Almost everyone who owns an online store would agree that packaging should be one of the most crucial parts of a small business. Not only does proper packaging helps your items arrive safely, but it is also the start of the customer experience when unboxing, setting the tone for the rest that follows.
Choosing the right packaging ensures that your items are protected and that you can optimize for the lowest shipping cost. That is why we created this guide to share some of the best shipping and packaging supplies for small businesses.
Cost factor and the unboxing experience: Why you should take time to choose packaging supplies
When you're starting out, there are a ton of supplies to purchase, and they all add up quickly. But if you don't know what is important or how much each item costs, then you could end up spending more than you need on items that may not be necessary. Choosing the right supplies can save you a lot of money, which can be used in other parts of the business.
Investing in quality packing materials helps to ensure that your items inside would arrive safely. There are also options to make your packaging stand out even more by using custom-packaging products such as floral printed tapes, stickers, tissue paper, or handwritten notes. These help to create a memorable first impression with customers.
However, as much as you might be tempted to splurge out on packaging and make sure that they look beautiful, it is important to remember that you don't overspend because the customers are paying for the product itself.
8 Essential Shipping Materials Every Small Business Should Have
Here are eight essential shipping materials that you can include in your checklist to make sure that your small business is in good hands:
There are two things to consider when choosing boxes: Size and thickness.
Choosing a box too big will result in higher shipping fees due to extra handling charges. Your boxes can also get smashed up easily because of the empty spaces inside. On the other hand, choosing a box too small might damage fragile items inside if you try to jam everything in.
Similarly, the thickness should be directly proportional to the size and weight of your box to provide enough protection. In packaging terms, the unit for measuring the cardboard thickness is called flute, ranging from AB flute at 7.8mm thick to G flute at 0.5mm thick. This may not seem like a big issue, but the longer your boxes are in transit, the more they get handled and sometimes dropped and the worse condition they would likely end up in when arriving. Therefore, the thicker the box, the more protection there is (think international shipping for those overseas orders).
The standard thickness for shipping boxes ranges from E to F flute, and E flute is usually chosen when making pizza boxes or shoe boxes.
- If you ship orders in the same box size consistently, try getting them in bulk. A quick Google of "wholesale corrugated card" and there should be plenty of options at a nice discount.
- If you only ship a handful of boxes every month, check out the Flat Rate Boxes at USPS, as you would only have to pay for the flat rate shipping.
Bubble wrap and other cushioning materials
You can use many kinds of cushioning materials to wrap your fragile products before putting them inside the box to avoid them from breaking during the shipping process. The most common options are bubble wrap and polyester foam, known for excellent shock absorption against shock and water.
Alternatively, you can use cardboard and paper shredding or biodegradable air pillows, which are great alternatives that offer the same assurance for your fragile item and while being more eco-friendly. One tip when using any kind of cushioning material is to not overstuff them, as they are bulky and can increase the volume weight of your package.
Using a mailer bag will save space while ensuring that your package arrives intact and protect them from rain and dirt during transit. Mailer bags are great for sending small or flexible items. Like boxes, they come in different sizes depending on your need.
One common mistake people usually make when choosing mailer size is to pick the mailers that are just "a little longer" than the dimensions of their items. You also need to take into account the product height.
The maximum surface area covered by a poly bag cannot change because the material is not stretchable. As a result, the height of the product will expand the mailer, which needs to be taken into account, and a taller product requires a wider mailer.
- When a customer receives your package in a mailer bag, that is also the start of the unboxing experience. Opt for mailers with colors or designs that align with your brand aesthetics as much as possible. It might be a turn-off for some to see other people's branding on the mailers.
- Use our mailer size calculator to work out the minimum mailer size that would be big enough to fit your product. From there, it would be much easier to choose from the wide variety of mailers.
- Opt for bubble mailer options for some extra cushioning when you're sending books, small electronics, or jewelry. A bubble mailer can cost a little more to ship, but the extra padding is definitely worth it.
Use our mailer size calculator to get recommendation on the minimum size you should get.
- Compostable mailers from Noissue, biodegradable mailers from Impack.
- These very cool item bags that dissolve in boiling water from Wastebased.
Packing tapes help to secure your shipping boxes. However, packaging tapes have evolved throughout the years and come in many options now: kraft tapes, reinforced tapes, and even custom printed ones.
Depending on what you need, transparent packing tapes are the most common, while reinforced tapes are more suitable for heavy-weight boxes.
If you want to get creative and make sure your boxes stand out even more, then you should definitely consider custom tapes. Customizing your own tapes, including color, design, and text, make sure even your boxes can stay on brand. The downside is that they are either super expensive or require a large minimum order quantity (MOQ).
Plastic tapes need to be separated from boxes during sorting, and they are also non-recyclable and release toxic fumes when burnt. Try using water-activated tapes or paper-based tapes as most of the components are recyclable/biodegradable. They also do not use polypropylene or polyester film like regular plastic tapes.
Recommended packing tapes:
A shipping label printer
Buying a label printer can make the packaging process much faster and efficient. It will help you print your shipping labels with a few simple clicks. Most platforms (Shopify, Etsy, Amazon) allow you to purchase pre-paid shipping in bulk for your customer order, so as long as you have a label printer, the process should be super straightforward.
The labels for these printers also use thermal ink, so you never have to worry about buying and replacing toner. Just get a printer and a stack of labels, and you are ready to go.
True story: I decided to save a few bucks and print the shipping labels with my regular laser printer when we started Nightingale since we only had a handful of orders.
- The time it took to cut, tape those labels on the bag was just way too much compared to print, peel, and apply (literally seconds).
- It was difficult for people to peel off the tapes when recycling. The excess paper as the result of cutting was also wasteful.
The typical standards you should be looking for in a label printer are:
- Resolution: 203 dpi (dots per inch)
- Max Printing Speed: 150 mm/second
When you're starting out, a label printer can seem like a big investment upfront (from ~$149), but it can save you hours every week, allowing you more time to work on other aspects of your business.
Munbyn Thermal Shipping Label Printer (941 Standard version)
Why we love it:
- Super easy to use and set up
- Automatically learn your paper size when you feed the labels in
- The 941 Standard version comes with a USB-C connection, suitable for all recent Windows & Mac devices
- Compatible with most available shipping platforms
- Competitive price
Besides shipping labels, a label printer can also print warehouse labels, file folder tags, barcodes, ID labels, and many more use cases. They last for years, and the popular ones usually have good resale value too.
This one is obvious on the list if you use a label printer. The standard 4"x6" labels are standard and should be available as an option for most, if not all, platforms. Shipping labels are generally pretty cheap, and you can get a 200 pack or 500 pack on Amazon or from the printer brands themselves (price ranging from $11 to $20, which works out to $0.03 to $0.05/label).
Tip: There are two types of label packing styles: Roll or fan-fold. Each has its pros and cons. Before buying your labels, double-check which type is suitable for your printer. Certain printers, such as the Dymo 4XL, only work with rolls, so make sure you don't get the fan-fold labels if you own one of those printers.
Fan-fold labels and roll labels from Rollo
Even for something as simple as shipping labels, there are good and bad quality labels. The good ones would give you crisp prints that are easy to tear off the printer and easy for the label reader to scan. The bad ones, however, might not allow the printer to print the sharpest barcodes, making it difficult for the courier to scan. It may not be as easy to tear from the printer either, sometimes causing misalignment to the rolls. Therefore it's important that you get good quality labels to avoid trouble.
Recommended shipping labels:
I would always recommend buying labels from the printer company directly or going through the reviews thoroughly if you plan to buy them on Amazon. After all, if you end up getting a poor-quality pack of labels, you would need to go through 500 of them before buying a different one.
A shipping scale
Having a shipping scale allows you to weigh packages accurately without waiting in line and doing this at the post office. This saves money because you won't pay extra for overage charges. You'll also know exactly what weight each package weighs to calculate accurate postage rates and purchase the pre-paid labels.
There are many options for scales, including digital scales, manual scales, and even handheld electronic scales. I prefer the digital scales since they're easier to read and cheaper.
You can find scales at any hardware store, including Walmart, Home Depot, Amazon, etc. If you have smaller envelopes or small boxes, one-piece scales (even our kitchen scale) should often be more than enough. For bigger packages (up to 90-110 lbs), you would best choose the scales with an extendable cord connected to an LCD display that can stretch up to a few feet for weighing larger packages that could otherwise block the reading.
Recommended shipping scales:
From packing & delivery to the hands of your customers
The packing material options mentioned above help you ship your products faster and safer while saving time and money. These are just some of the things you'd want to consider when choosing business shipping supplies. Making a great impression when your customers receive their orders in the mail is also a great start to the experience with your brand.
To learn more tips on shipping, keep an eye out for our upcoming article on the business shipping tips to optimize your and save costs, where we share best practices from packaging manufacturers and shipping experts around the world.