Finding Lowest Priced Shipping Boxes

If you’re an experienced online seller you already know how important it is to keep shipping costs as low as possible. You can’t do much about freight charges set by the large carriers but you can dramatically lower costs by where and how you buy your shipping supplies especially corrugated boxes. Buying from some surprising unconventional sources can save you 20% to 50% or more from traditional suppliers.

Most shippers - both full time business owners and part time sellers - are unaware that building centers offer some of the best prices on corrugated boxes. A brown corrugated 16” X 12” X 12” box at both Home Depot and Lowes, for example, is only 70 cents each, on the store shelf, no minimum. By contrast, OfficeMax, a traditional supply source, charges $2.87 for the same box which is only available online and must be purchased in a 25 piece bundle. Your neighborhood U-Haul store sells the same size available for walk-in pickup for $1.70 each.

The building centers also beat many local box manufacturers. Home Depot and Lowes larger 18” X 18” X 24” brown corrugated is $1.36, on the store shelf, no minimum. In my Midwestern hometown of 350,000, the local box manufacturer/wholesaler charges $1.92 for a comparable box which it only offers in a 25 piece bundle. Home Depot and Lowes locations are also generally more conveniently located in the suburbs. Manufacturers and warehouse suppliers are generally in industrial parks which are often in other out-of-the-way locations.

Although smaller boxes at U-Haul stores are significantly higher than building centers, U-Haul offers an online selection of larger and unusually shaped shipping boxes at very reasonable prices. ( The key words are “online” and “shipping.” The shipping boxes are an entirely different product line than U-haul’s “moving” boxes. Shipping boxes are not sold in the stores and shipping boxes have their own web pages and are separate from moving boxes.

U-Haul online is one of the few sources where you can buy very large sizes with no minimums. Orders of $25 or more ship free in the lower 48 states. Boxes ship from Kansas City, MO. It’s a one-day delivery to my Midwest location; about 3 days to east and west coasts. Many times, I’ll wait until an item sells before ordering a box (just make sure you include the handling time in your item listing so the customer knows what’s going on).

You can mix and match whatever sizes you need in an easy-to-use online shopping cart. A box 34” X 18” X 14” which I use to ship lamps, is $3.25; a 24” X 24” X24” I use for big shades is $5.35. A custom made similar 34” box was quoted at $33 by a local packaging store. The price of an off-the-shelf 24” square box at the same packaging store is $9.35.

Some hard to find boxes—mostly long, thin shapes—are in stock at the U-haul stores. One is a 15” X 15” X 48” tall box for $5.95 and another similar shape, 12” X 12” X 40” tall for $4.95. Other U-Haul boxes I use are the mirror and picture frame boxes: 48” X 4” X 33” for $6.45 and a 37” X 4” X 27” at $4.25. No minimum purchase, stocked on the floor.

Although I’ve used single box pricing to illustrate how cost varies among different suppliers, you can save even more if you buy larger quantities. Some sellers discount only multiples of the same size box which are typically bundled in 15, 20 and 25 pieces depending on box size. Other sellers allow mixing of box sizes to reach a required piece count; some discount total dollar amount of the order. 

Of course price is just one aspect of choosing a shipping box. The most important consideration is finding a box that will best protect the item(s) you ship. The technical details that help you make that decision are found in the Box Manufacturer's Certificate or BMC. The BMC looks like a round seal and is always printed on a bottom flap. The BMC certifies the strength of the cardboard used to construct the box and the size and weight limits of the box.

The BMC Size Limit specifies the maximum outside dimension of a finished box when the length, width and depth of the box are added together. The Gross Weight Limit states the maximum weight the box is designed to hold. The actual weight limit, though, depends on other factors as well such as the type of contents, packing material and sealing method. The Edge Crush Test (ECT) measures the ability of a box to withstand stacking. The test measures the amount of force needed to crush the cardboard by standing it on its edge. The BMC will also indicate that type of cardboard used in the box such as single wall, double wall and so on. Single wall—which is used in the boxes discussed in this article—is made with a fluted medium between two sheets of linerboard. Heavier boxes of double and triple wall construction simply add more layers of fluting and linerboard.

Corrugated box sizes are based on the inside dimensions of the container. Dimensions are always stated in the following order: length by width by depth. A box 16” X 12” X 12”, for example, is 16” long by 12” wide by 12” top to bottom.

Mark Chervenka

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