eCommerce Packaging:  Why Polybags Could Equal Big Labor and Parcel Savings

August 7, 2018 by Harry Drajpuch

Raise your hand if you ever went to a birthday party and watched the guest of honor unwrap a huge box only to discover that it held a very small reward – one that was reached only after unwrapping a series of other large boxes. 

It was the ten-year-old’s version of comedy gold.

Overpackaging still happens today in eCommerce packaging, only it’s not restricted to kids’ gifts.  And in many cases, people find it annoying rather than funny.

ecommerce packaging 1For example, a recent Facebook post showed the accompanying photo of a small auto part in front of the much larger box it came in while questioning the shipper’s efficiency. Yes, in these days of social shaming even a company’s choice of shipping box has the potential to tarnish its brand image.

You would think that, with the advent of dimensional weight pricing, companies would optimize their packaging, but many continue to use bigger boxes and considerably more fill material than required.

In light of that, the theme of this week’s blog is simple:   Don’t let this expensive and wasteful eCommerce packaging mistake happen to you, especially when there are so many easy and cost-effective ways to avoid it. 

As evidence, consider polybags. 

Used by many leading retailers and eTailers ( including Macy’s, Old Navy, Eddie Bauer, Venus Swimwear, and Shein), polybags enable businesses to achieve better “product container alignment,” eliminate dim weight charges, and dispense with filler material.  In the process, they can often pave the way for substantial shipping and packaging savings. 

The savings are particularly attractive for lighter weight products. For instance, if you can bring the weight of the shipment below a pound using polybags, you can utilize USPS First Class Package Service, which is a non-zonal rate structure (based on weight only vs. weight and zone/distance).

Comparing the cost impact of shipping packages that weigh below and above one pound (using published USPS rates), getting below a pound could save anywhere from $1.41 to $2.59 per shipment, depending on the final weight and zone of your greater than 1 pound shipment.  If you ship 20,000 orders a month, that’s a savings of anywhere from $338,400 to $621,600 annually!  Better in your pocket than a carrier’s. 

And that’s just part of the potential financial benefit.  Paired with the right kind of mechanization, polybags are also highly effective at reducing the number of fulfillment center touch points, because unlike boxes, they don’t require assembly, and they can be filled, sealed, and labeled in just a few steps – and in a fraction of the time.  The net result is considerably faster order throughput and significant labor savings, as the table below indicates:

 

BOX

BAG

Productivity

As many as 13 steps, 15 seconds

Open, fill and seal. Potential throughput increase of 3.5x

Pack Station

Adds to clutter and time to retrieve materials

Less storage space required, greater packer productivity

Protection

Filler and tape required

Material and labor eliminated

Labels

Add time, hassle, potential for error

None required for print on bag

 

eCommerce Packaging: The Customer Experience

Now I know what you might be thinking:  “What about the customer experience?  After all, aren’t polybags kind of generic?  And won’t my customer miss the excitement of opening a box?”

ecommerce packagingIn many cases, such concerns aren’t really an issue, because polybags can easily be customized to include your company’s name, logo, and other key branding information, as seen in the accompanying image.  Plus, it’s often possible to print the customer’s mailing information directly on the bag with high-quality laser technology, which is often a step up from a standard slap-and-stick mailing label.

As for the excitement of opening a box, it all depends on how much of a priority that’s been for your company.  If you’ve traditionally used what our friends at Shorr Packaging call a generic “Frankenbox” and merely tossed the product in with a bit of dunnage, there’s not much to miss (in fact, your customer might consider the switch to be an improvement, because polybags are generally easier to open and more convenient to dispose of). In a similar vein, if you’ve been guilty of the kinds of packaging excess described earlier in this article, your customer will probably applaud the change, because no one likes to see unnecessary waste in eCommerce packaging.  

So what’s the final takeaway here?  Should you immediately go out and cancel all of your box orders?  Not necessarily.  There are some kinds of products that don’t lend themselves to polybags, including those that are bulky, fragile or extremely high value.  In addition, there are many cases, such as fulfillment packaging for direct sales, where boxes and dunnage can be the best shipping solution – something we’ll cover in future blogs.

However, I do believe that you should give the use of polybags and other potential packaging saving techniques the respect they deserve.  In other words, don’t be afraid to literally think outside the box when considering your packaging options, because the smartest solution for your business – and the key to eCommerce packaging savings – may not require the use of an actual box at all.

To find out about polybags and other economic package saving solutions, take a look at our new eBook, Fulfillment For Dummies, a crash course for entrepreneurs and business leaders on the opportunities and pitfalls within warehouse fulfillment operations. 

FULFILLMENT FOR DUMMIES    A crash course for entrepreneurs and business leaders on the pitfalls and  opportunities within warehouse fulfillment operations Download our eBrochure

Filed Under: Parcel Transportation, eCommerce Fulfillment