Feb 20, 2012

A Beginner's Guide For Packing

I see the UPS truck stopping outside, and my interest jumps as my latest eBay purchase has arrived.   Or, I hand in my USPS call tag and am eagerly awaiting the post office employee's return with boxes in hand (or on cart).  Either way, I can usually tell within the first minute of seeing the box if I am in for a good or bad experience.   

Having been involved in the buying and selling of collectible action figures for the past twelve years, there have been a variety of best and worst practices that I have seen employed on eBay, Amazon, Craigslist, and other online venues in that time.  By my personal count, in my first five to six years on eBay, I averaged one poorly packaged transaction a year (meaning that the items were damaged as a direct result of poor packaging).  In the last three years, that rate has increased to a staggering one in five transactions with an expected "casualty" rate of 10% damages in bulk purchases.   One wonders why I prefer Craigslist!   

And the problem is not just limited to new sellers.  Blame the drive towards "free shipping", the incentive of using shipping costs as a secondary revenue stream, lack of respect towards the items, or any of a variety of other reasons - the bottom line is that shipping practices have notably declined in the past few years.  

This is an area that should not be overlooked by any sellers.  Just like the outfit you wear to a job interview, the packaging sets the immediate tone and attitude for your customer before they open your package.  When I see an obviously reused box, I am going to be checking things out fairly closely.  When I see a new box with a printed label, I am not going to be as hawkish.   Plus, if there is an issue with one of the items, I am more likely to give the seller the benefit of the doubt if I can tell care went into the packing process.

Here are some DOs and DON'Ts - 

  • Have a box already available for packing your item(s).  I know of four instances in the past six months where the seller took a heavy loss on shipping costs because they did not know what size box they were going to need.   And, if the seller is already taking a loss on shipping, they are more likely to cut corners on packing, resulting in damaged items.
  • Have some space between the sides of the box and the item(s), usually one inch on all sides.  If the items are flush against the sides of the box, they are very vulnerable to any impacts as well as sliding if the box is tipped.  Center the items in the box and fill in all the space with packing materials
  • Use packing materials and enough of it!    There is a phrase in shipping - "If it shakes, it breaks."   Paper, peanuts, air pillows, stuffed animals - use something in there and make sure to use enough of it.  I once received an shipment of 12 action figures with three pieces of looseleaf paper as packing.  My first reaction is that the seller was a moron.  Lack of packing materials shows a lack of professionalism and respect for your customer.  
  • Use standardized boxes.  As much as possible, use the same size boxes for all of your shipments.  It helps with storage, packing, and even carrying the prepared shipments around.  
  • Bag the items inside the box.   It looks good, keeps the items clean, and adds protection from scuffs and scratches.  A win-win.
  • Reuse used boxes.  I know this one can be tough for smaller sellers, but if you are going to reuse boxes, make sure they are in good condition, no punctures, sharp corners, and no writing.  When I see a reused box, I don't think "Wow, they are doing good for the environment."   I think "Someone is trying to make some money on me" quickly followed by "Something is going to be messed up." 
  • Use shredded newspaper.   Unless it is the only resort, shredded newspaper is a horrible choice for packing material.  It's dirty, it gets everywhere, and it may be the most annoying form of packing material out there (other than no packing material at all).
  • Pack to the top of the box.   Just like the above tip about leaving space, that includes the top of the box.  If your items are going to the top of the box, something is going to be at best case bent and at worst case broken.
  • Assume it will be "good enough" or the shipping distance is "short enough".  If you have any doubts about a pack job, redo it.  The one you don't will the be the one that comes back to bite you.
I know these items will require some extra effort and expense on the front end of your business.  However, attention and planning in these areas will reap benefits by increased positive feedback and reduced defect rates.  In addition, streamlined processes will decrease your time and labor costs. Ultimately, these expenses will be offset by new business influenced by positive feedback and repeat business from satisfied customers. In the end, it's more than just cardboard and paper.  It's attitude, perception, and professionalism all wrapped up with packing tape.

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