New Rules: When It Comes to Shipping, Size Matters

By Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer

It used to be that weight was a shipper’s biggest concern. But now the major shipping companies are basing their charges on package dimensions. The upshot for small business owners? Size matters when it comes to new shipping guidelines.

The key is to balance product safety — keeping the items you’re shipping in good condition during transit — with efficient sizing. It may seem like a lot of effort to save a little cash on a package, but if you do a lot of shipping, or if your margins are thin, better sizing really can pay.

Select a Better Box

When weight was all that mattered, you could pick any size box, jam it full of packing materials and go. But now it pays to be more deliberate.

“We decide on the size that's big enough to be universal to fit most of our products, yet small enough that we don't have to put in much filler to complete the packaging,” explains Jerry Lee, founder of Los Angeles–based made-to-order leather goods merchant StoryLeather.com. This saves on shipping cost and time.”

Here are four options for following new shipping guidelines:

1.    First-Class Mail. If what you’re shipping is light, it may be more cost-effective to go with regular first-class mail. If you ship items that weigh less than one pound, Lee says, “Your best choice of carrier will be the USPS, as the cost of First-Class packages tends to be less than half the price of the cheapest UPS or FedEx shipping options.”

2.    Flat-Rate Boxes. Many carriers, including the U.S. Postal Service, offer boxes that ship for a guaranteed rate regardless of weight. The containers enable you to ship anything — up to 70 pounds! — that fits for a guaranteed price that includes tracking and 2- to 3-day delivery. This option makes it easy to budget and charge for shipping, notes Alishan Patel, owner of Global Cars Brands in Lewisville, TX. “To make it straightforward and easy for you and the customer, offer flat-rate shipping,” he says. Set prices according to the various sizes of your products to ensure you charge appropriately — and preferably with a little margin in there for you.

3.    Standard Boxes. If there’s a lot of variety in what you ship — or you just don’t want to use your valuable time trying to figure out the best box options, ask a shipping pro to weigh in (no pun intended). After all, they know the best products and techniques for packing and shipping economically. “Work closely with your local shipping supply vendor,” Lee says. “You will save a lot of money by not over-inventorying and save warehouse space allocated for shipping supply.”

4.    Custom Boxes. Businesses that do a lot of shipping, especially of premium or delicate items, should consider a custom box that’s big enough to safeguard the contents and small enough to keep costs low. Yuri Cataldo, founder and CEO of IndigoH2O, a premium mineral water purveyor in South Bend, IN, ships glass bottles. He began sending these heavy but fragile items via the USPS to learn which packing method offered the most protection at the lowest cost. “This process was much more labor intensive, but it was worth the extra time,” he says. The trial and error helped him to know what he needed in a custom box. “I never would have gotten to that point had I not first used what was cheapest and in front of me.” Though the cost per box is a little higher, the dimensions are just large enough to allow for secure packing, which keeps the cost of shipping and the number of returns due to damage low.

Whatever box option you choose, emphasize quality. “Cheap shipping materials will more than likely not hold up and a valuable product will arrive damaged and unusable,” says Houston-based communications consultant Kristina Cox of Celebrate and Communicate. “Put yourself in the customer’s shoes when packaging your goods. How would you like to receive a product in the mail? Wouldn't you appreciate receiving a hard, sturdy box, and knowing that someone took the extra effort to make sure your product made it to you in excellent condition?”

You know the answer is yes, so take a closer look at the boxes you use to ship products. You may find a way to decrease shipping costs while increasing customer satisfaction.

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