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Thu Feb 23 2012 17:10:18

A Beginner's Guide for Packing

By: Guest Blogger

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[Guest blog by online seller Michael Ridlen]

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:

DO: 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.

DO: 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.

DO: Use packing materials, and enough of them! 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.

DO: 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.

DO: Bag the items inside the box. It looks good, keeps the items clean, and adds protection from scuffs and scratches. A win-win.


DON'T: 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."

DON'T: 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).

DON'T: 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.

DON'T: 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.

Michael Ridlen is a lifelong pop culture collector turned internet seller. A member of eBay for 12 years, he began a dedicated shop on eBay six years ago specializing in action figures and similar items of the past two decades. After two years on eBay, he switched to Amazon where his store has been a Featured Merchant in the Toys & Games area for the past three years. In addition to the online presence, he also buys and sells at various comic and toy shows in the mid-Atlantic region. You can visit his blog at and the Amazon store at

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This user has validated their user name. by: Philip Cohen
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Thu Feb 23 19:01:43 2012

Actually, shredded newspaper is not the most horrible choice for packing material. Loose styrene foam "peanuts", and the like, is the most horrible form of packing material.

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by: Harriet This user has validated their user name.

Thu Feb 23 20:04:48 2012

If I use packing peanuts, which I hate because they usually have a heavy static charge, I put them into a plastic market bag and make a little pillow out of them. It works out well for irregular items because you can sort of mold it around the item. It would work well for crushed newspaper as well.

I once found some 1/4" light blue fanfold insulation at a sale and bought it for packing. It was very light and worked extremely well for shielding items. It has one side that has a membrane, so you can score the other side and make it fit around things, and it won't fall apart. It's expensive to buy at the store, but if you ever find some cheap, buy it for packing.

I reuse boxes all the time. I make sure they are in good shape and sturdy. I cut them to size when needed. I turn them inside out when I use them. I see no reason not to use good used boxes, especially for larger items.

I found that children's cardboard play blocks make fantastic packing boxes for smaller items. They are very sturdy, and you can frequently get them cheap at sales. Obviously, I turn them inside out for packing, since they have bright colors on the outside.

My neighbors frequently order liquor and wine online and give me the boxes and inside cardboard bottle protectors. They are wonderful protective packaging for many items.

I save bubble wrap tubes and even packing tape round inner cardboard tubes for wrapping rounder items. With the packing tape rounds, I find that they are very sturdy and I can easily make a round top and bottom and put a small item inside, cushioned, of course, and then put the whole little package into a larger box.

I do buy smaller boxes for the little items, but certainly will reuse boxes for larger items, and also reuse cardboard boxing to make custome inner packaging and to surround delicate items.

I am a strong believer in reusing whenever possible. You just have to use your head and pack things well, whether you use brand new boxes or reuse boxes.

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by: Another Coin This user has validated their user name.

Thu Feb 23 20:48:24 2012

For glass pictures I use the foam insulation panels found at home improvement stores like Lowes and Home Depot. Also lining boxes with the panels helps protect larger breakables. I have a tendency of going overboard with packing, better safe than sorry. Wrapping fragile collectibles first with tissue paper and then bubble wrap. Tissue paper can be found in most dollar stores and shows the buyer you took time and care with their item.

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This user has validated their user name. by: basset

Thu Feb 23 21:09:49 2012

I also re-use sturdy boxes & bubble mailers. If it is wrinkled or smushed at all, I pitch it. Just too many great boxes out there not to re-use them. I don't mind at all when I get a re-used package. Either the seller packs well or not - mistakes can happen in a new box just as easily a a used one.
  One interesting packing material I've seen fill empty spaces on lightweight NON-glass items is baloons. Not reliable on LONG shipping journeys, but a 2-3 day shipping trip & they deflate a surprisingly minimal amount. Again, best used in conjunction with other packing materials & best for filling odd empty spaces in the box. Cheap, too. Just gotta blow them up - ugh!  

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This user has validated their user name. by: Tula

Thu Feb 23 21:47:27 2012

I agree with everything except for not reusing boxes. I always reuse boxes, but only the ones that are in good shape. If it has major dings or tears, then I cut it up and use the cardboard pieces as additional packaging - like inside of padded envelopes to protect magazines or other fragile items that won't react well to bending. Waste not, want not :-)

Shredded paper is awful. It leaves "crumbs" everywhere. Plus, it's heavy, so unless you're using flat-rate shipping, it will cost you more. I save all packing materials and have trash bags full of packing peanuts, bubble wrap, and air pillows. As long as it's clean, it's great for reuse. Given that I do most of my shopping online, I collect quite a lot of packaging to reuse.

I do purchase plastic bags for paper items and don't usually reuse padded envelopes, since they're often not in great shape after being used. Those things are fairly cheap, though, especially if you buy in bulk.

In terms of horror stories, I once received a large scanner in a wooden crate with one layer of newspaper around it for padding. The packer had also driven screws directly into the scanner, pretty much destroying it. Of course, the seller tried to claim I did the damage when opening the crate.

Another winner was the one who shipped a plate wrapped in newspaper inside a Captain Crunch cereal box. Needless to say, that "Crunch" was unfortunately appropriate for the resulting content, LOL!

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This user has validated their user name. by: elpereles
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Fri Feb 24 00:10:41 2012

''Michael Ridlen'', you aren't the only one as a buyer that see an increase in poor packaging. The worst thing is when sellers ask high S&H. For example $30 for S&H and you find that they just throw the items without any protection or even Packing Slip/Invoice in a USPS Medium Flat Rate Box.

DO #1: I see it, but it i rare.

DO #2: I recommend that if your item isn't cover by bubble wrap. You always need the gap around it. Avoid corners must be a rule. I receive a lot of packages and many of the damages are near the corner or borders.

DO 3#: That is correct.

DO 4#: Correct.

DO 5# Bags!? If they are new ziploc style bags. It isn't a problem. But Cash & Carry/Wmart/WGreens bags with food smell. No way.

DON'T #1: I try to avoid the use of recycle boxes. I don't have problem to receive items in recycle boxes. I see some nice recycle boxes. Now if the sellers ask me $10 for a one pound item that fits easy in USPS Priority box, but decide to go the recycle with a Media Mail. It is a no go.

I saw it. True story.

DON'T #2: If you use the newspaper to cover a sensitive item. You are wrong. Newspaper is good used as cushion material and if the item is isolated to contact it (covered with bubble wrap or packing paper).

DON'T #3: Right!

DON'T #4: Correct, always be prepare for the worst. If you receive items by USPS you know what I mean.

Also I believe that is needed others '' DON'T ''. As a buyer I saw some crazy stuff from even ''Power Sellers'' and ''Top Sellers''. For example:

DON'T: Send items to US Domestic without Delivery Confirmation. If you have a printer to add some promos or an Invoice/Packing Slip and PayPal to receive money. Use it to print the Postage.

DON'T: Cut parts of the USPS Priority Mail boxes to lose some weight. You are killing the strength resistance of the box.

DON'T: Add dirty/dusty shredded paper from the receipts of the online USPS Postage (with names and addresses).

DON'T: Use your trash or non selling items as cushion/packing material.

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by: ceramicsbooks This user has validated their user name.

Fri Feb 24 05:23:48 2012

I used to buy literally thousands of books on ebay. But I've now cut back drastically as a direct result of seriously poor packing. This is one of my biggest bugbears with ebay sellers.

Hardback (hard cover) books will almost always be damaged in the post unless wrapped in cardboard or boxed. Otherwise the corners will be bumped which significantly reduces their value.

Ebay's 'free' postage policy has made matters far worse. I've had so many valuable hardback books sent in padded mailing envelopes which have arrived damaged - around a third to a half at least. And this no matter how often I beg the seller to use cardboard.

I've had books sent wrapped in a single piece of brown paper which naturally were destroyed as a result.

As much as I hate the DSR system (I am a seller too) I think a DSR for quality of packing is of far more use than trivialities such as communication...

Also, the suggestion that you should not re-use boxes is bordering on insane - re-use and recycling is a DUTY of all people who give a damn about the planet.

Anyway the problem of badly packed books on ebay is now virtually irrelevant - the number of listings in the category I'm interested in has fallen off a cliff... a bit like my ebay sales.

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by: Red Ink Diary This user has validated their user name.
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Fri Feb 24 08:09:18 2012

In my opinion you can directly attribute the decline in packing standards to the corresponding decline in the numbers of small sellers who were once the backbone of eBay and took tremendous pride in every aspect of their trade.

Those were the same people who once (wo)manned the Answer Center and believe me there were precious few 10FB responders, even on secondary IDs.

All gone now, to greener pastures where sheep may safely graze without worrying about having their legs cut off above the knee once daily and twice on Sundays.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Stockmiser

Fri Feb 24 10:12:36 2012

As an aside...has anyone noticed how well Amazon (either direct or fulfillment) items are packed?  I'm actually and frequently amazed at just how well everything is done - and cleverly too.  DVD's and video games are often shipped in these trianglularly folded hard cardboard containers with the inner contents sealed in heat shrink.  Other items come in very sturdy boxes with ample large bubble cushions.  They seem to spare no expense - and everything I've bought in the last year included free shipping (I always hit the $25 mark).

Amazon is actually setting the new standard for how buyers expect things to be shipped, and I often consider that every time I ship out my items.  

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This user has validated their user name. by: Anonymous Annie

Fri Feb 24 12:32:17 2012

I reuse the ''air-pillows'' that my suppliers use when shipping items to me. I get all sizes of the air pillows, so when saving them, I just sort them depending on whether they are large or small.

They're kind of clumsy to store, so I keep the extras in huge ''lawn-&-leaf'' trashbags.

Another one of my suppliers must buy bubble-cushion by the MILE! I know how expensive it is if I were to buy it for myself... but this company uses it for FILLING THE VOIDS in a box. (Typically it's used for *wrapping* an item.)

Another tip: I tape EVERY seam on a box. I also tape the glued ''joint'' on the box... just in case it wasn't assembled or glued together properly.

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by: Duke This user has validated their user name.

Fri Feb 24 13:41:31 2012

Thank you for this article!  I picked up some great tips to improve my shipping.

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by: Quality First This user has validated their user name.

Fri Feb 24 19:39:15 2012

Check out eBay seller lennyzack to see how they use shipping and packing as a "stand alone" value-added product to promote sales.

Shredded newspaper a no-no?   If you happen to be shipping vacuum tubes it's hard to do better than a small bubble wrap outer & tube box then nestled in densely packed shredded newspaper or paper from a shredder. Place in sturdy cardboard box (used or new) and ship anywhere in the world with no worries.

One of the best packed items I received was a rare small phono preamp (very expensive) from Tokyo packed in bubble and dense shredded newspaper.  This guy really knew what he was doing and there was no way this item could be damaged.  It was just that good.

I was taught to never say never, but…. Never have styro peanuts touch electronics.  These things can shred and cause all sorts of havoc.

Hope this helps someone.

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This user has validated their user name. by: elpereles
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Fri Feb 24 21:59:26 2012

@Quality First, if only newspaper works for shipping vacuum tubes. It is really a great tip.

I technically ship 99% collectibles (trading cards). If I use newspaper, I avoid use it as a cover protector for the trading card plastic boxes and top loaders, but as cushion is good.  

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by: spooky This user has validated their user name.

Sat Feb 25 13:27:52 2012

BAD INFO - 1st - nothing wrong with using recycled used boxes, use new boxes only is complete nonsense. 2nd - newspaper is my BEST packing form, it does not shift and it's cheap, Styro Peanuts are the WORST - they shift in the box and the static cling always makes a huge mess. Your article is an example of someone who has NO IDEA about shipping but needed to fill up some web space on this board!

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by: mindelec This user has validated their user name.

Sat Feb 25 16:22:10 2012

i both buy and sell books on ebay, as a seller EVERYTHING goes in a box.  which means i pretty much lose $1 on every package shipped since all the sites have decided that $4 is the media mail shipping charge and that furthermore they should get a cut of it.

as a buyer i have seen the same increase in books being shipped in bubblewrap envelopes or even just wrapped in paper.  i blame it entirely upon ebay/amazon/etc squeezing the sellers between their too little alotment for shipping and the usps continually upping the low weight (2-3 lbs) media mail charge by 10-20% year after year.

instead of a shipping time dsr, ebay needs to have a packaging one.

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