Shipping services

Thinking outside and inside the shipping box


Tips for choosing the perfect package to protect your merchandise on its journey to your customers.

Which is the most difficult item to ship?
a. cast-iron cookware
b. cherry cheesecake
c. picture frames

Use these tips to ensure that you're packaging shipments securely and cost-effectively.

It's a trick question, really. They're all challenging. A heavy casserole dish must be generously padded, and that extra cushioning increases its box size and shipping costs. The cheesecake's temperature must be carefully controlled during its trip. And the glass panes in the picture frames require special protection against breakage.

Each product is much more likely to arrive intact when it's shipped in a container designed for its unique needs. A product that is delivered in perfect condition ensures customer satisfaction and reinforces your brand's reputation for quality from the outside in.

Business owners typically spend more time analyzing their products than the boxes, bags or cartons that protect their merchandise on its journey to consumers. That's usually not a problem – until goods are routinely damaged in transit or breakage rates start eating into profits. Then it's time to think inside the box and take a closer look at packing materials.

Pallets, packages or both?

To determine the packaging that will best protect your merchandise, consider what you're selling. "The more sturdy the product, the less packaging will be needed," says Quint Marini, a UPS package engineering manager. Bags of bolts are unlikely to be damaged in transit, but a plasma TV needs extra TLC.

Size matters, too. Small parcels are jostled as they travel along conveyor belts and interstates from warehouse to consumer. "Packaging has to be pretty robust" to withstand that rocky ride, Marini says.

Freight shipments are handled less, but they're moved by forklift, so the stability of the pallet is vital. Boxes and protective material that's ideal for pallets might prove less durable when individual boxes are shipped to customers.

That's what a major cookware manufacturer discovered after receiving complaints about damaged enamel cookware. Engineers at UPS® Packaging Solutions who analyzed the packaging determined that it was ideal only for pallet loads. The engineers created a more protective corrugated prototype that used less packaging. The result was reduced breakage – and, ultimately, lower shipping costs.

Fragile: More than handling with care

Fragile items require extra attention, too. Framed artwork, for example, is both large and delicate. To protect it, UPS's packaging engineers designed cushioning that suspends frames from the sides and middle of cartons, "like a corrugated spring system to isolate it from the surfaces of the box," Marini says.

Among Marini's packing tips: 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 – and with more effective packaging, you can use a smaller box and save on shipping costs related to package dimensions and weight.

It's warm (and wet) out there

Humidity in your warehouse and at your shipping destinations is another factor to consider. Corrugated cardboard absorbs ambient moisture in humid conditions, and dampness weakens its protective powers. "Paper is a living material," Marini says, "and it's going to absorb water and dry out, too. It breathes."

You can minimize this degradation by storing wood-fiber corrugated boxes and shipping materials in a temperature-controlled facility. When you deliver to humid climates, such as the southeastern United States, opt for sturdier boxes.

Keep it cold inside

If you're shipping perishable items, such as lobster tails or pharmaceuticals, your packaging needs to safeguard your merchandise while holding it at an optimal temperature.

Fresh goods are among the most expensive to ship because they must travel as quickly as possible so they stay cool or frozen. Gel freezer packs or dry ice packs may be the right solution for many food retailers.

A limited transit window can be even more daunting for pharmaceutical and life-sciences manufacturers, but they can buy valuable time by using high-performance materials and services, such as UPS Temperature True®, which is specifically designed to safeguard temperature-sensitive products based on precise, measurable operating procedures and equipment.

Learn more about the highs and lows of temperature-sensitive shipping.  

Do you have tips for shipping fragile items? Or packages that need to be kept cold or hot? Share below.  


Reader Comments

Add Your Comment

Download UPS Holiday Calendar

Stay up to date

Subscribe to get updates delivered right in your Inbox.

Sign Up