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How to ship fragile items and packages

Apr 24, 2023





Displaying how to ship fragile items using a vase and packing peanuts

Fulfillment is complex. Even if you get it right—meaning you pick and pack the right items to order and get them on the truck for delivery on time—there’s still transit from the fulfillment center to the final destination you have to worry about. And that leg of a product’s journey is especially daunting for DTC brands that ship fragile products. In this post, we’ll provide a step-by-step process for how to ship fragile items and packages so you can be confident your products arrive undamaged.

What’s considered a fragile item?

When it comes to fulfillment, fragile is a broader term than you may think. Any item that needs multiple layers of packaging, special fill to secure its position in a box, or dunnage to secure its position on a truck can be considered fragile. 

The most obvious examples of fragile items are glassware or other easily broken goods; but in order fulfillment, fragility can also mean items that are sensitive to temperature, movement, or light. You have to consider the fragility of things like plants, food items, and even cosmetics that are especially prone to damage when shipped improperly.

Here’s a short list of fragile items that may need special care when preparing for shipment:

  • Glassware
  • Food
  • Beverages
  • Cosmetics
  • Plants
  • Jewelry
  • Art
  • Musical instruments
  • Vases and other ornamental breakable products

The list goes on, but you get the point. Not only are fragile items easily damaged, but they’re often unusually shaped—compounding the complexity of storage, order fulfillment, and shipping.

How to protect and ship fragile items

The first step to preparing a fragile item for shipment is to make sure it’s packaged properly. Whether you fulfill orders yourself or outsource to a 3PL, you’ll want to make sure you’re using the proper materials to protect your item and provide detailed instructions for doing so if you’re outsourcing. (Or at least run a test shipment with your new logistics partner first.)

When preparing a fragile item for shipment, you should take the following steps:

  1. Select a box that’s larger than the item
  2. Protect your item with cushioning material like bubble wrap
  3. Pad or fill the interior of the box
  4. Label your box as fragile when shipping
  5. Optional: Affix a tilt or impact detector

1. Select a box that’s larger than the item 

Selecting the box you want to ship your fragile item in is like walking a tightrope. You need to balance the size needed to effectively protect your item with the cost of shipping. You’ll need enough space inside the box to fit not just the item, but plenty of cushioning materials to keep it secure. However, you don’t want the package to be so big that the dimensional weight is astronomical—causing you to pay higher-than-necessary shipping costs.

Plus, choosing too big of a box may leave room for the item to shift during transit, which could damage even a well-wrapped fragile item.

2. Protect your fragile item with cushioning material like bubble wrap

If your products aren’t manufactured in protective packaging (candles, for example, are often in protective molds), you’ll need to wrap the item in cushioning material like bubble wrap. This is the most effective way to protect your product short of building a protective mold.

Box displaying how to ship fragile items with bubble wrap

3. Pad or fill the interior of the box

Once your item is wrapped, you’ll want to pad or fill the interior of the box with paper, packing peanuts, or even other items being shipped to the same destination. Filling the box with material will prevent the item from moving around and breaking from impact.

Note: Even bubble-wrapped items can break if there’s enough space for it to move around and/or get crushed.

4. Label your box as fragile when shipping

Without a label, shipping carriers have no way of knowing the contents of a given package. Adding a fragile sticker like the one below will alert people handling the package that it needs to be done with care.

Note: Be sure to avoid layering the fragile stickers with the shipping label.

Example of fragile shipping sticker for how to ship fragile items

5. Optional: Affix a tilt or impact detector

As we mentioned earlier, there are a lot of items that are considered fragile—but not necessarily because they break easily. Take a plant for example: a properly delivered plant will remain upright throughout transit.

Tilt and/or impact detectors are a great way to ensure your products are handled with care. Though they can be expensive, they’re the best way to ensure carriers are liable for any mishandling. 

The consequences of shipping fragile items poorly

Let’s face it: for ecommerce companies, there’s a lot on the line when it comes to shipping. Costs, relationships, trust, and loyalty are all in flux based on the shipping experience. 

Specifically, items that arrive damaged at their final destination can cause:

  • Returns or replacements
  • Damaged customer relationships
  • Strain on the bottom line

Returns or replacements

You promised your customer that their items would be received on time and undamaged. Unfortunately, you didn’t live up to this promise and now you need to resolve the issue. 

In this circumstance, you should refer to your return policy where you detailed how items that are received damaged should be handled. At a minimum, you’ll need to reimburse the customer for the damaged item, or better, pay for the reshipment of a new one. Both of which result in monetary loss.

While you may be able to resolve the issue in the short term, you’ll still need to consider how this experience may affect your business in the long run. 

Damaged customer relationships

Even if you take all the necessary steps to resolve the issue, you may still find yourself in a tough situation. Some customers may be forgiving—understanding that mistakes happen—but others may not.

When people receive damaged items, it could put a strain on your relationship with the customer and result in negative reviews and loss of repeat business.

Strain on the bottom line

Any way you slice it, delivering damaged items will put a strain on your bottom line. You’re already paying a premium to protect and ship these items, so the last thing you want is to have to do it twice. From processing returns, shipping replacements, and so on, the money you spend righting wrongs will quickly add up.

Airhouse can help you ship fragile items

Airhouse ships thousands of packages every week—including jewelry and other breakable items. Meet with one of our fulfillment experts for a free consultation to see how we can help you ship fragile items for less than you do now.

Free consultation for shipping fragile items

As we mentioned earlier, shipping fragile items requires a lot of attention to detail. Schedule a call with our fulfillment experts for a free consultation on shipping your fragile items, including the optimal packaging, dunnage, and shipping method.

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