Ever get a gift (or any package for that matter) only to find it was broken, crushed, crinkled or mangled beyond recognition? After spending time and money to choose the perfect gift for a client, the last thing you want is for the recipient to open up a broken mess. Proper packing and shipping is in order. Here are 12 shipping and packing tips for business gifts — or anything you need to ship:
Even if you’ve been shipping packages for years, it’s quite possible you’ve been packaging wrong or at least not as well as you could. In this first section we’ll cover some advice for packing items — advice you might not have seen elsewhere:
1. Remove Old Shipping Labels
Do you reuse old shipping boxes? That’s a great idea. It’s frugal and ecologically responsible.
The real question is, do you remove the old shipping labels and bar codes? Remember, old bar codes or addresses left on your box might cause your package to be mailed to the wrong place. At the very least, they may cause confusion, slowing down the shipping process. Old labels also make the package look like you just don’t care. So pull those puppies off before re-labeling your packages.
2. Get Free Boxes From Your Shipper
Major shippers and the U.S. postal service all provide free boxing and packaging options. In other words, depending on what you’re sending, the weight of the item, and the dimensions — you might actually be able to get free boxes. For very small and non-fragile items, you can get free envelopes or mailers and might be able to send them without a box.
For example, the U.S. Postal Service offers its Priority Mail Flat Rate program. The service includes free boxes and envelopes when you send packages using the flat rate program. Shippers pay one flat rate no matter what their package weighs or where it is going. Delivery is generally in one, two or three days based on the distance to destination. Package tracking is also available as well as a limited amount of free insurance against loss or damage. You can pick up boxes and envelopes from the post office, or order them online. And once you have the package ready, you can schedule free pick-up from your business or even from your home.
FedEx offers all its packaging free to those who use its service. You can even order packaging from FedEx online. UPS also offers shipping supplies free of charge to customers. You can register at My UPS to be able to place regular orders of shipping materials online.
Remember, there may be limitations on the size or weight of items eligible for certain size boxes. Also, for very fragile items, you may want to use your own larger boxes to accommodate extra cushioning such as bubble wrap and peanuts around items. Or, the FedEx Office outlets and UPS Stores will actually wrap items for a fee for you.
3. Use the H-Tape Method
What’s the H-tape method, you ask?
It’s a way to properly apply tape to a package, to keep it from opening up.
Simply apply tape along all the open seams of your box when you seal it. That will make an H-shape across the box’s upper surface — hence the name “H-tape method.” And if you have an irregularly shaped box, again just make sure to apply tape along all the open seams when you seal it.
You may also have items better served by different shapes of containers. Tubes might be one example, for anything paper related, or any long narrow item. In this case, just be sure you secure the two sealed ends of the tube with tape. Simple, huh?
4. The Tape Makes a Difference
When sealing your package, the tape you use makes a huge difference. Use plastic or reinforced paper tape designed for packages (usually 2 inches wide). Tape should be a minimum of 60-lbs. grade.
Avoid using cellophane tape (e.g., regular Scotch tape) or masking tape. It seems obvious why not to use masking tape or cellophane tape. Neither is very strong.
But that doesn’t explain why every source we reviewed said “no duct tape.” We wondered why you can’t use duct tape. Apparently so do a lot of other people because it’s a common question online. We’re still not sure why. What we do know is that FedEx, the U.S. Postal Service and UPS all have notices cautioning against it. Since they all emphatically say don’t use duct tape, we suggest you pay attention. No duct tape!
And never use rope or string to seal packages either. String and rope can get caught on equipment and either break or the recipient could end up with mangled packages.
5. Nest a Box Within a Box
Sometimes one box just won’t do, especially with a very fragile item. Two boxes — a box within a box — provide double the protection. The trick here is that you have to insulate completely around the inside box.
To start, wrap about two inches of cushioning around your item. Place the cushioned item within a box. Then restrict the movement of the package within the box using crumpled newspaper, peanuts or some other cushioning material. Restricting movement is very important.
Place the first box within a second box at least six-inches longer, wider and higher than the first. Use the same cushioning material that you did with the first to keep the smaller box from moving around too much in the larger container. Then close and tape up the larger box.
6. Using Crumpled Newspaper? Beware the Ink
Even though other options exist, using crumpled newspapers as a cushioning material is something a lot of people do. Remember when using newspaper to consider the ink. Newspaper ink can bleed off onto other materials it contacts. So be careful when wrapping that beautiful item not to package it in a way that the newspaper ink smudges it in the process.
7. Shipping Cookies and Baked Goods – Mmm, Mmm, Good
Shipping baked goods happens a lot. The first step in shipping an awesome gift of cookies or baked goods is … well, picking the right stuff to ship. In general moist, firm and hard does better than brittle. Frosting on cakes — well you can image what that would look like by the time it reached its destination after your package gets jumbled around. Unfrosted cakes, muffins, fudge, chocolate chip, oatmeal and bar cookies work best.
Treats like pound cake, fudges or brownies should be shipped in disposable aluminum containers. Pack cakes snugly in tins. Wrap cookies individually or back to back in plastic.
A set of instructions from Domino Sugar suggests packing baked goods in a food container first, then packing that into a shipping package.
Use crumpled newspapers, packing peanuts/pellets, paper towels, and bubble wrap to line the bottom of the box. Then add food containers with the heaviest on the bottom. Leave space between food containers in the box and fill in the space with packing material. Finish packing with paper and then shake down the packing material to be sure the box is tightly packed so food containers can’t shift around during shipping.
8. Provide an Inside Label or Business Card
Include a secondary label with shipping information or business card on the inside of a package is a great way to prepare for this possibility. This may allow your shipping company to deliver your package even if the exterior label has been lost or damaged.
For more details, FedEx offers “Insider Tips for Packing like a Pro.” The resource includes detailed videos and guides (PDF) to help you box, label and seal your packages. Here’s one instructional video from FedEx on how to best package your next small business shipment:
Now that you have an idea about how to prepare your packaging, let’s focus next on your shipping options:
9. Don’t Assume! Check Shipping Schedules
As General George Patton once said, “Plans are worthless but planning is essential.”
For example, did you know there are remote parts of the contiguous lower 48 states where even now it may take an extra day for package delivery – versus sending to large cities, where it’s possible to get items there in the same day even? In today’s world of instant global communication, we’re lulled into a false sense of the world being small. And we all can forget how much time it takes to ship a physical item outside the country or even the lower 48, especially if you want to avoid rush charges.
If you’re planning on shipping packages and have a short window of time to get them there (such as around the Holidays) plan ahead. Take a moment right now and look at a calendar. Then look at a map or schedule for the shipping service you plan to use. Don’t take the concept of “overnight” shipping for granted. Go here, for example, for U.S. Postal Service delivery dates for 2014.
10. Check Local and International Holiday Schedules
Trying to send something in time to arrive on Boxing Day in the United Kingdom? How about on Rizal Day in the Philippines? In either case, expect delays.
Of course, here in the U.S. you may face delays on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Labor Day and Independence Day, too. An important part of planning your shipping is to be aware of these holiday delays ahead of time. Fortunately, FedEx provides both a domestic and international holiday shipping guide letting you select the country you are interested in.
So next time you’re sending a package in time for Nourouz in Albania, you’ll be aware there’s no pickup or delivery that day.
11. Take Advantage of Tracking Services
All major shippers also offer free tracking. For example the U.S. Postal Service lets you track packages online but it also is adding mobile services. You can get status updates sent via text directly to your phone so you can track a package even when you’re away from your desk. Simply enter the tracking number given to you when shipping your package into the USPS Tracking system to get started.
FedEx gives you three ways to track your packages. You can sign in to FedEx Tracking, enter your tracking number and receive proof of delivery once your package reaches it destination. Sign up for FedEx Insight and you can track your packages without a tracking number, name your various shipments and use filters to monitor various shipments in progress. Or you can track your shipments via email update by submitting a request.
Meanwhile, UPS has a program allowing customers to receive up to date information on the location and status of their order. It’s called Quantum View Notify and provides most updates via email.
Some third party sites like PackageMapping offer customers a tracking service simply by entering a tracking number from your shipper.
That way, you’ll know that gift reached its destination — or not.
12. Expedited Shipping is an Option, of Course
Some customers might want their orders tomorrow. Or you might need to get a last minute gift out fast.
Luckily there are multiple choices for overnight and two day shipping. FedEx offers a next morning shipping option which, depending on the destination, can arrive as early as 8 a.m. the following business day. The U.S. Postal Service offers Priority Mail Express with guaranteed overnight delivery to most U.S. destinations. UPS also offers a number of overnight delivery options including UPS Next Day Air.
Finally, we’ve focused in this piece on UPS, FedEx and the post office. But we don’t want to dissuade you from exploring other shipping options, including local messenger services in your area, as well.
Shipping Photo via Shutterstock
This is part of the Small Business Trends holiday article series featuring tips, advice and news about the latest holiday trends taking place in today's business world. Check out our Business Gift Giving Guide for more.
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