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Sat Apr 7 2012 09:54:15

Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping

By: Julia Wilkinson

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I used to say that every time I went to the post office, I learned something new. There were, and continue to be, so many nuances to packing and shipping that you have to be always on your guard. For example, I remember the day I learned that there were two kinds of paper customs forms at the P.O.: one for items under 4 pounds, and one for items over 4 pounds.

And even when you thought you had that down, there was a catch: even if the item was under 4 pounds, and you had your little form all correctly filled out, you learned that if you wanted to add insurance, it required the big form after all!

That's just one example. (Nowadays I can print international postage using Endicia.com, and even eBay itself, thank goodness!).

Here are five of the top tips I've learned over the years about both packing and shipping:

1) Domestic First Class is often cheaper than Media Mail. Amazon sellers know media mail, also known as "book rate," can be dirt cheap. (It can also take seemingly a lifetime to get to its destination, but hey, that's one reason it's cheap, right?) But if your item is light enough, totally go with first class. You can even tell your Amazon buyer you gave them a free shipping upgrade.

2) Bubble wrap anything breakable in at least two to three layers. Preferably three. Breakable items can still break in a box even with one or one and a half small layers of bubble wrap, especially if the box does not have enough filler material and is not packed tight.

3) Tape matters. Cheaper tape that, as someone so aptly put it, "sticks to itself" and tears off in strips is enough to drive you nuttier than a bag full of packing peanuts. No one is paying me to say this, but I prefer Scotch brand shipping tape and their smaller clear tapes as well. The brown packaging tape is especially strong. You can also use electrical tape if you are really worried about strength.

Also, the USPS free Priority Mail tape has very good hold; it's just difficult to start and stop with; try putting a paper clip under the end when you cut it so you can pull it off more easily next time,

4) International shipping opens up a whole world of buyers, but be careful. The inexpensive First Class International price is great - if your item is under that four pound threshold - but remember, there's no tracking. I recently found out you can buy third party insurance for FCI, through such services as Inkfrog.

5) Boxes...reuse all boxes you can, but make sure to block out any brand names with thick marker or tape. You can get boxes from the ABC or other alcoholic beverage store, but use only the water bottles or cover any alcoholic bottle markings with plain brown paper wrapping.




Comments (17) | Permalink

Readers Comments

Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping   Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping

by: Theresa This user has validated their user name.

Sat Apr 7 10:31:45 2012

Great tips.  I have also learned that if you are shipping something especially expensive, for example a $500 Roseville vase I recently sold, use the "Float" method.  Pack it well in a box with triple bubble then put it in the center of a much larger box and load that down with packing material.  Preferably foam pieces or air bags as buyers hate to have their living room filled with peanuts, lol.

Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping   Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping

by: Beth This user has validated their user name.

Sat Apr 7 15:35:35 2012

Oh Julia so funny about "nuttier than a full bag of packing peanuts!" - that's ME!

Here's mine:
1 - you can  use crumpled newspaper if you insist but for heaven's sake crumple it into a ball and use masking tape to keep it that way. It has way more "crush-resistance" that way. Same thing for those ever-present plastic shopping bages. In and of themselve they are NOT good packing but rolled up or squished up and taped, Ok...(better to file them with the nutty peanuts and tie them shut..THAT works fantastic!)

THANKS for a good laugh and some great ideas!

Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping   Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping

This user has validated their user name. by: Ric

Sat Apr 7 16:05:30 2012

Commercial air pillows are costly and easily punctured.

We purchase various sizes of 2 ML zip lock bags inflate them with a sports ball needle and pump, then tape the zip lock seal closed.

The 2 ML thickness better resists puncture in transit, and the bags being available in so many different sizes makes them perfect replacements for commercial air pillows.

The flat bags take up much less space than cartons of pre-made air pillows making work space much more productive.

Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping   Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping

by: Harriet This user has validated their user name.

Sat Apr 7 21:06:58 2012

Double boxing is important for breakable things. It doesn't really have to be a ''box'', but I usually tissue wrap the item, then wrap it in bubble wrap, then surround it with either a box or cardboard cut to fit around the object, then wrap again with bubble wrap and insert in a larger box.

If you are using packing peanuts, you can put them into plastic market bags and tie the top, then you have a pillow of peanuts, and they aren't messy that way.

Fabric things or other things that could get damaged from moisture should be wrapped in a ziplock bag prior to any other packing with the packing sllip enclosed inside the ziplock bag.

Odd shaped breakable items can be a bear to wrap for shipping. but if you first wrap the skinnier areas of the item or the areas that stick out so that you can sort of make the item a smoother, more normal shape, it makes it a lot easier.

I use small pieces of corrugated cardboard to surround delicate parts of items. I fold each corrugation so it turns into a cylinder and I can tape it around the part.

If you are at the liquor store getting boxes for packing, see if they have any of those molded cardboard wine protectors. They are great for surrounding little figurines. They are easily cut to fit the figurines.

The Post Office is a wonderful learning place. I am there almost every day and they are always giving me tips on packing and shipping. If a package can go at a lower rate by packing it differently, they will tell me so, and ask if I want to go home and repack it.  

Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping   Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping

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

Mon Apr 9 00:19:02 2012

Tape!! Yes!! Very important! (It seems so obvious that I feel a bit silly emphasizing it.)

I ship nearly everything in the USPS regional-rate boxes... the ones with the self-adhesive flaps on each end.

Even though it seems like a good seal, I will *always* add a strip of clear boxing tape on each end just to make sure.

Also, the pre-glued ''joint'' on those boxes gets it's own bit of reinforcing tape too.

For the non-selfadhesive boxes... every seam gets taped. Not only the area where the flaps meet together... but the EDGES/CORNERS as well.

Tape is cheaper than insurance... and much cheaper (and easier) than having to deal with an unhappy customer.

A Final Note: The reason I started using tape on the self-adhesive USPS boxes was because I had once ''stocked up'' on those boxes. ~ I knew I'd use them, and they wouldn't go to waste... BUT... it never occurred to me that after about a year, the adhesive strips would start to lose their stickiness. As the sticky flaps age and dry-out, they just wont' stay shut (even though the box itself is perfectly fine).

Now, I don't order as many of the free boxes in advance... and the problem with aging glue hasn't returned. ~~ But I still use extra tape on the seams just to be sure.

Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping   Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping

by: ruthie This user has validated their user name.

Mon Apr 9 00:29:55 2012

''Also, the USPS free Priority Mail tape has very good hold; it's just difficult to start and stop with ...''

How on earth do you manage to get the Priority tape? My PO guards it with their life and won't hand it out ...period! You can't even buy it from them.  

Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping   Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping

by: tb This user has validated their user name.

Mon Apr 9 01:33:46 2012

Ditto on the Priority Tape. When was the last time you actually ordered some? It's been unavailable for at least 2 years now.

Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping   Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping

by: JoyfulA This user has validated their user name.

Mon Apr 9 02:09:59 2012

For any kind of tape, after you cut it, fold the end under an eighth of an inch, and it'll start right up.

Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping   Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping

by: Paul This user has validated their user name.

Mon Apr 9 03:33:33 2012

''5) Boxes...reuse all boxes you can, but make sure to block out any brand names with thick marker or tape. You can get boxes from the ABC or other alcoholic beverage store, but use only the water bottles or cover any alcoholic bottle markings with plain brown paper wrapping.''

Fine if you are a flea marketer selling your junk on eBay, but horrible for a business to dumpster dive for packaging.  If you are trying to establish your brand on eBay as a professional seller, use new materials for packaging, or expect your customers to bid like like flea-marketers.

Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping   Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping

by: msquezal This user has validated their user name.

Mon Apr 9 06:33:33 2012

If you are very kind to your postal clerks and they have at least half a heart, they will still give you that tape. If you find that at your PO will not do that try another one in your area until you find a clerk who will give it to you. Ask nicely! Do not complain that no one will give it to you or that it is no longer available! Just tell them that you have a huge amount of Priority Mail packages to send this week and would really appreciate some tape to help finish the packages. Then by all means remember to thank them profusely, show them some appreciation by bringing them a bouquet of flowers, box of fudge or cookies, and keep it to yourself so that they do not get in trouble with their postmaster or are not deluged with requests from others and next time have to turn you away empty handed. In these tough economic times i find that cookies, fudge and flowers a few times a year costs far less than buying copious amounts of packing tape. Heartfelt ''thank you's'' are something that these clerks do not often get! Remember: More flies with honey than vinegar!  :)

Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping   Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping

This user has validated their user name. by: Al G

Mon Apr 9 08:25:27 2012

I like the paper clip on tape idea. The less I have to play with the sticky thing the better.

I use 3 mil tape - more expensive, but it keeps its shape when laying it down over labels, seams etc. The thinner 2.x mil tape tends to have a mind of its own & it gets frustrating after a short while.

Also, having a rapport with the clerks at your local (or not so local) PO helps. Each PO has its own personality and it projects to how they work with you.

One office says that if YOU put "do not bend" on a (flexible) letter - it goes package rate, the other office says only if THEY stamp it DNB. Never mind what the regulations say.

If you see these people regularly, you get the benefit of the doubt should something come up.

Besides, the USPS provides a great, inexpensive service to us all.

Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping   Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping

by: Gypsy This user has validated their user name.

Mon Apr 9 08:39:48 2012

The USPS did away with Free Priority Mail a few years ago. The next best thing is to order the Free Priority Mail Stickers & use them in place of tape when securing items inside the package. Saves money on packing tape!  

Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping   Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping

by: diecastmike This user has validated their user name.
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Mon Apr 9 10:54:05 2012

Packing with Newspaper will usually void insurance claims with the USPS, as they specify using proper packing materials. So just be careful! I have 2 tape guns, one with brown colored tape and one clear. The brown covers most box printing quickly, makes for a professional looking job, and the clear for when using Priority boxes or affixing labels. As I need small boxes, a trip through cosmetics at Walmart usually fills half my basket and the shelf stocker loves me now! Shipping International does offer some tracking with the LC number. According to the USPS, this number should be scanned at arrival at foreign countries. When the LC number is entered into the USPS tracking site, it will give you the When it was accepted, when departed from the sorting site, and should stop at arrival at the other country. After this there is NO tracking (unless registered) But,at least at this point we can confirm that it has entered the customers country and it is in their own system now. But,from much experience, most countries do NOT scan upon arrival. Again it will prove you did send it!

Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping   Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping

by: Kelly This user has validated their user name.

Mon Apr 9 14:08:57 2012

My post office usually has a couple rolls of the Priority Mail tape out in the lobby on dispensers firmly chained to the counter. I just haven't had the guts to try and snag one. Gosh, I miss that tape!

Hate to say it, but even with the best packing job possible, some boxes and their contents are not immune to the poor handling by the carrier. You would be amazed how damaged a box can get while en-route to the buyer.

I once had a blown-glass ornament that I put into a sturdy box with plenty of packing. Then I placed that box into another box and packed about 3'' of peanuts and stiff styrofoam around it on all sides. That ornament wasn't going anywhere! Nice and tight and safe (or so you'd think.) The box arrived to the buyer nearly crushed on one half and you could see the peanuts through the torn cardboard and tape (she sent me lots of pics--she was a very gracious buyer and didn't blame me for the excessive damage to the box.)

Needless to say, the ornament was DOA. Luckily I had insured it with my auctiva account, so neither my buyer nor I was out any $$. I doubt that if I had triple-boxed it that it would've made a difference--I never imagined a box could be THAT destroyed. Just makes you wonder what REALLY happens to packages sometimes. And this was through the USPS (Priority Mail.) I thought only UPS and FedEx used packages as soccer balls!

My advice is to buy shipping insurance for anything you can't afford to self-insure (anything over $50 in value I have automatically insured.)

Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping   Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping

by: haunted This user has validated their user name.

Mon Apr 9 16:01:51 2012

I've seen my local P.O. put packages stacked 5-6 ft high on wooden pallets then wrapped with stretch film. Any packages on the bottom are going to be crushed no matter how securely they're packed if a heavy parcel is on the top.
During the Christmas season I saw one of these pallets stacked on top of another. It made me start double boxing some of the flimsier Priority boxes (like the rectangular flat boxes ) one inside the other.

Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping   Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping

by: comet This user has validated their user name.

Mon Apr 9 23:36:57 2012

Allegedly the PO MUST accept ANY packages that are not "fragile" in and of themselves AS LONG AS THEY HAVE A PROPER ADDRESS TAG.

Now I have NOT tried this in reality but I have heard---from a PO Employee  who ALSO runs a VERY successful ebay business selling large primative antiques like trunks,  beds,  crocks etc.  She claims that IF you want to send a trunk lets say and you add a string tag with the proper address the PO MUST accept it if proper postage is attached!  If any one tests this let us know!

That said---some other packing techniques:

Plastic soda bottles.  Use these as corner blocks--make SURE they are clean and have the tops firmly screwed on; also can be used as a "wall" between the inner and outer box of a larger object,  and under the middle box  and on top too---much much sturdier than the air pillows!  

The foam that is used for upholstery or mattress toppers is good for large bulky items--new only please.  Sometimes you can get off cuts from local business'.  

I have had items arrive here that defy explanation---glass elephant sculpture sent in ONLY a brown envelope!  A Tiffany lamp (not via the mail!) that survived a trip from AZ to NY wrapped in a knit SWEATER and dumped in an open cardboard box in a van towed behind  an RV with several stone sculptures rolling around on the floor and a glass front Stickley cabinet in there too. And they ALL survived!!!    Well and then I have SENT and RECEIVED items with seriously heavy duty packaging that were crushed or not even outwardly damaged but the item was smashed inside.  So who knows.

If you are sending items with odd shapes that are fragile in addition to the above posters tips you can use things like chop sticks and cardboard tubing----the kind they use for posters is good--as "armature" to make the protrusions less vulnerable  This is how museums ship fragile items.  You can also stuff soft material inside the tubing or slit the tube and wrap around bubble wrap or other packing.  

IF you have--or invest in---a paper shredder that can also be used as filler just NOT -for the love of all that is holy -the ones that make the paper the size of confetti.  That stuff is annoying and just plain nasty to try and clean up.  

And last----if you don't have small kids that have access to your tape use a SINGLE EDGE RAZOR BLADE to both CUT the tape and also just stick the edge side to the edge of the tape---no lost razor blade and no hard to find end of the tape!  

There.  I fixed it.  

Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping   Top Five Tips from 15 Years of Packing and Shipping

by: Sierra This user has validated their user name.

Mon Aug 20 08:05:41 2012

I'm late to this party, but wanted to reply to Harriet's comment about her PO being so helpful. Having lived in Northern CA for 15+ years now, I can verify this is not the case here, and that goes for both the Sacramento and Silicon Valley areas (various PO's in both locations). I've seen postal clerks sell their USPS shipping boxes (the ones they do have for sale) to customers for shipping items which, due to weight, will end up being shipped Priority Mail anyway, and for which they could just as easily be using the free Priority Mail boxes! (9 times out of 10, these customers appear to be folks who may not speak English so well and perhaps thus not be aware of USPS policies and options ... GRRRR!!!!)



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