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Packaging tips from a pro

Use these 10 steps to save money, reduce damage and satisfy your customers.

Smart packaging can save your company loads of money. Do you follow these tips?

The company that can deliver more than 1 million packages an hour had better know how to pack. And UPS does. In the testing environment, UPS engineers package, crush, drop and manhandle all kinds of packages all day long so they can help you avoid costly mistakes.

It's a sure bet that you can improve the process at your company, says Quint Marini, manager at UPS® Packaging Solutions near Chicago. Here, he offers 10 smart tips for preparing your wares for their journey so they arrive unharmed.

1. Only reuse boxes that are like new.
Reusing cartons is tempting, but boxes in transit may endure drops, collisions or extreme temperatures. Never use a carton with a crease or tear; a crease can reduce a box's strength by up to 70 percent. The modest savings resulting from reusing a box likely will be outweighed by the cost and customer frustration that comes with damaged or returned goods.

2. Be judicious when using recycled packaging.
High-performance foams and cushion wraps can be reused. But many biodegradable packaging materials break down quickly when exposed to extreme temperatures or humidity. And corrugated cartons with recycled content are designed for one-time use. Multiple uses reduce their resistance to crushing or puncturing.

3. High-performance interior cushioning is often worth the expense.
The most basic interior cushioning, polystyrene, can endure only one impact. It may not be adequate for the rigors of shipping. Higher-performing materials such as polyethylene or polyurethane are stronger and thinner. With less but more effective packaging, you can use a smaller box and save on shipping costs related to package dimensions and weight.

4. Interior packaging should support the stable areas of the product.

When packing an item like a microwave or television, the strongest structural area of a product – typically the corners – should be braced with packaging such as foam end caps. This ensures that the most stable areas will absorb impacts. More fragile areas, such as a screen or glass, should not touch interior cushioning.

5. Immobilize fragile items.
Do you want to make sure the box you ship contains cookies, not crumbs when it reaches its destination? Wrap fragile items individually and separate them from one another and the walls of the box. Fill in air spaces with packing material to ensure the items don't move when you shake the container.

6. Don't pack a laptop like a lamp, or vice versa.
Appropriate packing techniques vary widely depending on what you are shipping. With UPS's Packaging Advisor free online tool, all you have to do is input the product dimensions, the estimated weight and the type of product. The Advisor covers 56 product categories from apparel to windows, and provides step-by-step packaging instructions, including illustrated packing techniques, container recommendations, multiple materials options and closure directions.

7. "Right size" your boxes.
If you're routinely using boxes that are too large for the product you're sending, you are wasting packaging and spending too much on shipping. Try experimenting with new box sizes and new ways of arranging products in those boxes.

8. Turn to the experts at The UPS Store. The certified packaging experts at the store are always available to help package items properly. They excel in packaging, and shipping and offer services and supplies for most any packaging need.

9. Pack for the toughest environment your package will face.
A package gets handled more or less frequently on a cargo ship, in a truck or in a UPS package car. Examine your supply chain to find out where your package will experience the most handling. Then design your package – and test your packaging – for that environment.

10. Test a proposed packaging change to industry standards.
The UPS Packaging Guidelines site provides general guidelines on proper packaging materials and techniques. All packaged products should be tested in accordance with the International Safe Transit Association's (ISTA) Test Procedure 3A to ensure adequate package protection. Contact UPS® Packaging Solutions to learn about having your product packaging tested.

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    Reader Comments

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    Pierre May 5, 2015
    I've seen boxes fall apart and release all their contents while someone was carrying them. I definitely agree that some boxes shouldn't be reused after a certain point. When I was living in Canada, a lot of packages would go through snow storms. Some people wouldn't consider this when sending something, and they would end up having damage to the packages contents. Thanks for the great tips!
    Rose Nickelson February 19, 2015
    Wow, these are some really great tips for figuring out the best way to package something. My sister and I have started a business together and we are going to start shipping our products to people. I had no idea that you should only reuse boxes that look new. I would have just used some of the old boxes around my house.
    Anonymous February 1, 2013
    Thanks for all the advice! We are <a href="">shipping to Ontario</a> some wedding decorations that have been passed around in the family for a while now. I'm really nervous about sending them so far because they have a hire chance of getting ruined. I appreciate all the help, I'll definitely be using these tips!
    EmbraceThePositive.Com March 11, 2011
    Great article! Too many merchants just drop products into used cartons without any thought to packing materials. Not only do they risk damage to the product, but careless packaging looks bad to the customer. I realize boxes and packing materials can be costly...but nothing is more expensive than an unhappy customer.
    amcconnell March 10, 2011
    This is a sore subject with me and I know quite a few other people that feel the same way as I do on the way UPS handles our packages. Even the best packaging, writing FRAGILE, Handle with Care, ect.... cannot withhold, or be deliveded in one piece the way these packages are handled. I wittnessed with my own eyes the blow that these packages are handled. Litterly thrown and dropped onto the conveyer with no sense of ease or care if the package is fragile or not. Not much can be delivered in once piece from with what I seen, not even the best packaging.