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You break it, you buy it.
Known as ‘The Pottery Barn rule,’ the notion of holding a shopper responsible for any broken merchandise they knock over or drop may give you flashbacks to a stressful childhood incident in a store.
While this motto has long been a policy of many brick-and-mortar stores, the world of ecommerce has created new complications for selling and shipping fragile items.
Even when items are in a box full of dunnage and their product packaging, fragile items can break while in transit.
If your customers are regularly receiving broken products, it can lead to a loss of inventory, profits, and reputation of your ecommerce business. Preventing 100% of damages is nearly impossible when shipping fragile items, but in this post, you’ll learn how to prevent shipping damages and keep your customers happy.
Breakage: an ecommerce brand’s worst enemy
Fragile products — such as glassware, musical instruments, technology products, and other delicate items — are especially prone to breaking while in transit. Couriers toss them into gaylords, onto trucks, drop them, and boxes generally move around while being transported. That’s just the nature of ecommerce shipping.
While you can always purchase shipping insurance, that doesn’t solve the problem at hand. Ecommerce businesses can lose a lot of money due to broken products: You have an increase in customer service inquiries, you have to pay the cost of the re-shipment (and potentially the returned item as well depending on your return policy), eat the cost of the unsellable inventory, and potentially lose that customer.
The good news: much of the shipping damage is avoidable.
Sometimes breakage is unavoidable, but this is the exception and not the norm. If your fragile items are properly packaged using the correct materials, then breakage should be uncommon.
What items are most likely to be damaged during shipping
When most people think about fragile items, the first thing that comes to their mind are items made out of glass, crystal, or porcelain. While it’s true that these items break easily, almost any item can get damaged in transport.
Everything from musical instruments to furniture can be chipped or broken. Because of this, different types of products have other protection requirements.
Why ecommerce businesses need to be careful fulfiling fragile items
Broken products cost a lot of money (and much more money for ecommerce brands than brick-and-mortar retail). Here are even more reasons that damaged fragile items can harm your business’s profits.
When working to resolve a damaged shipment complaint from a customer, at a minimum, you’ll have to pay for the reshipment of an undamaged item.
If you have more specific requirements for returns, such as requiring a shipment back of the damaged item so you can inspect it, someone will have to pay for that return label.
If your shipping policy states that you offer free returns, then that’s an additional cost for you. If your customer has to pay for it, this will likely anger them even more.
In this scenario, not only did they get a damaged product and now have to wait longer for a new one, but they also had to go to USPS or a courier’s store and pay the shipping cost. Be prepared for some backlash.
Not every customer is willing to wait for a new product. Some customers will simply ask for a refund, and likely won’t purchase again from your brand. Not only did you lose the sale from the customer you probably had to pay to acquire, but you also lost on their future business because now they think you can’t deliver products undamaged.
Bad customer reviews can make or break your business’s success. When a customer is excited for their product to arrive but opens a box to find a broken item, they may leave a negative review — even if you cover all costs for them and send out a new one, fast.
This can be devastating in ecommerce. A free product or a discount on their next order can go a long way. If you make it right, don’t be afraid to ask them to edit their review.
How to ship fragile items: a step-by-step guide
Fragile items may sound complicated to ship, but the process can be simple. Here are some best practices on how to ship fragile items the right way:
1. Choose a box that’s only slightly larger than the item
You don’t want to use boxes that have too much space in them, causing the contents to shift around. Using a slightly bigger box than the product allows any remaining empty space to be filled with dunnage to keep everything in place.
While poly mailers can be cheaper to ship than boxes, they are not a good option for fragile, breakable products as they can be smashed easily. While poly bags come with bubble wrap padding, these don’t eliminate the breakage of fragile items.
2. Wrap the item in cushioning material
If your products aren’t manufactured with supportive packaging and are stored loose (i.e., you have a glass makeup tube to ship with no small box around it), then you will need to wrap them in a lot of dunnage.
3. If necessary, encase the item in foam
For very expensive or fragile items, you may want to make a foam enclosure for the package that is molded to its specific measurements. This is obviously not a very scalable solution.
4. Use air pillows or packing peanuts
If there is empty space in the box, be sure to fill the space with airbags, packing peanuts, or crinkle paper.
5. Add a “fragile” label to the box
A fragile sticker or label will let the shipping courier(s) know that they need to handle the box with care. You can even use multiple stickers to ensure it’s seen by couriers as long as it doesn’t cover the shipping label.
6. Affix a tilt or impact detector
These devices are typically used for shipments that need to remain upright and require very delicate handling. While they are rare for parcel shipments and are very expensive, they not only let you know when a fragile item may have been damaged but also encourage the handlers to be extra careful.
How different couriers handle fragile items
All major couriers accept fragile items. They have different rules and regulations you need to follow to prevent any issues from happening.
UPS doesn’t charge extra for handling fragile items. If you don’t ship many fragile items, you can utilise their packaging service. The service packs and ships your order using UPS materials, ensuring your items arrive intact.
Similarly to UPS, FedEx doesn’t charge extra for handling fragile items. Unlike UPS, they don’t offer the option to pack your items, but they do offer tips for packing breakable items.
Unlike UPS and FedEx, USPS offers a special service for shipping fragile items called Special Handling-Fragile. It currently costs $12.15, needs to be purchased in person, and works with multiple USPS services, including Priority Mail Express, Priority Mail, First-Class Package Service-Commercial, and more.
Minimise breakage & fulfil fragile orders with ShipBob
At ShipBob, we work with ecommerce businesses to store their inventory and get their fragile items delivered without breaking. Our fulfilment centres offer specialized services, and our warehousing experts are trained on your brand so you won’t have to worry about products being damaged.
“There are many difficulties associated with fulfiling and shipping lighting products, including the need to handle fragile glass bulbs and oversize lighting fixtures, but ShipBob has been the perfect partner in overcoming these challenges.”
ShipBob chooses the best-sized box
Every SKU is unique and order combinations vary. We have box algorithms to choose the right box size based on the item’s dimensions, and we have standard boxes, bubble mailers, and poly mailers in various sizes to perfectly fit your items. If packages involve fragile items, we follow any special requirements to ensure the product type remains safe.
ShipBob uses the proper cushioning
We use different types of dunnage to protect items. Our technology also helps ensure you have the correct packaging instructions for each product, so we pack it according to your needs.
ShipBob works with the couriers to file claims for damages
While we do all we can to eliminate any issues from shipping fragile items, there may be incidents from the couriers that are outside of our control. When damages occur in transit, we file claims on behalf of the merchant at no additional cost.
We also help you choose the fulfilment centre(s) in which to store your inventory that are closest to your end consumers to help reduce the distance travelled and time in transit.
“Our old 3PL didn’t file claims for damaged shipments for us like ShipBob. When shipping glass bottles, especially in the winter, the longer the transit time, the more likely it is to break. With ShipBob, we see that our customers are getting their packages safer, with fewer frozen bottles exploding.”
Lindsay Louise, Fulfilment & Retail Manager at Synchro
Shipping fragile items for your ecommerce business doesn’t have to be complicated. If you follow the proper steps, you can ensure your products are delivered without breaking.
If you’re struggling with broken deliveries or want help shipping your fragile items, contact the ShipBob team below to learn how we can help while keeping your customers happy. Receive a pricing quote for our retail fulfilment services and see if we’re a good fit.
Fragile fulfilment FAQs
Here are the answers to the most popular fragile fulfilment questions.
What are fragile products?
Fragile items are all items that can shatter or break easily. Anything from ceramics and tableware to musical instruments and furniture can be considered fragile.
How do you deliver fragile items?
The most important thing you need to consider when delivering fragile items is how they are packaged. The better the items are packed, the less likely they are to break. Also, some shipping couriers offer special services just for delivering fragile items.
How much does it cost to ship fragile items?
It depends on the courier you choose. Some couriers like UPS and FedEx don’t charge extra for shipping fragile items, while others, like USPS, do.