When shipping items you’ve sold on eBay, or items you’re sending as gifts to friends or family, packing correctly can mean the difference between satisfied and happy recipients, and significant heartache (and sometimes expense). This article provides a few simple tips and guidelines on how to pack your fragile items, whether you sold them on eBay or are simply sending them as a gift. Following these tips in your eBay business will help you build credibility with your customers – a critical step in building an eBay-based business.
Risks to Your Item While Being Shipped
The first immediate risk is that if you pack your item incorrectly it may be damaged before it even leaves your house. For example, if you use newspaper as the first layer, ink can transfer onto your item, potentially staining it indelibly.
Next, fragile items shipped loose in a box that’s too large will be subjected to repeated impacts against the side of the box. Even with bubble-wrap around your item, the wrong impact at the wrong angle may well break or chip it. Finally, packing heavy items in the same box with fragile objects may cause the former to hit the latter and break it.
A Few Simple Steps on Safely Packing Fragile Items
No matter what steps you take, it is impossible to absolutely prevent any damage to your fragile item during shipping. Mishaps occur even in the safest and most professional of shipping companies. A forklift might be driven with its fork lifted a bit too much, piercing through your carefully packed box, demolishing its contents.
Alternatively, a container may drop loose from a crane lifting it, subjecting it to a drop of a hundred feet or more. Even the most careful packing job will not prevent a heavy box crushing your box in such a catastrophic situation. That’s why the first question you must answer before you begin packing your fragile item is – should you be shipping it at all?
Assuming you’ve concluded that you should indeed be shipping the item in question, the following steps will maximize the likelihood of its safe arrival at the destination, be it your eBay customer, your friend Joe, or your aunt Maxine.
Packing Tip #1 for Fragile Items: Go Large
Use the right packing materials (for electronics see #3 below before choosing your packing materials). These should include a sturdy shipping box large enough to accommodate not only your item, but at least 5” – 6” on each side for shock absorbing materials such as foam, packing peanuts, and/or bubble-wrap, and good packing tape.
For especially heavy items it may be worthwhile to use a wood crate rather than a cardboard box. If a wood crate is not available, or not allowed (there are also limitations on the use of untreated wood for international shipping), use an especially thick cardboard box, or a plastic shipping container. These last often come with shaped foam liners providing a first line of defense against external shocks.
Packing Tip #2 for Fragile Items: Avoid Blemishes
Any adhesives you use, such as packing tape, should never touch the item you’re shipping. Tape will often leave adhesive residue on your item, blemishing it. Similarly, as alluded to above, do not use newsprint as the first layer of wrapping. Instead, use clean unused wrapping tissue paper sheets (except for electronics – see next tip).
Packing Tip #3 for Fragile Items: Avoid Static Discharges When Shipping Electronics
Some of the most fragile and expensive items people ship are electronics. For these there is another type of hazard above and beyond mechanical shock – electrostatic discharge. To prevent so-called ESD hazards, use special ESD packing materials including ESD-safe bags, ESD-safe bubble-wrap and/or ESD-safe foam (both are usually pink or green in color though the color is not a guarantee of being ESD-safe), and avoid packing peanuts unless you’re certain they’re of ESD-safe material. Note that packing tape will almost always be charged up by the mere act of separating a length from the roll, so have your electronics already ESD-protected before packing tape comes near.
Packing Tip #4 for Fragile Items: Avoid Loose Packing
If your item is loose inside the box, each time the box accelerates or decelerates (think of the truck driver hitting the brakes, or the plane touching down) your item will hit against the side of the box. To prevent this, wrap your item in several layers of bubble-wrap, using packing tape to firmly adhere the last layer of bubble-wrap to itself in a way that prevents it from unraveling. The bubble-wrap should be at least 4” thick on all sides of your item.
Next, place enough packing peanuts, foam, or rumpled heavy paper at the bottom of the box (at least 2″ is advisable), position the bubble-wrapped item in the middle over this shock-absorbing bed, place more shock-absorbing packing materials around and over the top of the centrally-located item. Make sure the packing materials fill the box tightly so that your item cannot move from side to side or bottom to top.
Another important aspect here is to fill up internal voids of fragile items (e.g. vases and the like) with clean packing materials such as packing peanuts, rolled up bubble-wrap, etc. to provide internal support against pressure from having many other boxes stacked in transit on top of yours. Especially in ground shipping, road bumps could cause breakage inside otherwise well-packed boxes if there are heavy items on top of the box.
Packing Tip #5 for Fragile Items: What to do With Multiple Items
Especially if one item is heavy and another is fragile, it’s safer to pack the two in separate boxes. However, if that’s not a good option, make sure the box is large enough to allow not only 5” – 6” around the combined items, but also another 6” – 8” of packing material between the items. In this case it is especially critical to ensure there is no excess space in the box so the items are securely wedged in place and cannot move relative to each other or relative to the box.
Bottom Line on Packing Fragile Items
A well-packed fragile item can survive the normal rigors of the shipping process. However, this requires sufficiently thick layers of shock-absorbing materials such as foam, packing peanuts, and bubble-wrap, all firmly wedged in, and encased by a sturdy box. While providing no guarantees, sticking the well-known “Fragile! Handle with care!” stickers on each side of the box is a good idea too.
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