Ensuring the safe delivery of customer orders is part of any ecommerce fulfillment strategy. Packages undergo a lot of stress during transit, including handling at multiple destinations, transfer between modes of transportation, and temperature fluctuations. If not properly protected, your product could arrive damaged, spelling disappointment for your customer and a financial loss for your business. That’s where dunnage comes in.
Dunnage refers to the padding materials that protect goods from damage during shipping. Dunnage can be anything from packing peanuts to solid plastics. It provides cushioning within the package so the product does not move within its box or mailer and arrives at its destination in prime condition.
Some items, like pillows or apparel, don’t need dunnage because they’re not fragile—a pair of pants can be shipped in a standard poly mailer without much worry. But products that are breakable or sensitive to moisture need dunnage to keep them protected during transit.
Dunnage has three primary uses:
Dunnage comes in many shapes and sizes to accommodate different products and protection requirements.
These are the most common types of dunnage, but if your product is exceedingly fragile or has specific, unusual dimensions, you may choose to work with a dunnage provider to design custom padding and protection for your product.
If you’re using a 3PL, the cost of common dunnage materials like bubble wrap and Kraft paper is likely included in your base order fee—the starting price for packaging an order.
If you’re fulfilling orders in-house, the cost of dunnage materials varies, but it’s generally not an enormous expense for ecommerce retailers. Kraft paper sits on the low end of the cost spectrum, with foam at the higher end. Corrugated paper and bubble wrap fall somewhere in the middle.
More robust dunnage for heavy-duty shipments, like wood and industrial dunnage, is significantly more expensive, but that cost is offset by the average order value of the product.
A lot of the warehouses refused to eliminate plastic from their packaging, which immediately meant they were not an option for us.
Dunnage is a necessary evil for eco-conscious ecommerce retailers. All that padding and protection is thrown away by the customer as soon as the package arrives, creating an enormous amount of waste.
Fortunately, eco-friendly dunnage does exist. Kraft paper is the most obvious green solution, because it’s made from recycled paper—it’s already on its second life. But other advancements have been made for traditionally harmful dunnage materials, like packing peanuts. Once made exclusively from styrofoam, which takes about 500 years to decompose, biodegradable packing peanuts are now available, made from an organic starch that breaks down in water.
Companies that feel strongly about minimizing their carbon footprint should evaluate 3PLs based on this need. Many fulfillment providers will refuse to eliminate specific materials from their packaging for individual brands.
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