How to Pack eBay Items

In: Packaging

29 Mar 2009

Here’s what you don’t do: Drop your item in an empty box and then seal it up. A loose item in a big box will bounce around and get damaged, guaranteed. (Imagine your box being tossed around by a bunch of gorillas in a parking lot, and you get an accurate picture of what most packages endure in the shipping process.) No, you need to carefully pack your item to minimize any potential damage from dropping and rough handling and from various weather conditions, including rain, snow, and heat.

How do you pack your box? Professional shippers use Styrofoam peanuts, and lots of them; amateurs tend to use crumpled-up newspapers and other materials found around the house. Here’s where you can learn something from the pros peanuts are much lighter than newspaper. Weight is a factor in how much you’ll pay for shipping, so anything you can do to lighten the weight of your package is important. Because peanuts cost…well, peanuts, they’ve become my preferred cushioning material. (And I used to be a crumpled-up newspaper kind of guy, until the latest increase in Priority Mail rates.)

As you might expect, packing needs vary for different types of items. You can use these packing tips when it’s time to ship your next item:

  • If you have the item’s original box or packaging, use it! Nothing ships better than the original shipping container.
  • If you’re shipping a common item DVD’s, videotapes, books, and so on look for item-specific shipping containers. For example, most office supply stores stock boxes and padded mailers specifically designed for CD’s and DVD’s. These containers typically do what they’re advertised to do.
  • Always cushion your package contents, using some combination of shredded or crumpled newspapers, bubble wrap, or Styrofoam peanuts. (For example, when I ship a CD or DVD, I wrap it in bubble wrap and cushion it with peanuts.)
  • Whatever cushioning material you use, don’t skimp on it. Pack your items tightly to avoid shifting of contents during transit, and make sure that the cushioning material covers all sides of the item.
  • Position the item toward the center of the box, away from the bottom, sides, and top. (This means placing peanuts under the item as well as on top of it.)
  • If you’re shipping several items in the same box, wrap each one separately (in separate smaller boxes, if you can), and provide enough cushioning to prevent movement and to keep the items from rubbing against each other.
  • Not only should items be separated from each other in the box, but they also should be separated from the corners and sides of the box to prevent damage if the box is bumped or dropped.
  • The preceding point argues for another technique: double-boxing items that are especially fragile, such as glass or ceramic items. That means packing the item tightly in a smaller, form-fitting box, and then placing that box inside a slightly larger, shock-absorbing boxwith at least 3 inches of cushioning material between the boxes.
  • If your item has any protruding parts, cover them with extra padding or cardboard.
  • Be careful with the bubble wrap. Although it’s great to wrap around objects with flat sides, it can actually damage more fragile figurines or items with lots of little pieces and parts sticking out. If the bubble wrap is too tight, it can snap off any appendages during rough handling.
  • Stuff glassware and other fragile hollow items, such as vases, with newspaper or other packing material. This provides an extra level of cushioning in case of rough handling.
  • When shipping jars and other items with lids, either separate the lid from the base with several layers of bubble wrap or tissue paper or (better still) pack the lid in a separate small box.
  • When shipping framed photographs or artwork, take the glass out of the frame and wrap it separately. Do not let artwork come in direct contact with paper or cardboard.
  • Wrap paper items (photographs, books, magazines, and so on) in some sort of plastic bag or wrap, to protect against wetness in shipment.
  • When shipping electronic items (including toys and consumer electronics devices), remove the batteries before you ship. Wrap and place the batteries next to the items in the shipping container.
  • When shipping computer partscircuit boards, video cards, memory chips, and so onpad the item well and pack it in an Electro Static Discharge (ESD) bag to prevent damaging static buildup. And don’t use peanuts for fillerall that Styrofoam can carry a damaging static charge.

After you think you’re done packing, gently shake the box. If nothing moves, it’s ready to be sealed. If you can hear or feel things rattling around inside, however, it’s time to add more cushioning material. (If you can shake it, they can break it!)

When you’re packing an item, watch the weight. I make it a point to have a postal scale at my packing station, and to weigh the item shipping container and all during the packing process. When I’m using Priority Mail, the difference between shipping a one-pound package and a one-pound, one-ounce package is as much as $1.90, depending on where it’s going. Finding some way to cut that extra ounce of packing material can save almost two bucks in shipping costs which is why I want to know the weight before I seal the package.

Packing for international customers shouldn’t be any different from packing for domestic customersas long as you do it right. Foreign shipments are likely to get even rougher treatment than usual, so make sure that the package is packed as securely as possiblewith more than enough cushioning to survive the trip to Japan or Europe or wherever it happens to be going. What is different about shipping internationally is the paperwork and the shipping costs.

After your box is packed, it’s time to seal it. A strong seal is essential, so always use tape that is designed for shipping. Be sure to securely seal the center seams at both the top and the bottom of the box. Cover all other seams with tape, and be sure not to leave any open areas that could snag on machinery.

What kind of sealing materials should you use?

  • Do use tape that is designed for shipping, such as pressure-sensitive tape, nylon-reinforced kraft paper tape, glass-reinforced pressure-sensitive tape, or water-activated paper tape. Whichever tape you use, the wider and heavier, the better. Reinforced is always better than non-reinforced.

  • Don’t use wrapping paper, string, masking tape, or cellophane tape.

One last thing: If you plan to insure your package, leave an untaped area on the cardboard where your postal clerk can stamp “Insured.” (Ink doesn’t adhere well to tape.)

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