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How do I Pack Something For Shipment?

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Here are a few pointers to insure that your cargo has the best chance of arriving intact.  Most of the items (about 95%) that are sold by our online dealers are small (less than 100 pounds) and of a size such that they can be shipped by UPS or Fedex.   This tutorial is mostly about packing items of that size. 

Packing and shipping large items  Shipping large items may require disassembly, crating and sometimes both. This may also be required for extremely fragile and valuable items.  If this type of service is what you need and you've never done it before,  you should talk with a professional company that does this as a business.   You have several options:

  • There are many full-service companies that perform both crating and shipping as a business -- Craters and Freighters is one such.  This is a specialized field and we suggest that you use a professional if you cannot deliver the item yourself.  You can use the links on your member's page titled 'shipping calculators' to find shippers who handle this type of product. 

  • You may also be able to get an excellent rate on packing and shipping services from a company that normally does moving of household goods, as long as you are willing to accept freight space on an as-available basis.  Check your local phone directory for 'household movers'; call and ask. 

  • Finally, if you are able to crate the item yourself, you may be able to get a good rate from an LTL (less-than-load) trucking company such as Roadway Express.  Use Google or a similar search engine to find ones that service your area.

Large items being shipped internationally are typically handled by freight forwarders and you can probably find someone in your local phone directory under that heading.   You will need to do so to ensure that the customs paperwork is completed correctly.  In most cases, used items are not dutiable, but many countries have basic VAT or consumption taxes and most have customs and customs brokerage fees.   As the shipper, it's your job to make sure that the paperwork required to move the product internationally is correct.   Most freight forwarders and shipping companies (Fedex, UPS) will do the paperwork for you, but in some cases, there will be a fee for document preparation.  Unless you know this area well, you should always discuss this with your international customer and your shipper to avoid any unpleasant surprises.  

Shipping costs, particularly for large, crated items,  vary considerably based on the distance, the size of the item and the weight of the shipment (which, of course, includes weight of the packing material, which can be very considerable for a crated item.)   If you do not include shipping, you should be sure your buyer knows that shipping is not included in the cost of your item and that it will be calculated when you know the distance and method of the shipment.

How does packing affect shipping?  Basically, you  pay shipping charges by the weight of your item or the size, whichever is greater.  Even small shipments are charged by volume.  Formally, this is called 'dimensional weight' (or 'dim weight' in the trade.)  So if you ship a huge, light box, you are going to end up paying a premium for this because of the size of the shipment.  think it's unfair?  Consider this -- the freight company is really in the business of transporting a volume of product from point A to point B.  If you give them a box that weighs one pound, but is 5 feet by 5 feet by 5 feet, it will take as much space as many ordinary shipments.  So they will not charge you for the weight (1 pound), they'll charge you for the 125 cubic feet that you are occupying in their airplane or truck.   So large, light packages will cost you almost as much to ship as large heavy packages.   This is something to bear in mind when packing things.  It may be much cheaper to ship several small packages than one large one.  Understand how your shipping charges will be calculated before you start packing!

Wrap Carefully!  Fragile items need to be packed properly or else they break. The shipper who handles your items may be doing their best, but they handle too many packages to take the kind of care that you might want them to. So it's up to you to package items so that they arrive intact at your customer's location.

What's on the outside of your package can be as important as what is inside. If the package is being shipped through a commercial service, find out if there are any specific requirements. For instance, many shippers will not accept a package that is wrapped in paper or that has no return address. You will not be able to talk anyone at the counter into ignoring these regulations.

  1. Now there are packaging stores which sell new packing materials. They're good at providing odd-sized containers for items like bicycles and mirrors, and are generally knowledgeable about shipping regulations.
  2. It is often cheaper to ship two smaller packages, rather than one large one. Call the shipper, and find out how they set their rates. Find out if there is an extra charge for home pickup or weekend delivery (there often is).

Select an appropriate container  The most common container used is a cardboard box. Some have thin, one-layer sides, while others are thicker, having two layers sandwiching a third, corrugated one. Use the second kind; it's much more protective. A few issues to consider:

  1. Clean, new boxes are best for shipping. They often have pre-printed areas for the address, and are less confusing to the shippers than a used box, with graphics and writing all over it.
  2. Use a box that will provide adequate room for the packing material around the item. Don't put a large item into a box where it can touch the sides.
  3. Shipping something fragile and expensive? Pack the item well in a strong box -- then pack that in another box with packing material all around it. Don't fret paying for the additional weight: your customer will be thrilled that their fragile item arrives intact.
  4. Boxes can be made to fit odd-shaped items by creasing, folding and reinforcing with tape. Don't cut the cardboard if you want it to retain any strength.

Choose Your Packing Materials  As a general rule,  plan to have at least three inches of packing material between your product and the side wall, bottom and top of the box. There are four basic packing materials that seem to be widely available: foam "peanuts" (choose the biodegradable kind, please), popcorn, bubble-pack and newspaper.

  1. Foam "peanuts" are generally the best material: they are quite resilient, and absorb shock well. They also "pour" well into odd-shaped areas.  There is also a variety of packing 'peanuts' that is made from food starch (no kidding, you can eat them, but they are pretty tasteless).  The problem is that it readily dissolves when wet so you need to take this into account when using this material.  Professional shippers solve the problem by using heavy duty sealed Mylar wrapping.  Don't have Mylar?  One solution is to line your box with a large plastic trash bag, do your packing and in the final phases of packing,  tape the bag well.  Note that you should generally NOT use plastic or urethane foam packaging products when shipping to countries in the EEC or Australia; they are illegal in some member nations and may be removed at customers, leaving your shipment completely unprotected.
  2. Popcorn (air-popped) is a nice, environmentally friendly packing material. It's cheap, and absorbs shock almost as well as the "peanuts". It's not as resilient, though, and is generally best used once.  If you receive something packed in popcorn, dispose of it promptly to avoid a rodent problem (feed it to the local pigeons?)  If the popcorn is tinted, that means it is not edible -- it has been treated with preservatives, rodent poison or other chemicals -- don't feed it to those pigeons unless you don't like them much!
  3. Bubble-pack is an excellent insulator and is a good solution for stacking china plates in a carton.
  4. Newspaper, when crumpled into semi-tight balls, works almost as well as the other two materials. It's the cheapest of all, if you have old ones lying around, and it's interesting to unpack a box years later and read about old happenings. It is not very resilient, though, and is adversely affected by humid storage.
  5. For more about the wide range of biodegradable packing products, click here

Tape! You're going to need more tape than you think. When you rebuild a new box, you'll reform it by taping the seams, and reinforce it by taping the edges and sides. With a used box, reinforcement is even more important, so don't skimp. You'll even want to tape the corners of very heavily packed boxes

  1. Reinforced tape has nylon filaments running through it. This stuff is really tough - excellent for closing and reinforcing particularly heavy boxes. Make sure it's at least 2" wide.
  2. Plastic tape is not nearly as tough as the reinforced kind, but works well for all but the heaviest boxes. The clear kind is generally a bit heavier than the brown kind, which makes for easier handling. In any case, make sure it's at least 2" wide; 3" wide is better.
  3. Paper tape is now less common: it needs to be wet with a sponge for the adhesive to stick. It's good for closing boxes, less so for reinforcing edges. Again, 2" to 3" wide is best.

Pull It All Together We all know what the goal here is: to make sure that all objects are securely packed and protected from rough handling. There are a few things important to mind; they might seem obvious but are still essential to your packaging experience.

  1. Make sure that packing materials cover the bottom of the box, before you place anything into it.
    Insure that the objects do not touch the sides of the box. If you can, keep at least 3 inches of packing material between the objects and the sides of the box and you'll do just fine.
  2. Pack things tightly and leave as few gaps as you can. When you finally close the box, it should feel like you're compressing the materials slightly.
  3. Pick up the box and shake it, if you can. Rattling means that something is striking something else and it will only be a matter of time before one of the items is damaged.  If it rattles, open and repack it.  
  4. When you are satisfied with the packing, seal the box with a piece of tape that's long enough to extend several inches down either sides of the box.
  5. Reinforcing the box with tape is very important, especially when shipping commercially.

Label it!  Your shipper will tell you how the shipment should be addressed.  If you already have labels ('waybills') from your shipper and you know how to complete them, do so and affix them to the outside of the box.  Note that opening an account with Fedex or UPS only requires completing a simple form and giving them a credit card number.  They will, at no charge, provide you with shipping materials and pre-printed waybills, which improves the handling of your shipment and makes it look professional.

It is also a very good idea to put a return address label in addition to whatever your shipper may require. 

Be safe -- and professional -- your internal shipping documentation protects your shipment, your customer and serves as advertising, too!!   Your site tools give you the ability to print packing slips / invoices suitable for enclosing in a box to document your shipment.  It is a good idea to do this in case the outside labeling gets damaged or destroyed because the recover departments of most shippers will open a box to see if they can find out where it was supposed to go.  Unless you have specified otherwise in your site customization options, the packing slip / customer invoice is printed when you print your internal file copies of your order.  You can reprint the invoice by clicking the check box  labeled 'print' on the order display and then using the 'Print' button at the bottom of the order display page:

It is also a nice idea to enclose a business card with the shipment and this will cost you virtually nothing.  If you don't have business cards and you have a laser or ink-jet printer, we make it easy to print your own.  We provide free templates that you can download from TIAS, add your name and print on business card stock available at most stationery and office-supply stores.  These are located on the 'Promotion Tools' menu under 'Free Advertising Goodies'.

What is an Airway Bill (AWB)?  Or a House Airway Bill (HAWB)?  At some point, you may hear these terms and wonder what they mean. These are just terms for the documentation needed to ship something.   In most cases, the airway bill and house airway bill are the same -- but if you are shipping through a freight forwarder who is buying service from another carrier (airline, trucking or shipping company), your freight forwarder's documentation will be the HAWB (house airway bill) and the actual carrier's documentation number is the AWB (airway bill).  If you have to personally trace a lost shipment, you may need both of these numbers, but in general, you should expect your freight forwarder to know and manage this information for you.

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