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This blog officially kicks off the start of our series ‘Holiday Season Secrets to Retail Success’. Keep your eyes peeled for more great content on helping you survive the upcoming holidays. Next up is ‘What retailers can learn from Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2015’. Here’s what you’ve already missed:



During the holiday rush, the last thing you want to worry about is whether or not you have the right shipping supplies on hand. Use the slower months to research and buy your holiday shipping supplies. Here are 5 must-have items:

1. Shipping Scale

As you’ll see shortly, weight matters. By weighing your packages, you’ll be able to save money on your shipping.

Digital postal scales that connect to your computer via USB are today’s best option. The scale transmits the weight of your package directly to the software that will print out your shipping label, which makes for a very accurate weight reading.

You can learn more about digital postal scales at Stamps.com, and you can also find out how to get a free scale of up to 5 pounds.

 

2. Containers (Envelopes and/or Boxes)

Your goal should be to protect your items, but also to ship them in the lightest and/or smallest container possible, to keep your shipping costs down.


Envelopes

If you’re lucky enough to have items that are lightweight and small, and sturdy enough that they won’t require a box, envelopes are your least expensive option when it comes to sending orders. In addition, they also reduce packing labor because they do not have to be constructed (boxes) or taped. Many mailer envelopes have a peel and seal strip that eliminates the need for additional tape to secure the contents.

Dennis Salazar, of Salazar Packaging, is a fan of mailer envelopes, for the right eCommerce products. Here are some of his favorite options:

  1. Unpadded POLY mailer envelopes - commonly used for apparel for their light weight and moisture resistance.  
  2. Unpadded PAPER mailers – a very popular option for green-minded customers.  
  3. Padded POLY mailer envelopes (bubble mailers)– a great option when the product requires some cushioning or protection.  
  4. Rigid paperboard mailers – for ultimate protection of flat or low profile products.
Boxes

Did you know that in 2015, UPS Ground and FedEx Ground/Home Delivery modified the way they calculated shipping rates? Previously rates were based on the weight of the package. The new shipping rate method is based on the size and weight of the package. This pricing program is known as Dimensional Weight Pricing, also referred to as “DIM Weight.” You can download a free guide on dimensional weight calculations, and more, at Stamps.com.

This is important to eCommerce folks because you’ll need to consider the weight and size of your package when considering what type of box to use for shipping.

To avoid higher shipping charges, choose boxes that fit your package as closely as possible. In addition, smaller boxes always help to lower shipping costs and should be a goal of every shipper. Plus, smaller boxes require less tape and box filler, helping to further lower costs.

For different sizes of items, it may be most cost effective to have several box sizes. When considering box sizes, make sure you allow for at least 2 inches of space around the item being shipped on all sides, according to UPS, in an article on holiday packing tips.

You can purchase generic or custom-printed boxes from Salazar Packaging, as well as in bulk from sites such as Uline or Valuemailers.com.  In addition, the USPS, UPS and FedEx provide free boxes you can use that can even be delivered to your door.

 

3. Filler and Protective Packaging

Filler and sometimes protective packaging are important items to protect your items during shipping. If you’ve opened up a shipment recently, you’ve probably seen a variety of fillers – from bubble wrap to peanuts to newspaper and more.

You’ll need to consider several points when determining what filler to purchase:

  1. Price: The price varies greatly for fillers – from free (newspapers) to more expensive (eco-friendly and custom options).
  2. Weight: Weight is always a consideration in shipping, so you’ll need to weigh (pun intended) the benefits of lighter, more expensive filling vs. heavier, less expensive filling.
  3. Impression: You might think that newspaper filling sends a message that you’re environmentally-friendly, while your customer might think it looks cheap. If your product is eco-friendly, however, that might be just right. In addition to the price and weight, you’ll need to consider the image you want to convey with your filler and protective packaging.

You can buy filler and protective packaging at many of the same places that sell envelopes and boxes.

 

4. Packaging Tape

If you use boxes, and sometimes even envelopes, you’ll need packaging tape.

Tapes specifically made for packaging come in a variety of lengths, colors, and widths. They also vary in materials and adhesives they are made from. You can even get them custom-printed. You can check out some tape options at U.S. Packaging and Wrapping and Tape Jungle.

 

5. Label Printer

A clear and professional label makes your eCommerce business look credible, and it also makes it more likely that your shipment will get to the right place. We find that the best shipping labels come from thermal label printers.

A thermal label printer will cost a few hundred dollars, or you can rent one for as little as a few dollars a week. With a thermal printer, you never have to worry about purchasing or running out of ink. The device prints peel and stick-on labels.

If you use software such as ShipStation, you will be able to create batches of labels, up to 500 at any one time. This can save you hours per day.

ShipStation is compatible with almost any 4" x 6" thermal label printer, as well as 8.5" x 11" laser printers. For Mac users, we strongly recommend using a DYMO LabelWriter 4XL, as it is the only thermal printer that has a native Macintosh driver. PC users can also do well with the very popular Zebra LP 2844 and ZP 450 models.

You can learn how to set up printing labels through ShipStation here.

 


Take one item off of your holiday to-do list by getting shipping supplies before the fourth quarter. The time and money you save will add more joy to your holiday season!

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About the Author

I'm Joey, ShipStation's Content & Social Media Coordinator. I spent over a year on ShipStation's Support team which has given me great insight into our product and our users. Outside of work, you'll find me writing, getting into one of Austin's great microbrews, or relaxing on a trail with my mutt.