Shipping Boxes for Ecommerce: The Ultimate Guide
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Every E-commerce seller understands the importance of shipping products safely to their customers. The kind of packaging you choose will affect the cost, breakage and returns rate, the environment, and even customer loyalty.
This guide will explore all the nitty-gritty about corrugated shipping boxes; when to use them, what size and strength you require, how much it costs, and what environmental considerations you should have in your decision making.
A wide range of products can be sent in a corrugated box including food, fabrics, skincare products, jewelry, appliances, and apparel. However, the main question is; ‘What are the benefits and downsides of shipping in a box?’
- Corrugated boxes are very light, thus making them convenient to load, unload and package
- Besides making for a great presentation, boxes are ideal for protecting your products
- Boxes can be found in any design, color, shape and size. They can even be customized according to specific customer requirements
- The materials used to make corrugated boxes are very cheap, making shipping boxes much more affordable compared with other options in the market
- Corrugated boxes can be easily printed on, thus making them ideal for promotional, branding and marketing purposes. Most businesses use such boxes to print their name and logo
- Once they are filled, boxes can be stacked up. This makes it easier to store them in a warehouse
- Boxes are made of paper, a recyclable and compostable resource
- They are not completely weatherproof. Water and other kinds of liquids can easily seep into the box and spoil the contents
- Boxes could get deformed when stacked or exposed to extreme pressure
- They take up more space in storage
- Since boxes must be assembled and taped, more labor is required
What kind of box should you use?
Here are the common box styles to consider for shipping:
- One panel fold (OPF) – The OPF is the ideal box for flat or slim products such as jump ropes, books, prints and picture frames
- Regular slotted container (RSC) – The RSC is the traditional industrial box used for shipping or moving. It has tabs on each side that fold over, with the bottom or top of the box taped shut. RSC boxes are ideal for deep boxes (>6”) and heavy products (>15lbs). It is ideal for packing heavy and fragile items such as ceramics, liquids and books
- Five panel folder (FPF) – Though slightly similar to the RSC, FPFs have an additional inside flap that makes the box more secure. This kind of box is suited for long or tall items such as baseball bats and sculptures
- Tab locking box (TL) – These are classy boxes commonly used by brand conscious businesses. The branding/logo looks perfect on the lid and customers enjoy a memorable opening experience. The TL is ideal for products such as cosmetics, accessories, apparel and small toys. However, avoid such boxes when shipping heavy goods (>15lbs)
- Literature mailer (LM) – The LM is quite similar in design to the TL and can be used to package the same items. It is however quicker to assemble
The role of corrugated pads
Packaging in shopping boxes also involves using pads, sleeves, trays and slotted dividers. These parts play the following roles:
- Product divider – Imagine carrying two similarly sized vases in your shipping box. Placing a corrugated pad or divider between them will prevent them from knocking against each other and chipping during transit
- Increase rigidity – Corrugated pads can enhance the rigidity of an item and prevent bending during transit
- Additional compression – Adding a pad on the bottom or/and top of a packaging provides more cushioning for fragile products
Types of flutes used in shipping
A corrugated sheet is made up of two parts; the flat, outer covering (linerboard) and the wavy, s-shaped paper between the linerboard (flute). It’s the flute that helps the corrugated sheets to withstand pressure and resist bending.
Flutes vary in two main ways; their height and how loosely or tightly they are ‘fluted’ or waved. Here are the three types of flutes used in shipping:
- B Flute – This flute has 42-50 flutes per foot and is 1/8” thick. It is ideal for printing and folding, and thus works best for presentation style boxes like Literature Mailers and Tab Locking
- C Flute – 39-43 flutes per foot and 11/64” thick. With its good cushioning, it is suitable for medium weight boxes
- E Flute – 94 flutes per foot and 1/16” thick. It has a great surface for printing and offers strong crush resistance.
For added strength and thickness, corrugated sheets can also be made of two or three sheets put together to make a double wall or triple wall. However, such multi-wall sheets are used more for larger industrial containers than in conventional Ecommerce.
When do you need fill, bubble or lining with your box?
There are two main situations where some kind of lining or filling is needed; if the shipping box is bigger than the item it contains or if the product is fragile, heavy or of high value. In such cases, you need to find a way of totally immobilizing the item within the box.
The following are some options for void fill or lining:
- Packaging paper – Packing paper can be crinkled or balled up to fill the void in a shipping box. It can also come in handy for wrapping products for presentation. Packaging paper is available with different colors, textures, thicknesses and moldability
- Corrugated bubble – Such sheets of shredded corrugated bubble can be rolled up and used for void fill or even wrapped around products
- GreenWrap – This is a paper that can be wrapped around items to offer padded protection and cushioning. GreenWrap is fully recyclable, compostable and naturally biodegradable
- Foam peanuts – Made with expanded polystyrene, these small S-shapes pieces are used to fill the void in shipping boxes. Though they are easy to use and offer great protection, foam peanuts are usually annoying for customers since they cling to things and are difficult to clean up. In addition, they are not very environmental-friendly
- Bubble wrap – Besides filling voids, bubble wrap also comes in very handy for bracing and blocking. It is also fun to pop or stomp on when you are done. However, the downside is that it is very difficult to recycle
- Inflatables – These are basically plastic pillows of air that can be used for blocking, bracing and void fill. Inflatables allow you to fill spaces in boxes easily and fast with minimal material. The main downside is that you will have to buy a costly ‘air filler’ machine since the plastic pillows come flat and uninflated
- Crinkle paper – When it comes to smaller packages, crinkle paper is ideal for void fill. It especially does a great job protecting fragile products. However, the cost of this paper can be very prohibitive for some people
- Tissue paper – Though it is not good for blocking, bracing and void fill, tissue paper makes for a beautiful presentation
What kind of tape should you use?
There are two main types of sealing tape:
- Water activated tape (WAT) – WAT is a type of tape that has a water-based chemical adhesive. When this adhesive is applied to a box, it sticks due to capillary action. The water-activated tape is highly tampered resistant and thus ideal for packaging. It provides a strong seal that cannot be broken. In addition, WAT’s strength or adhesive does not change in heat or cold.
However, this tape is not convenient to use since it has to be activated by water. It is also costly to use since a special dispenser is required.
- Pressure-sensitive tape (PST) – Consisting of a film and a tacky substance, this tape sticks to a surface when pressure is applied. Duct tapes, scotch tapes, and masking tapes are common examples of pressure-sensitive tapes.
PST’s are less tamper-resistant compared to water-activated tapes and can easily be peeled off. The seal is also not as strong and decreases in effectiveness in extreme weather conditions. However, the good news is that pressure-sensitive tapes don’t require a special dispenser to use.
Branding your shipping boxes
Shipping boxes offer you a great opportunity for promoting your brand and creating a strong impression on your customers. According to a recent Ecommerce packaging study, almost 50% of customers said that they are likely to make a repeat purchase if their order came in a premium or gift-like package. The study also revealed that gift-like or branded packaging significantly increased the chances of word-of-mouth marketing.
Here are some of the elements you should consider adding on the outside of your box:
- Your company logo
- Your physical address, phone number and website address
- Hashtag for your marketing campaign
- Branding messages
- A thank you card
Besides branding the outside of your box, you could also consider adding some nice visuals and text on the inside of the box. This could include:
- Your logo
- Your mission statement
- A message from the founder
- Detailed instructions on how the product works and what it can be used for
- Welcome leaflets for first-time customers
- A recipe to go with a food item
- Trivial gifts such as key rings, pens or candies. Though they don’t cost much, such gifts could mean a lot to customers
- Vouchers or coupons to encourage customers to become repeat buyers
Boxes can be printed using different techniques:
- Digital printing – This type of printing allows for a wide range of designs and colors for corrugated sheets. The finish can be either gloss or matte. However, since the cost per box is very high, digital printing is not commonly used for shipping boxes
- Flexographic printing – Also known as offset printing, this type of printing involves using a ‘plate’ to impress your design on your boxes using ink. Though the initial cost of setting up is high, flexo printing has a relatively low per-box printing cost. You can use water and soy based inks that are not toxic and can be safely composted or recycled
- Screen printing – This involves applying ink on a surface through a screen to create a specific design. Though screen printing is normally used for apparel, it is can also work well for boxes
If you decide to use shipping boxes for packaging your products, do your best to make all the aspects of your packaging sustainable.
First, use as much recycled content as possible. If you can, find boxes made using 100% recycled content. However, it is a fact that boxes made using recycled content are not as strong as those made from virgin paper fibers. If the boxes are meant to carry fragile, expensive or heavy items, then 100% recycled corrugated boxes are not advisable.
Second, keep your box as snug and small as possible. Preferably, order custom sizes from the supplier so that you don’t use more material than necessary – for the box itself and the lining or void fill.
Third, do your best to encourage customers to compost, recycle or reuse their boxes. You could add a note or stamp in their box requesting them to dispose the packaging responsibly. Alternatively, offer great ideas for reuse.
Finally, go for eco-friendly shipping services. If you don’t need your boxes immediately, ask your supplier to send them via ground shipping. Be sure to give your customers an option for ground shipping as well.
Charles Mburugu is a HubSpot-certified content writer/marketer for B2B, B2C and SaaS companies. He has worked with brands such as GetResponse, Neil Patel, Shopify, 99 Designs, Oberlo, Salesforce and Condor. Check out his portfolio and connect on LinkedIn.