Packing A Punch: Star Quality Packing Tips

Can you remember a singular Christmas season or an approaching birthday as a child when you were convinced that one gaily wrapped present in particular held the ultimate object of your desire? The size of the gift box was right, you'd picked it up and held it, perhaps had even given it a little shake, and the weight was right. Something G.I. Joe-ish or Barbie-like had shifted inside. Previously, for weeks, you had been clever enough to convey to your folks that you absolutely could not continue to survive without that one precious toy. The toy that your grand anticipation now told you was just within your grasp inside that box.

The big day finally arrived and you had made a beeline for that special box. But once you'd torn away the fancy dancing elves paper, sending the paper and the bow halfway across the room, and wrestled the box open what did you discover? Socks. Nothing but socks, socks, socks. Oh, the misery of it all.

If you can recall just such an event from your childhood then you have a good idea of what a customer might experience – feelings of disappointment, mixed with loss, anger, and yes, betrayal – when they open a package from you, a package they had eagerly awaited for, only to discover the object of their desire inside, damaged. To prevent them from always remembering your shop name with feelings of disappointment, there are steps that can be taken to build well-wrapped and protected package, that will not only ensure an item arrives safe and sound but establishes a pleasant mental connection between your customer and your shop name.

A customer should remember your shop name because they were impressed by the care and professionalism exhibited not just towards them, but towards the item you sold them, as well. Even if the item is not particularly valuable in terms of dollars it should be delivered attractively presented and well packaged for shipment. If it seems to the customer that obtaining their money was the only aspect of the transaction important to you, they are unlikely to return and risk repeating the experience. And if your method of packing and shipping gives the impression that the items you sell are not worth any time or effort on your part, the customer may conclude the items are also not worth much either. Perception is everything. Even if you only maintain a shop online as a hobby seller and do not consider yourself to be a professional dealer, it still pays to conduct oneself in a professional manner. The customer, who bought a ten-dollar item last month, may be the same one who spots an interesting two hundred dollar vase in the same shop the next month. The shop owner may never know that it was the tacky, off-hand way that the previous, inexpensive purchase was wrapped and shipped which stopped the customer from buying the more expensive vase, but be assured this phenomenon occurs more often than most sellers would think.

It is a fallacy encouraged by the Internet auction scene that the world is out there waiting to buy every item immediately, and there is no need to depend on, or even to desire, a 'steady' customer base. While the Web may indeed be an innovative new place in which to market – growth and success is still obtained in much the same way as in the brick and mortar world. The one intrinsic factor that will never change where sales are concerned, whether selling five-dollar post cards or new Corvettes, is people. There is nothing more encouraging to a shops bottom line than a completely satisfied customer, and an established base of satisfied customers is an important asset anywhere. It's rather like the old rhyme about friendship. Make new friends (customers), but keep the old. One is silver, and the other gold.

In case you are new to the Internet sales arena and are curious about the nuances of packing and shipping, here are some hints, tips and resources that will help you produce an end result that is sure to please both you and your customer. And, even if you are an old hand at it by now, there may be links to information that you will find of interest:

Start your packaging with the item itself. Many dealers prefer to wrap the item first in paper, either tissue paper or something slightly heavier. This is an especially good step for anything that is going to also be packaged in bubble because bubble wrap has been known to stick to items in transit. Newspaper is not something you want to wrap anything in. Not only do customers not appreciate having to wash the ink stains off their hands after handling it, but newsprint can transfer onto the items, as well. Ink stains from newsprint, for example, can ruin matte pottery.

Paper and jewelry items should be placed inside of clear, plastic product bags to protect them from potential damage from moisture. A variety of different size bags can be purchased through many resources listed below. Bagging jewelry also will keep any stones that may have jiggled loose during transit from getting lost in the loose packaging material.

Packing slips and/or invoices should be included with the shipment. You can either type or print your own or buy consecutively numbered invoice books from a stationer. You can also purchase customized return address labels and place them on the invoice or packing slip.

Include a business card, a flyer detailing an upcoming sales event or other interesting shop information, or even a small token gift if at all possible. Some ideas of for small gifts are bookmarks, pens and other small, inexpensive items that can be personalized with your shop name. The idea is to make receiving the package as enjoyable and memorable for the customer as you can. And including a little something that the customer wouldn't expect can really add to the experience.

Outer packing boxes should be clean and sturdy, preferably new or only gently used. A box that has obviously been used and re-used several times certainly makes the recipient feel a little less important. To save trees however, send these well-used boxes to the recycler. You can buy boxes online (see links below) or order them from the USPS site for free, along with stuff like tape and labels. Of course, the free boxes from the U.S. Post Office come with the requirement that they can only be used for Priority Mail. But if you mostly use that method to ship anyway, ordering the free boxes is a no-brainer. Scrounged boxes out of dumpsters with the product advertising on them are not a good choice, primarily because they will look like scrounged boxes out of dumpsters.

All delicate items that are breakable should be double-boxed. This means you pack the item in a box, surrounded by cushioning material like bubble wrap or Styrofoam peanuts (somewhat less environmentally-friendly, but very effective), and then place that box in the center of more cushioning material inside of another box. Most shipping sites recommend two inches or more of packing material between the walls of the first box and the second. Don't skimp on the protective cushioning. Foam or Styrofoam peanuts offer the best insurance, but if you have run out of them or cannot afford them, you can stuff white plastic grocery bags with balled up newspaper and tie them closed. These will give good cushioning if you use plenty of paper and has the added benefit of keeping the ink off the customers’ hands when they unpack. The downside to any kind of paper, though, is that it adds weight to the package, which increases shipping costs.

In general, a good rule of thumb is to package everything as though you expect that a gorilla will be tossing it over a 30-foot fence so the elephant on the other side can step on it. In other words, expect the worse. Try to anticipate any internal shifting or weight problems that may occur. Don't ship a cast iron doorstop, for instance, in the same box as a porcelain shoe, even if the customer thinks you should do so in order to save them some money on shipping.

Large items such as furniture can be covered with protective plastic, foam and/or heavy paper and "loose packed" as is. Or, they can be packed into strong corrugated cardboard or a wood crate. Or, many people choose to ship furniture by UPS, blanket wrapped delivery. These methods are not inexpensive, but they are less expensive than having to ship something back for repairs.

Purchasing insurance for packages is a good idea, just in case all your fine efforts are for naught or in case the package should be lost or stolen. This can be purchased either through the chosen shipping concern or through a company that specializes in shipping insurance. Online shop owners can offer the customer the option to formally decline insurance, but make sure you get this in writing. Some online e-commerce sites require independent shop owners to purchase insurance for the items they will be shipping to a customer unless the customer selects to decline the insurance via an automated process. By allowing the buyer to decline insurance, you offer them the option of shipping an item with no insurance, in which case they are responsible for loss or damage that occurs during shipping.

Online shop owners who chose to ship items to buyers outside of their own country are benefit by having a wider customer base to which to sell their items. New comers to international shipping may find the process confusing and somewhat daunting at first. In the interests of allying some understandable misgivings, these tips might help to make the process of sending a shipment halfway around the world as familiar to you as posting something to a friend across town.

■ The same methods you use to ship within your own country are usually available to ship something outside of country. First, review the international shipping information the particular carrier you wish you use provides. Each service has their own rules and costs will vary from shipping company to shipping company for the same basic services. It is a good idea to offer the buyer at least two shipping options, they will appreciate having the option to choose the vendor and the level of service and cost. Be sure to state what each method of shipment has to offer including, the base shipping cost by weight, whether or not a service charges a handling fee at delivery, the cost of fully insuring their purchase and approximately how long the item is likely to be in transit based on the service chosen.

■ For international shipments, insurance is recommended, and some e-commerce mall sites require all shipments to be insured. It can be pricey, but some services include insurance up to a set amount, automatically. A shop owner may offer the customer the option to formally decline insurance. By allowing the buyer to decline insurance, you offer them the option of shipping this item with no insurance, in which case they are responsible for loss or damage that occurs during shipping. If they do not choose to decline insurance, you may still want to supply insurance.

■ Double check the buyer's mailing address for accuracy before shipping. Especially if you're unfamiliar with the way it is written. Addresses in other countries will usually look different or be written differently than those in your own country, and they often will include words in a different language. Addresses may also need to be written in a specific way on the label, although this is usually in a method that is fairly standard across the differing services available.

■ All overseas packages should be wrapped very securely and plenty of cushioning used. Double boxing, especially for breakable items, is the preferred, and strongly recommended, method of packaging.

■ Before shipping anything into another country you should take the step of going to the Web site of the service you are using and check for import prohibitions for that specific country. Some types of items or literature may be restricted or prohibited. If you ship something on a list of prohibited items, you may be in violation of the other country's law. Don't assume that the type of item you are shipping couldn't possibly be something another country would want to keep out, either. Individual countries may even prohibit items like toy guns or chocolate. Check it out before you assume what you want to send is OK.

■ Any merchandise sent into another country may be subject to duty according to the customs regulations of that country. Customs forms may need to be filled out and attached to the outside of the package. On occasion a copy of the form or an invoice will need to be included inside the package, as well. Check with your shipping service to see what, if any, customs forms will need to be used. You can pick them up ahead of time and fill them out before taking the package in for shipment.

■ A handy page of links on the USPS Web site that pertains to all things international is their International Mail Manual, here:

Most other shipping services also maintain Web sites and similar information can be found on their sites, along with shipping rate calculators, insurance, and so on. Taking a bit of time to become familiar with international shipping options ahead of time can make receiving an order from a buyer in a foreign land an event that generates little to no anxiety when it comes time to send the purchase to the customer.

If you prefer to only ship to buyers within your own country, consider making some sort of statement to this effect on your shop's home page or terms of sale page. This will help prevent overseas buyers from placing orders in your shop.

Use common sense along with a little bit of pizzazz in your packaging and the end result will yield a shipment with Star Quality, something that a customer can't help but notice and appreciate...and remember.

Here are links to sites offering materials, tools and tips for shipping: - Customized shop shipping and return address labels, Ruby Lane flyers, logo items for package inserts, and tissue paper plus ribbon for wrapping. - Bubblewrap - Shipping supplies - Free boxes, labels, tape, additional information on how to wrap items securely for shipment, and postage calculation. - Boxes, etc. - Boxes, etc. - Parcel Insurance Plan is a premier third party shipping insurance provider that insures USPS, UPS, FedEx, DHL and other regional and national carriers. - Shipping supplies, boxes - Shipping information and rate calculation - Shipping information, rate calculation. - Pick-up and delivery for larger items like furniture - Airport-to-airport transportation of larger items - Insurance for packages

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