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, in addition to their product packaging, it’s very possible for fragile items to 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.
Fragile products — such as glassware, musical instruments, technology products, and other delicate items — are especially prone to breaking while in transit. Carriers 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.
Preventing 100% of damages is near 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
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 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.
Why ecommerce businesses need to be careful shipping 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 have to go to USPS or a carrier’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 lose out 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 box that’s slightly bigger than the product allows any remaining empty space to be filled with bubble wrap, air fill, or crinkle paper 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 there are poly bags that come with bubble wrap padding, these don’t eliminate 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 such as bubble warp.
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 carrier(s) know that they need to handle the box with care. You can even use multiple stickers to ensure it’s seen by carriers 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 ShipBob minimizes breakage with fragile packaging
At ShipBob, we work with ecommerce businesses to store their inventory and get their fragile items delivered without breaking. Our fulfillment centers offer specialized services, and our warehousing experts are trained on your brand so you won’t have to worry about products being damaged.
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 set for each product so we pack it according to your needs each time.
ShipBob works with the carriers 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 carriers 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 fulfillment center(s) in which to store your inventory that are closest to your end consumers to help reduce the distance traveled 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, Fulfillment & 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 with while keeping your customers happy. Receive a pricing quote for our retail fulfillment services and see if we’re a good fit.