Order Packing Guide
The order packing process is very important, because how items are packed has a huge effect on the customer’s delivery experience. To make sure your orders are packed well, your brand will need an efficient packing process.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at order packing – including the types of packing materials ecommerce brands rely on, how to pack an order, and tips for optimizing the packing process.
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The importance of efficient packing processes
Efficient order packing is essential for ecommerce businesses for two reasons: it improves warehouse productivity, and enhances the customer experience.
Warehouses tend to incur additional costs when processes take a long time to be completed, such as additional labor costs. But when processes are optimized for efficiency, they can significantly reduce the time taken to complete different tasks. Thus, when order picking is efficient, a brand can pack more orders in the same amount of time and even achieve cost-savings.
An efficient packing process also gets orders out for shipping faster. This reduces order lead times, meaning that customers receive their orders sooner. Furthermore, an efficient packing process is by definition an accurate one – so by optimizing the packing process for efficiency, you can minimize packing errors and delight customers with precisely what they ordered.
Types of packaging materials
Ecommerce businesses have a number of options when it comes to packaging materials. Choosing the right type of material for each product will help ensure product safety, prevent damage, and improve customer satisfaction.
Here are some of the most common packaging materials that ecommerce brands use.
Boxes are one of the most popular packaging options, as they are very versatile and come in all shapes and sizes. There are several types of shipping boxes, including:
- Corrugated cardboard boxes: The most common box type. Made of corrugated cardboard and fairly durable.
- Paperboard boxes: Made from a single sheet of pliable cardboard. Strong, yet lightweight.
- Rigid boxes: Extremely sturdy, and specially designed to protect the products inside.
Bags are a common alternative to boxes, as they are a more cost-effective option that’s ideal small, lightweight items that aren’t particularly fragile. Various types of bags include:
- Poly mailers: Made from polyethylene plastic, and are typically tear, tamper, and waterproof.
- Bubble mailers: Poly mailers that are lined with bubble cushioning on the inside to insulate and protect fragile items.
- Foil-sealed bags: Plastic pouches lined with foil. A good choice for food and other perishable items.
Dunnage refers to any protective material that is included inside a shipping box or bag to keep the product in place and protect it from damage in transit. Some common dunnage materials are:
- Bubble wrap: Either lining a bubble mailer, or wrapped around items in an order.
- Honeycomb kraft paper: Paper serrated in honeycomb shapes to offer protective cushioning. Lightweight, but extremely effective.
- Air pillows
For brands looking to minimize their environmental impact, there are many sustainable packaging options available that are better for the planet. Eco-conscious businesses should use materials like:
- Paper and cardboard, which are easy to reuse or recycle.
- Biodegradable plastics that have been modified to break down faster through the presence of heat or light.
- Plant fibers such as jute or cotton.
Order packing process steps
Order packing isn’t usually as simple as putting items in boxes. Instead, it’s a multi-step process that involves systems and people working together to produce ready-to-ship packages.
Here’s a breakdown of the 4 stages of order packing.
Step 1: Order receipt and verification
After a customer places an order on your ecommerce website, that order is processed and verified to ensure that customer details and shipping info are correct, and then pushed to a fulfillment center.
Automated order processing systems simplify this process by automatically receiving and verifying orders without the need for manual processing, and forwarding them to the fulfillment center closest to the order’s destination.
Step 2: Picking the items
Before an order can be packed, someone must walk through inventory storage and retrieve all of the items in that order. This is called warehouse picking, and is key to packing efficiency and order accuracy.
Picking lists are generated based on optimal routes and assigned to professional pickers, who then pick all the items from the packing slip and move them to the packing area via hand transport, rolling carts, or conveyor systems.
Step 3: Packing and securing products
Once all items are picked and delivered to the packing station, the packing team selects an appropriately sized box or poly mailer to minimize packaging waste and ensure that the goods are securely transported. This process can be simplified and partially automated using box selection algorithms that determine the ideal box size based on dimensions and packaging preferences.
Next, packers place the items in the box or poly mailer, along with other packaging materials to prevent damage during transit. Packers may also add marketing inserts, free gifts, or gift notes to the order at this time. Once everything has been arranged within the package, the box or mailer is closed and sealed.
Step 4: Labeling and preparing items for shipping
Sealed packages are then measured and weighed. This allows the packing team to generate an accurate shipping label, which includes essential information about the order such as the recipient’s address and contact information, tracking number, weight, shipping method, and more. The shipping label is printed and attached to the package to get it ready to mail.
Handling fragile or high-value items
When shipping fragile or high-value items, it’s important to pack them extremely securely to prevent damage during shipping.
First, make sure you choose a sturdy box that’s only slightly larger than the product (or, if the item is light and small, a similar-sized bubble mailer). This will prevent the item from moving around too much inside the box.
You’ll then need to add cushioning material to fill any empty space to prevent breakage. Some businesses choose to design custom wood or foam frames to encase the items for additional protection.
Since handling fragile and high-value items can be very complex and time-consuming, some businesses opt to outsource to a 3PL that offers pick and packing services. This way, expert pickers and packers can make sure fragile items such as jewelry or glass containers are safe from the time they’re unpacked in warehouse receiving to the moment they’re delivered to the customer’s doorstep.
The customer opening their package is the only moment of the entire marketing journey where you have the customer’s undivided attention – and unlike other customer touchpoints, packages have a 100% open rate.
Because of this, order packaging gives you a unique opportunity to highlight your brand, and to delight shoppers with a memorable unboxing experience. Often, you can accomplish both of these things through custom packaging.
According to a recent survey, 61% of consumers get more excited when they receive an order with custom branded packaging, and 41% report feeling encouraged to buy from the brand again.
Here are some packaging customizations that your brand can leverage to stand out and win customer loyalty.
Featuring your brand’s logo, colors, and design front and center lets you build brand recognition – and customer excitement! Businesses can brand the interior and exterior of boxes and poly-mailers, and even incorporate custom branded dunnage materials (such as tissue paper, packing tape, or stickers) for a cohesive, professional look.
Rather than tossing products in a box, some businesses take a little extra time and money to arrange products thoughtfully within a package. This not only curates a more aesthetically-pleasing first impression when the customer opens their package, but can also help direct the unboxing experience (i.e. show customer switch product to unwrap first, or instruct customers in what order to use complementing products).
While you have the customer’s attention, why not give them an incentive to purchase again? Most customers enjoy small surprises such as coupons, free gifts, or other inserts, and taking advantage of a promotional opportunity now may result in future sales.
In a world filled with cookie-cutter, mass-purchasing experiences, adding a personalized element to a customer’s order can make a hugely positive impression. While it’s not always feasible for larger brands, customized additions like thank-you notes or gift notes will go a long way towards making a customer feel special.
Optimizing packing for faster shipping
Even if your packing process is functional, chances are there is room for improvement. Here are a few ideas to optimize your packing process to ensure faster shipping and improve the customer fulfillment experience.
Keeping inventory storage and workstations organized is crucial to speed up the picking process, which will ultimately speed up packing.
Make use of bins, shelves, and pallets to keep different SKUs separate, and label every product unit and storage location to make it easier to locate items when picking. That way, pickers can find the right items more quickly and get them ready for packing. In addition, be sure to clearly designate different areas for different functions, such as receiving, packing, and carrier pickup, to avoid confusion and mix-ups.
Automate manual tasks
Automation tools such as conveyor systems can help you save plenty of time in transporting items to the packing area. You can also use pick-to-light systems, automated guided vehicles, and other automation solutions to streamline the process and speed up fulfillment activities. Pick and pack software can be used to quickly select the right boxes for each order, which further facilitates faster shipping.
Outsource pick and pack fulfillment
The easiest way to optimize the packing process is to outsource it to an experienced 3PL provider. 3PLs like ShipBob have the technology, infrastructure, and expertise to pick and pack your orders with ease, optimizing for speed and cost at every turn. That way, you can improve packing accuracy and quality while also saving time – time that you can spend on more strategic priorities.
Leveraging ShipBob’s services for effective order packing and fulfillment
ShipBob is a tech-enabled global fulfillment platform, which means picking and packing ecommerce orders is our bread and butter.
When you outsource order fulfillment to ShipBob, we’ll handle order packing for you from start to finish. All you have to do is send us your inventory, and ShipBob will store your inventory in one or more of our fulfillment centers. As soon as orders come in, our logistics experts pick and pack them to perfection before shipping them using the most ideal carrier.
If your brand prefers to manage their fulfillment in-house, ShipBob also offers a powerful warehouse management system to help you optimize the packing process within your own warehouse. Using ShipBob’s WMS, you can maximize pick and pack efficiency with greater accuracy and speed, leveraging features like:
- Flexible picking and packing options (including batch, zone, auto-cluster, and single-order),
- Step-by-step packing flows
- Visual packing instructions (including pictures and gifs)
- An intuitive dashboard that new hires cna learn in minutes
Whether you outsource packing or do-it-yourself, ShipBob’s solutions provide a customization suite that lets you create a custom branded experience. From branded packaging supplies to kitting to marketing inserts and customization gift notes, ShipBob offers a wide range of options to create a customer experience that’s unique to your brand, and keep customers coming back.
Order packing FAQs
Below are answers to the top questions about order packing.
What strategies are used to optimize the packing process for faster shipping times?
Brands can optimize the packing process by keeping their packing stations and inventory storage spaces organized, employing automation, and outsourcing packing altogether. These optimizations make the packing process more efficient, reducing lead times.
How do fulfillment centers ensure accuracy and efficiency during the packing process?
Fulfillment centers can ensure accuracy and efficiency during packing by employing a WMS with built-in checks and balances. For example, ShipBob leverages barcode scanning during picking, box selection algorithms, and step-by-step packing flows with visual instructions to make sure the correct items are packed in the correct way.
How can ShipBob help with the packing process?
ShipBob provides outsourced fulfillment services in which a team of experts takes care of the entire picking and packing process for you across all your DTC and retail channels. Businesses that handle fulfillment in-house can also use the ShipBob WMS to streamline the packing process.