your ecommerce business. Balancing the need for protection, cost-efficiency, and environmental responsibility is key in this decision-making process.
The Advantages of Air Pillows in Ecommerce Packaging
In the world of ecommerce fulfillment, air pillows have become a widely favored option for cushioning valuables. Recognized as an effective void filler, they help safeguard your product during the rigors of shipping. Air pillows are basically lightweight, inflated plastic bags used to cushion products and prevent movement within a parcel during transit.
One of the key advantages of air pillows is their lightweight nature. This tends not only to reduce shipping costs but also minimize the overall package weight for customers, enhancing their unboxing experience. Additionally, they protect valuables well, they're easy to use, and because they remain flat until inflated, they require minimal storage space.
However, it's worth noting that air pillows, like other packing supplies, have disadvantages too. The main drawback is that they can puncture easily, losing their effectiveness in providing additional padding. They also may not be suitable for heavy or irregularly shaped items that require firmer support.
The Role of Packing Paper
Starting off as one of the more humble packing supplies, packing paper has gained prominence over the years due to its unique characteristics and sustainability. Often brushed off as old-fashioned, packing paper materials are usually made from recycled paper, which is great for the environment and can offer your brand a green, conscious image. It's a versatile packing material used extensively in retail, e-commerce, food service, and other industries where robust, eco-friendly packaging is needed.
Different types of packing paper include crumpled paper, paper sheets, paper rolls, and even molded pulp packing. Crumpled paper is often used for void fill and cushioning in boxes, acting as an excellent buffer for fragile items. Paper sheets and rolls offer effective surface protection, preventing scratches and other minor abrasions on goods. Molded pulp packing, on the other hand, is perfect for specific product shapes providing structural protection during transit.
Getting to Know Cardboard Inserts
Cardboard inserts are specially designed pieces of cardboard that securely package and protect your product within its shipping box. Often tailored to fit the exact shape of your product, they're commonly used in ecommerce for varied products ranging from fragile products like glassware and electronics to uniquely shaped items that require additional support.
The main advantage of cardboard inserts is their ability to provide a snug fit for products within their box, offering superior protection during transit. They also elevate the unboxing experience, as your product is presented in an organized and professional manner, enhancing customer satisfaction.
But they're not without their challenges. Custom cardboard inserts are typically more expensive than generic packing materials, and their production demands more time. Additionally, these packing supplies can potentially increase the package's overall weight and, consequently, shipping costs.
The Role of Packing Peanuts in Shipping
Packing peanuts, also known as foam peanuts, are a common packaging material traditionally used to fill the voids in shipping boxes and provide cushioning for products. Usually made from polystyrene, these lightweight, 'S' shaped pieces are incredibly effective at absorbing shock and preventing damage during transit due to their ability to mold around items, offering full product coverage. They're often used when shipping fragile or hefty items that require that extra level of protection.
The main advantage of packing peanuts is their lightweight nature, which adds little to the overall package weight, keeping shipping costs down. Plus, they're easy to use and reasonably inexpensive.
These packing supplies are an efficient, cost-saving packaging material, but their environmental impact and potential messiness have also driven the search for greener, neater alternatives.
The Significance of Packaging Tape in Ecommerce Fulfillment
It's important to note that packing tape isn't just tape--numerous types are available, each suitable for a different packing need. (For a more in-depth explainer, check out our tape types guide that covers which to use on different boxes.) These range from paper tape to filament tape, masking tape, and of course, the focus of our discussion today: packing tape.
Packing tape, a common sight in any ecommerce business, plays a pivotal role in securely sealing packages and ensuring they remain safe until delivery. Skimping on quality tape or inefficient application of it could lead to package damage, lost items, and unhappy customers. Therefore, while it's easy to think of it as "just tape," packing tape is actually a core component of ecommerce fulfillment.
Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Traditional Packing Materials
As more and more consumers and businesses prioritize sustainability, environmentally-friendly alternatives to traditional packing materials have rocketed in popularity. Some of the different types of eco-friendly packing supplies ecommerce companies are turning to include:
- Biodegradable packing peanuts: They dissolve in water, leaving no waste behind, but offer the same protection as traditional Styrofoam peanuts.
- Recycled cardboard and paper: This packing material also offers excellent protection and is 100% recyclable, reducing its environmental impact compared to new cardboard. This also includes items used to secure valuables when you pack, such as packing paper.
- Cornstarch packaging: They're biodegradable and compostable, and, like bubble wrap, they provide efficient cushioning for fragile products.
Despite the additional cost of sustainable packing materials, their environmental benefits often outweigh the drawbacks. They tend to be kinder to the environment during production, require fewer resources, and generate less waste after use. Embracing these materials can also enhance your brand's green credentials, making it more appealing to environmentally conscious consumers.
Choosing the Right Packing Material for Your Ecommerce Business
When it comes to selecting the ideal packing material for your ecommerce business, several factors come into play. Items such as cost, sustainability, product protection, and branding need to be prioritized. First, consider the type of products you're shipping. You'll need to secure fragile items with protective filler like bubble wrap or foam packaging, while less vulnerable items may suffice with just a simple poly mailer or cardboard mailer.
Analyze your budget as well. Some padding may seem relatively inexpensive per unit, but remember to account for bulk quantities. If you're shipping hundreds or thousands of products a week, those costs can quickly add up, especially for small businesses trying to handle fulfillment independently.
Navigating all these factors can indeed be complex and time-consuming. That's where a 3PL like All Points comes in handy. This outsourced service can handle logistics, including inventory management, packaging, transportation, and fulfillment. 3PLs like All Points have expertise in optimizing the entire supply chain and can help ecommerce businesses find the best packaging tailored to their products and brand values. They may also be able to get you a deal on the price since they work with multiple clients and can place larger orders. Utilizing a 3PL means they can leverage their expertise and industry knowledge to identify the most cost-effective, protective, and sustainable packing materials for you, allowing you to focus on other core aspects of your business (while saving money).