Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Packaging 101

by Marnie Karger of Crafterall

About two weeks after I opened my Etsy shop, I sold my first item: a small, folded page star book. I whooped when I saw the sale, hugged my daughters, did a little happy dance, and called my husband at work to tell him the news, and that we were definitely going out for dinner. Then, I went downstairs to my studio… and panicked. How was I going to ship this? What am I going to put it in? How many stamps will this require? Do I add a note? What do I say? What if the packaging rips and the book gets damaged or lost? What if mailing this will cost more than I charged for shipping? What if it will cost more than the book itself? What have I gotten myself into?!

Thankfully, I am a major pack rat and a packaging freak, so I had plenty of materials on hand to get the job done and the book safely en route to its lucky recipient. Nearly three years later, I’m still adjusting my packaging supplies and techniques. Here’s some of what I’ve learned in that time.

1. Your packaging should ensure that your item arrives in the condition it was in when it left your hands. Just because a flat mailer is big enough to hold your work of art, doesn’t mean it will stay flat on its journey to the buyer. I’ve learned this the hard way and have had to remake and resend pieces to folks who were kind enough to give me frank feedback about the condition of the work I sent. Too often, despite my overt “Please do not bend” stamps all over the package, the mail carriers seem to delight in cramming these mailers into mailboxes half their size, or the crumpled corners look like they’ve been dropped from a 20-story building. Solution: corrugated cardboard boxes. They’re heavier which means that I have to charge a bit more for shipping, but they come with peace of mind that it will take some serious and demented determination to ruin these bad boys.

2. Do whatever you can to keep the weight low. Make your shipping costs reasonable for both your buyer and your budget. I admit to being turned off by high shipping costs, but I also expect it when I’m ordering something that I assume will take a little extra care in packaging for safe travel. That said, there are quite a few lightweight options for packaging. Shredded newspaper, bubble wrap, bio-peanuts, and even those plastic air pillows from orders you receive are all great sources of low-weight filler. As a buyer, I get disappointed when I receive a package that is either needlessly heavy or for which the postage is significantly less than what I paid in shipping costs. Keep that in mind as you pack your orders. Invest in a decent scale. Buy one that will measure more than your heaviest item and show you pounds and ounces. Being able to weigh my own packages and print mailing labels from home has been an incredible time saver for me.

3. Recycling and being “Green” is great, but keep it professional. When I first started out, I packaged my bulkier items in old cereal and cracker boxes. They were study, small and readily available. Since I didn’t want my buyers to think they had mistakenly purchased a random box of corn flakes, I split the seam on the boxes and turned them inside out so the kraft or blank white side was on the outside. A little tissue paper on the inside, and it was quite nice. As my sales have picked up, my branding has taken off, and my items are now in sets of more predictable sizes, I made the switch to buying my boxes online. I do still appreciate any sensible gesture toward eco-friendly packaging, as long as the two previous tips I’ve mentioned are met first.

4. Include “something” extra. Even if it’s just your business card, or just a note on a simple note card, a little “Thank you” or recognition of the sale helps confirm your professionalism. I have made nearly 100 purchases on Etsy, and the shops I return to are the ones who throw in something extra or take the time to handwrite a “thank you.” I love the soap and candle samples I get from bath and body folks, the postcard art from paper and print artists, the polishing cloths from jewelers, and the coupons from all the rest. If I get a box with only the item I ordered, it’s immediately a more forgettable purchase. Make your package memorable. But don’t break the bank. Try to include something that connects with your work: a small print of your art, a little doodle in the margin of the invoice, a sliver of a really nice smelling soap, a post-it note thank you on a stack of a few business cards, a few random stickers with your logo, etc. Every order I ship is packaged with a tag from Green Post ( Kendra at Green Post recycles my paper scraps into plantable seed tags in a variety of shapes and colors. It’s paper, it’s earth-friendly, and it’s a partnership I’m always proud to tout.

5. Finally, keep the outside of the package as clean and easy to read as possible. The more legible your mailing label is, the faster it will get to its destination. I didn’t know this at first and would add all sorts of flourishes to the address of the recipient. Not only was this time consuming, but it slowed down the progress of the package as it had to be hand read rather than scanned through the machine. Now, I print my mailing labels directly from PayPal, and add a neat little stamp on the package with my shop logo and url. It’s professional and it gets the job done well.

Unless you’ve worked in the picking and packaging department of a huge warehouse, all this packing and shipping is a bit awkward for a while. I’ve heard that some folks will send an item to themselves or to a trusted friend to see how the packaging holds up. Weather, international travel, customs, and fragility are also important factors to keep in mind, and there are oodles of resources online to help you figure these out. Do your best to get on the good side of your local post office employees. They usually know their stuff inside and out and can help you make decisions on packaging and shipping options.

If you take no other suggestion from here, please learn to be flexible and proactive about your shipping. Learn from errors, pay attention to any packaging-related feedback you get, and experiment with materials and sources until you find something that works. Be proud of the package into which you place your work and mark with your name.

I invite your packaging and shipping tips! Please share any lessons you’ve learned and any creative solutions you’ve come to as a result. I’d also be happy to hear what some of you include as your “thank you” gift or note. Thanks for reading!


Sue Pariseau Pottery said...

All very good tips. I ship pottery so it's pretty heavy to start out and very breakable. To help my pieces arrive safely, I lots of times double box them. First I wrap the piece with bubble wrap, and place it in a box. Then surround the box with packing peanuts in a larger box. It adds some weight to the package, but I've never had a double boxed item arrive broken. (knock on wood).

Sara said...

I'm with Sue in that my candles are pretty heavy too. Lots of people are turned off by high shipping costs. What can you do?

This is a really good article for newbies and a great reminder for veterans of shipping. My favorite part was when you went out to dinner to celebrate your first Etsy sale!

Kendra Zvonik said...

Great post, Marnie!
Your packaging is always so impeccable and I'm so proud to be a part of your presentation. I also enjoy being able to tell all my customers about your wonderful work by including your business cards and topo cards in each of my packages. You make me look so good!

wynzia said...

Loved your article, Marnie! Thanks for sharing your current process, and how you gradually came to it. I'm almost compulsive about reducing, reusing & recycling, and enjoy the process of creating pretty packaging with this philosophy in mind. How fun that you collaborate with Kendra of Green Post...great idea!