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Small business packaging
10 min read

Small business guide to packaging

Whether you’re starting out or well established, it’s important to ensure your products are protected against damage, packaged cost-effectively and present your brand professionally. This article will look at all the considerations when packaging your small business products. 

Why is packaging important?

For some business owners, packaging can be a bit of an afterthought﹣but its role is a vital one. Not only is it responsible for getting your product from A to B safely, but it’s often the first impression your customers will have of your company. You could have the snazziest website and the slickest social media, but scrimp on packaging and it won’t just be your product that’s damaged in transit, but your company’s reputation. Packaging plays a large role in the perceived value of your product and company as a whole (think how Apple packages its products). It should be seen as an extension of the product you’re selling. You’d be surprised at how many businesses let themselves down on this final stage of the customer journey.

Packaging is a fundamental aspect of supply chain management that requires thought from the very beginning. You will need to decide on the most cost-effective way to safely deliver your product, while also making a good first impression on your customer. Here are some factors to bear in mind when considering your options.

Different types of packaging

As you can imagine, there are lots of different types of packaging. Here are some of the most common packaging options. 

  • Corrugated cardboard boxes

    It’s essential to get your outer packaging right. Depending on the size and weight of your product, select a single, double or triple wall cardboard box.

  • Paperboard boxes

    Made of thick paper, printed with brand-enhancing graphics, and cut/folded into unique structures, paperboard packaging is an effective way to engage consumers. Lightweight and strong, these are often used in cosmetics and food packaging e.g. cereal boxes.

  • Postal boxes

    The price you pay to send letters and parcels within the UK depends on the size and weight of your item. Be as cost effective as possible by selecting the right sized postal box that meets Royal Mail’s postal pricing guidelines. You can find Royal Mail’s size and weight guide here (also listed below). Postal boxes adhere to the dimensions listed in this table﹣you just need to ensure the weight of your product (including anything else going into the box e.g. wrapping, flyers, etc) is correctly listed as it will decide on which category your packaging falls into e.g. large letter, small parcel, medium parcel, etc.

  • Mailing bags

    Ideal for softer materials such as clothes, they offer a peel and seal strip for secure closure. Clear mailing bags are also available so you can add an insert should you wish to include your own branding.

  • Jiffy bags

    Lightweight padded envelopes will protect your items during shipping.

  • Bubble wrap

    Could your products damage easily? Bubble wrap is flexible yet protective ﹣although not particularly great for your eco-credentials (which we’ll explore later).

  • Polythene bags

    A popular and economical form of retail and industrial packaging, transparent bags not only allow contents to be visible, but they also provide hygienic protection against dirt, dust and moisture. Available in a wide range of duties from light to extra heavy duty, making them suitable for a host of applications. (Again, not great from an eco-perspective.)

  • Paper bags

    A more eco-friendly option compared to other plastic packaging types.

  • Canvas bags

    Reusable for the eco-conscious, while also giving off a luxurious feel.

  • Foil-lined bags

    Ideal for keeping food fresh. Commonly used for items such as tea and coffee.

  • Packing peanuts

    Another great option for fragile items. Did you know you can now get compostable ones?

  • Packing tape

    Lots of different types out there have different applications﹣from heat activated to vinyl, self adhesive to water-activated! You can even use pre-printed tape, whether you use it for branding, identifying (e.g. shipment caution messages) and prevention (e.g. drawing attention to security and shipping instructions).

  • Documents enclosed wallets

    Ensure your shipping documents arrive clearly visible with your parcel.

  • Strapping

    Polypropylene strapping and tools will secure bundles, pallets and parcels.

  • Stretch film

    Polythene stretch film will improve the stability of your loaded pallets while also protecting your goods. Available in a variety of thicknesses to suit your application.

  • Glass containers

    Often used for items such as cosmetics and candles.

What are the Royal Mail PIP (Pricing in Proportion) guidelines?

Using the correct sized packaging is important as it not only protects your product, but ensures you don’t overpay in postage costs. Royal Mail prices letters and parcels by size and weight, therefore fitting into the lowest possible category can result in big savings for your business.

Format

Max weight

Max length

Max width

Max thickness / depth

Letter

100g

24cm

16.5cm

5mm

Large Letter

750g

35.3cm

25cm

2.5cm

Small Parcel

2kg

45cm

35cm

16cm

Medium Parcel

20kg

61cm

46cm

46cm

Large Parcel via Parcelforce Worldwide

30kg

1.5m

 

3m length and depth combined

Tubes

Length of the item plus twice the diameter must be less than 104cm, with the greatest dimension less than 90cm

 

 

 

Full PIP guidelines from Royal Mail can be found here.

How do I ensure I adhere to PIP?

Here are some best practice tips for ensuring you don’t fall foul of PIP:

  • Purchase your packaging from a trustworthy supplier who can guarantee which category your letter or parcel falls into.
  • You can also ask your supplier to provide packaging that has been ‘post checked’ to ensure it meets Royal Mail’s Large Letter or Small Parcel sizes.
  • Purchase a plastic guide from the Post Office (you’ve likely spotted one in use there before!). If your parcel passes through the relevant slot, you’ll know for sure which category/categories your items fall into.

Money-saving tips for packaging

Packaging can become an expensive outlay so you’ll want to ensure your process is as cost-effective as possible:

  • Consider bulk buying packaging material. Suppliers tend to encourage larger orders by offering better value for money. Ensure you don’t go overboard though﹣if you know you’ll get through the larger quantity, then the long term saving is worth the initial investment.
  • Reduce packaging weight and size. This very much comes down to what you’re packaging up, but as you’re paying a delivery fee based on size/weight then reducing these will help you save money. For example, a mailing bag is a great option when posting durable products. Most types of mailing bags are flexible and waterproof ﹣ helping to protect your product but without the extra weight. They’ll also save you storage space whether it’s in your office, home office or warehouse.
  • Shop around for non-branded products. You could save a lot of money by researching the packaging you need and comparing prices. Non-branded products can provide the same amount of protection while being much more affordable.
  • Keep researching products on the market to ensure cost effectiveness without sacrificing quality.
  • Assess every inch of your packaging ﹣is it all required? Or are you being wasteful? Could you make your packaging more compact so it moves from a Small Parcel to a Large Letter, without reducing the protection of your product, or quality of material? For example, rather than including a ‘thank you for your order’ flyer, could you print it on the inside of your product box?
  • Consider an insert that’s specifically designed to hold your product within its packaging, rather than void filler material. You might find it’s a cheaper alternative. An insert will hold your product directly in place in transit, meaning less chance of damage, while also speeding up the packaging process. Custom inserts have the added benefit of making a single sized box fit many products, meaning fewer box sizes for you to order and store.
  • Reduce your number of suppliers. This makes it easier to update any designs on your packaging by having just one point of contact, while helping cut down on delivery costs.
  • Zone your warehouse/studio/office. Consider placing packaging materials in one area to avoid having to walk in opposite directions to get hold of tissue paper and a box. Thoroughly review the efficiency of your packaging process. Time is money after all!

Don’t forget, there’s a fine line between saving money and cost cutting. Don’t lower the quality, just think smarter about what packaging you’re using, and how it impacts your bottom line. Keep things simple at first﹣more expensive branded packaging can always be looked at down the line.

Checklist: How to reduce damage risks when packaging

Damaged goods through poor packaging can result in refunds and unhappy customers – as well as being time-consuming and expensive to deal with. Here’s a checklist for how to avoid damage risks:

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How can I stand out with my packaging?

Once you’ve refined a reliable, efficient and cost-effective way to package and deliver your products safely, it’s time to think about the marketing side of things. Packaging provides a prime opportunity to stand out over your competitors. Imagine if you could impress your customers before they’ve even opened their delivery-!

  • Get colourful! Enhance your packaging by selecting a unique colour that your customers will quickly begin to associate with your brand. Adding a pop of colour to someone’s post is a quick way to put a smile on their face﹣whether it’s a bright box, luminous mailing bag or packaging that includes your brand colours.
  • Coloured tape. If you’re happy with your standard cardboard boxes but would like to add a pop of colour, then coloured tape is a great option. You could even opt for custom packing tape to promote your brand.
  • Metallic bubble bags! We’ve seen a business who sends items in bright green and pink metallic bubble bags﹣and they work a treat! Not just bright, they literally shine on the doormat when they’ve been delivered! We always associate ‘happy mail’ with their brand ﹣and it all starts with the packaging.
  • Tissue paper. Why stop at the outer packaging? Continue to impress as your customer opens their package. It will also help protect what’s inside﹣it’s a win win.
  • Gift boxes. Premium gift boxes with lids add a touch of class when sending luxury items.
  • Print your packaging with a custom stamp. A more affordable version compared to a custom box!
  • Add ‘inserts’ inside your packaging. A packaging insert is an additional item that e-commerce retailers can put into shipments before sending them off to customers e.g. a thank you flyer offering up a discount code for repeat purchases, a business card, a handwritten note, sweets (!), review requests, product samples… the list goes on! Inserts are a proven tactic for increasing order size, word of mouth, loyalty and more. They don’t have to cost very much, either. Make sure whatever you include is the right fit for your brand and customer.
  • Unusual materials. Could you wrap your item inside in a different material, that might stand out more? Some ideas﹣wallpaper, maps, etc! (So many ideas can be found online with a quick Google. Pinterest is also a fantastic place to inspire creativity.)
  • Strategically place stickers. A quick way to dress up plain packaging, stickers (as well as custom packing tape) are ideal for branding your packaging and standing out.

TOP TIP: Durability over beauty, every time!  While you want to stand out, don’t let it be at the detriment of the prime role of your packaging﹣getting your items to your customers in one piece. If you’re unsure whether a new style of packaging will last in the post, why not send it out to a few people you know, and they can provide you with feedback before you invest? As mentioned, you could easily stick to the reliable plain packaging you know well, as you can always add branding that will stand out via stickers, tape, etc.

Where can I store my packaging products?

While some of these items are subject to how much space you have e.g. warehouse vs home office, the principles behind storing packaging are very much universal, no matter the location. For example:

  • Store unpacked boxes in a cool, dry place﹣as humidity can cause them to get damp and mouldy. As cardboard and paper is a porous material that can easily absorb moisture, it encourages mould and can lead to a bad smell-!
  • Store out the way of direct light/sunlight to avoid boxes looking lacklustre.
  • Store any flattened boxes horizontally, as they can easily bend or crease if stored vertically.
  • It’s advised to store boxes for up to a year. Boxes do get dull and dust can also cause them to fade if stored longer.
  • Storage bins help store items but make them easily accessible. Corrugated or plastic bin boxes also help organise your packing area.
  • Dispenser gadgets will not only streamline your packaging process but they help to store your tape, labels, etc.
  • Tissue paper racks are an attractive way to display tissue paper while also preventing creases and wrinkles.

What tools and resources are available to help with packaging?

The right tools can help make your packaging process more efficient and cost effective. The tools that will be most helpful to you very much depends on the size of your business and what you’re packaging up. Here are some examples of the type of equipment available:

  • Strapping trolleys and strapping machines are useful to businesses and warehouses that are involved in heavy duty and high volume shipping
  • For smaller requirements, a strapping tensioner and sealer tool are useful for hand strapping packages
  • Bench tape dispensers and hand tape dispensers / tools will save you a lot of time
  • Roll dispenser stands are versatile and help organise your packing area to speed up the packing process. Whether used as a paper roll dispenser, a bubble wrap dispenser or both, dispenser stands save space and help improve productivity
  • Depending on your available space, packing workbenches / stations are useful in providing everything you need in one place
  • Industrial heat sealers and shrink wrapping machines are ideal for sealing plastic bags and wrapping small to medium size products
  • Industrial scales are useful for weighing parcels in your warehouse, factory or office. There are a range of bench scales available, that can weigh items as well as count them. Industrial floor scales and platform scales for larger or heavier items are also available, as well as pallet scales or pallet bars which weigh palletised products up to 5,000kg.
  • Hot melt glue guns for invisible or specialist sealing
  • A label printer is an indispensable tool for e-commerce logistics. You need shipping labels to send packages, and a label printer helps you work efficiently and flawlessly. It takes seconds to print a shipping label, saving you so much time and reducing any room for error as your device speaks directly to your printer.

A useful resource can be found via The Post Office’s website, which offers useful guidance on How to Pack your Parcel. It includes clear guidance on how to select the correct packaging (e.g. high quality corrugated cardboard boxes, jiffy bags for smaller items, etc), internal protection, sealing your parcel and labelling your parcel. Its do’s and don’ts format helps you avoid any common mistakes and assumptions.

Eco-Friendly options

In the UK it is estimated that five million tonnes of plastic is used every year, nearly half of which is packaging.

Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of their environmental impact. Over the past few years, buyers are moving towards making more ethical, environmentally-friendly purchases. Future-proof your packaging from the beginning by investigating sustainable packaging options. Many consumers now expect brands to package their products in materials that are environmentally friendly and recyclable.

Cardboard boxes are sturdy, affordable, offer great versatility and can be recycled. You can easily add branding via stamps, stickers and tape. Other eco-friendly options include reusable, plantable, compostable and returnable packaging﹣some are even edible-! A quick Google will give you a list of many sustainable packaging options at your fingertips.

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