EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 368 - October 05, 2014 - ISSN 1528-6703     3 of 6

How Using the Right Shipping Box Can Save You Money

By Greg Holden

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The lowly cardboard box: it's more than something you hurry out the door and give to a shipping clerk. It's a way to boost your brand, market yourself, and boost your profits.

This article focuses on that last item - improving your profits by making your boxes as cost-effective as possible. Choosing the right box and, optionally, cutting boxes down so they fit around an item as snugly as possible can reduce postage costs. That will become even more important early next year, say shipping experts, when UPS and FedEx apply their new dimensional weight shipping rates to ground and freight shipments.

Size Matters
All the carriers have size limits. When you go over those limits, you can pay a lot more for shipping. Eric Nash, Senior Director of Online Marketing for Stamps.com, describes just one example:

"For Priority Mail, the USPS has a maximum box size of 1 cubic foot (12" x 12" x 12")," he explains. "If your box is over a cubic foot, then you'll need to pay an extra fee known as "balloon pricing" or possibly Dimensional Weight pricing."

For example, a 2-lb. package traveling from Los Angeles to Washington DC (Zone 8) would be:

12" x 12" x 12" - $9.97 via Priority Mail

13" x 12" x 12" - $32.95 via Priority Mail

"That one extra inch puts the box over a one cubic foot into "balloon pricing," which significantly increases the price," he said.

To ship First Class with USPS, package size cannot be over 108" inches total if you calculate Length + 2X Width + 2X Height.

With private carriers, similar limits apply. And the move to dimensional weight pricing means you need to be even more aware of them, says Endicia CTO and co-founder Harry Whitehouse.

"With the private carriers changing their pricing structure, you'll want to begin taking box size into consideration," he says. "Effective December 29, 2014, and January 1, 2015, UPS and FedEx, respectively, are applying dimensional weight pricing to all Ground service packages. Once this new pricing goes into effect, you'll want to choose the box size carefully."

To determine shipping costs, the dimensional weight is compared to the actual weight of the package, and then the highest value is charged.

"A small adjustment in width or height could impact the DIM rate with the private carriers in 2015," says Nash. For example, take a look at the measurements of the following two boxes similar in size:

  • 10" length x 8" width x 6" height = 3 DIM weight in 2015 with private carriers.
  • 8" length x 8" width x 8" height = 4 DIM weight in 2015 with private carriers.

A small difference in measurement can add up to a 1-pound or greater difference in cost.

Choosing the Right Box
Once you are aware of size restrictions, you'll want to avoid higher shipping charges by choosing boxes that fit your package as closely as possible. One of the best sources for free boxes is the USPS, which will ship Priority Mail containers to you for free.

But as Whitehouse adds, "Most carriers provide packaging in a variety of sizes and typically at no cost." The USPS's boxes come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, however, and some are tailored to specific postal rates.

"The USPS offers Flat Rate and Regional Rate packaging where the pricing is based on the package type and size selected, rather than on the weight of the item," he says. "If your item can fit in one of the Flat Rate or Regional Rate packages, this could be a great money saver." (You can find more tips on the Endicia website.)

The USPS free Priority Mail boxes come in 29 varieties, adds Nash. "There are many sizes that sellers are unaware of." He points readers to Stamps.com's guide (PDF) that describes all the dimensions and includes the USPS skus for easy ordering.

UPS, for its part, offers free Express Envelopes, Paks, Tubes, and other containers for shipping a variety of items (see this page on the UPS website. There's even special Hazmat packaging for items such as lithium batteries.

FedEx provides a similar range of boxes, envelopes and packs on this page on FedEx.com.

Getting the Right Fit
If you're not shipping Priority Mail or one of the UPS or FedEx express shipping options, however, you have to purchase a generic box from one of the office supply stores or other outlets. You can also recycle "pre-used" boxes that have been discarded by stores or your own neighbors, as long as they're clean and in good shape. But it's to your advantage to find a box that fits your item and the padding around it as closely as you can.

"Overall, smaller boxes always help to lower shipping costs and should be a goal of every shipper, as long as they can keep their products safely protected from damage," says Nash. "Smaller boxes require less tape and box filler, helping to lower ancillary costs as well."

If these boxes don't fit what you want to ship, you can cut them to a smaller size using a special box-cutting tool. Aviditi sells one on Amazon.com for $17.99, and Bubblefast.com has one for $21.95.

And if you do a lot of shipping, you might want to purchase a machine like this one on PackSize.com that can cut each box to an exact size.

However, both of the postage/shipping experts I consulted cautioned against making your boxes go "under the knife" and recommended this only as a last resort.

"Carton reducers can be a bit of a hassle to use and could eat up time better spent on other activities," said Whitehouse. "If the reduction in box size is significant, though, it could help when dealing with dimension weight pricing. But, if the reduction is minimal, it may not be worth the effort."

"Cutting down a box could possibly impact a box's structural integrity and could even create an odd customer experience," added Nash.

The Bottom Line
Heading into the holiday season, the current shipping rules still apply. Currently, if you ship with UPS Ground or FedEx Ground/Home Delivery, the magic number is 3 cubic feet. After 3, dimensional pricing starts. But on December 29, dimensional pricing will apply to all UPS Ground and UPS Standard to Canada shipments. Similar changes apply to FedEx Freight and Ground as well on January 1, 2015.

USPS is a worth considering because its Priority Mail rates have just been lowered in time for the holidays. "Business owners who use Priority Mail will find the biggest savings on packages between 5 and 25 pounds for those using Commercial Base Pricing, and between 5 and 35 pounds for those who qualify for Commercial Plus Pricing," says Whitehouse.

Finding the right box for your product is going to be more important than ever if you ship large, light-weight merchandise. For small packages, there's not much difference, a 6 x 6 x 4 box has a dimensional weight of 1 lb. But online sellers who ship larger packages than this might see a jump in rates when dimensional pricing takes effect.

"Know at what dimensions your box will add a secondary fee," Nash recommends. "Sometimes, the elimination of one inch can help place the box in a different pricing table."


About the author:

Greg Holden is EcommerceBytes Contributing Editor. He is a journalist and the author of many books, including "Starting an Online Business For Dummies," "Go Google: 20 Ways to Reach More Customers and Build Revenue with Google Business Tools," and several books about eBay, including "How to Do Everything with Your eBay Business," second edition, and "Secrets of the eBay Millionaires," both published by Osborne-McGraw Hill. Find out more on Greg's website, which includes his blog, a list of his books, and his fiction and biographical writing.


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