The Ultimate Seller's Guide To Ebay, Amazon, and Etsy Packaging!
Selling products on Amazon, Etsy, or Ebay requires hard work and dedication. Business owners have to worry about inventory, order fulfillment, communication with customers, and more. The last issue anyone wants to worry about is product packaging. Sure, it is a necessary evil, but anything that gets products to the customer will work, right?
In a nutshell, yes the main objective for packaging is to get an undamaged product to the customer. In addition to delivery and undamaged product to the customer, taking the time to focus on packaging could increase efficiency, lower product loss, increase branding, and most of all increase the bottom line!
This all-inclusive guide is aimed at helping Amazon, Ebay, and Etsy sellers in a variety of areas for packaging and selling products. Use the divided sections to easily scan to areas of interest.
Part 1: Know Your Products
Whether an experienced seller or a starter, it is important to know your products. Knowing the size and dimensions of the products, estimated production levels, and common product bundles are important to achieving the packaging goals.
A. What Products Will You be Selling
Obviously, being knowledgeable about your products is important for your business, but for packaging purposes, knowledge about the weights and dimensions of each product is very important.
The easiest way to find product dimensions are with a tape measure and scale. The way to store them is up to the seller. Below are some ways to store product weights and dimensions for quick reference.
• Product Dimensions Into Product Description – All products listed on Ebay, Amazon, and Etsy require a product weight to be listed in the listing. Additional product dimensions can be added to product descriptions for quick and easy reference.
• Microsoft Excel – An newer, yet still effective way to store product dimensions and weights. Most data storage systems have an Excel import option as well.
• 3rd Party Shipping Software – There are a variety of cross-platform shipping software options available. Most of them offer the ability to insert product dimensions tied to each product. Some examples include Shipworks, Shipstation, and Shippingeasy.
B. How Many Products Do You Estimate Shipping
This can be very difficult to determine in the beginning. This is something that can be done after a few months of baseline sales are established. Once baseline sales figures are gathered more accurate forecasts can be made. We recommend forecasting out sales and production levels for two to five years in six-month increments.
For established sellers, an estimate in the number of products being sold and shipped is much easier to obtain. Looking at past sales figures will allow easier and more accurate forecasting. Proper and accurate sales and shipping forecasts are important for future purchases. Accurate shipping and sales forecasts can save money by ordering materials in bulk. The right machinery can save time and increase efficiency. In Part 6 and 7 below, we will explain in detail the benefits of bulk packaging material purchases and the proper machinery.
C. What Commonly Bundled Items Ship Together
This can be another difficult question to answer if only beginning to sell online. Knowing common complimentary products that often ship together will help determine the right packaging materials to buy and what carrier to ship with. The ability to ship two separate products as one saves on shipping costs.
If there are clearly defined sales records of two products often being shipped together, an exterior box to accommodate both products should be invested in. If there are two products often shipped together but vary in size, there are a few packaging options to consider below.
• Corrugated Boxes – The most popular and preferred way to bundle multiple products together. Corrugated boxes can be printed on to increase company branding and advertising.
The main drawback of corrugated boxes are the costs. Purchasing enough boxes to accommodate a variety of complementary products can be costly. Boxes too large do not offer the best presentation and can cause damage in shipping without proper void-fill.
• Strapping – Aside from corrugated boxes, strapping is one of the most common ways to bundle one or more products. We recommend checking UPS strapping guidelines before sending strapped products. FedEx and USPS do not allow exterior strapping.
• Shrink Wrapping – An excellent option for bundling multiple products together. Bundling multiple products together with shrink wrap saves on shipping costs and presents a professional looking package upon arrival to the customer. Shrink wrapping is accepted by FedEx, UPS, and USPS as long as the bundled boxes are uniform.
The only drawback to using a shrink wrap as an exterior packaging is the risk of the shrink wrap tearing. It is very important to use shrink wrap that is strong enough to handle the transportation stress to a customer's location.
We recommend nothing less than a 100 gauge shrink wrap thickness for polyolefin shrink wrap and up to a 2 mil polyethylene shrink wrap depending on the size and weight of the products being bundled together.
• Tape – An affordable bundling option for lighter uniform products. Taping two or more boxes together does not offer the best presentation, but does get the job done. We recommend tape if there are no other options available.
Part 2: Where Will You Ship To
Determining what countries, states, and regions you will ship to or eventually ship to will help establish rates and preferred carriers for each region. This will also ensure you will not be caught off guard offering free shipping to an area where shipping will consume all of your profits.
A. What Countries and Regions Will You Ship To
Thankfully Amazon, Ebay, and Etsy offer the ability for customers to view real-time shipping quotes for any area products will be shipping to. Each seller platform makes it easy for sellers to ship international with minimal effort.
As a seller, we recommend being familiar with all the different areas you will ship to. This will offer the ability to stay familiar with everything needed to ship to each area. This helps when communicating with customers about orders.
B. Will You Offer Free Shipping
Offering free shipping is a plus for anyone selling on Ebay, Amazon, and Etsy. Buyers have been conditioned to look for products offering “free shipping”. Products with free shipping often rank higher than products without free shipping. Be careful when clicking the free shipping option. Know what areas free shipping includes.
• Ebay - The free shipping option includes shipping to Alaska and Hawaii.
• Amazon - The free shipping option on Amazon is only available to Pro merchants. Once available ($39.99 per month) the free shipping option is customizable too which areas you want to offer free shipping.
• Etsy – Encourages sellers to create a free shipping coupon. The coupon allows you to choose free shipping in the United States. Seller is aware that this does include Alaska and Hawaii as well since they are both parts of the United States.
C. What are the Available Shipping Options
If choosing to offer free shipping, US Postal often offers the best rates for small and medium-sized objects. For heavier products, the US Postal flat rate shipping option is a low-cost delivery method.
Between the three seller platforms (Ebay, Amazon, and Etsy) US Postal is the most used option. Mostly because it is the cheapest option for sellers who offer free shipping. UPS is the second most used option with DHL and FedEx being the latter used options.
All four carriers are used for international shipping options. Each carrier's rules, benefits, and options are discussed in detail in Part 4.
Part 3: What Packaging Guidelines Must Be Followed?
Understanding the different packaging guidelines for each platform will save future headaches. Ebay and Amazon have clearly defined and detailed packaging guidelines. Etsy is much less specific on packaging guidelines. We recommend establishing a packaging that meets guideline requirements for each site. Below are links to each site’s guidelines as well as additional information to be aware of.
A. Ebay Packaging Guidelines
There are several different links for becoming familiar with Ebay packaging guidelines. The “official” Ebay packing page is not the most in-depth. It provides the bare minimums on packing and shipping products.
A much more detailed packaging page for Ebay can be found here. It explains what packaging is suggested for a variety of different products often snew on Ebay. The guidelines offered by Ebay are suggestions for sellers to follow when packaging products. Nothing specific about packaging is listed under the Ebay policies page.
B. Etsy Packaging Guidelines
Etsy does not offer an official packaging guideline page like Ebay and Amazon. Many of the pages offered from the Etsy site are blog posts and suggestion pages. Here is a very good packaging blog post from Etsy that is informative and talks a lot about branding product packaging.
C. Amazon Packaging Guidelines
Because of the Amazon simply fulfillment option offered to sellers, they have the strictest packaging guidelines of the three platforms. Sellers that choose the order fulfillment option send products and packaging materials to Amazon distribution centers for fulfillment.
For easy reading and navigation, we will provide links below for different pages of Amazon packaging guidelines.
• General Packaging Guidelines – A general page of packaging guidelines for sellers shipping directly to customers.
• Packaging Guidelines For Amazon Fulfillment – More detailed packaging information for sending products to Amazon and having them ready to be fulfilled by Amazon.
• Packaging Guidelines For Product Types – This can be found at the bottom of the page on the link above. There are multiple links available for different products such as packaging liquids, fragile items, granular products, batteries, and more.
Part 4: Understanding Shipping
Understanding the different shipping options available and the packaging guidelines for each option is important for sellers. This section will discuss what shipping options are available from each carrier and the product packaging guidelines for each carrier. We recommend having all options available if possible to compare prices.
A. United States Postal
In part 2 - C we mentioned that United States Postal was the most popular shipping option for sellers at Amazon, Etsy, and Ebay. They offer the best pricing and the option of flat rate shipping for heavier products and products shipping to Alaska or Hawaii.
• United States Postal Packaging Guidelines – This link explains everything the USPS requires for shipping envelopes up to small packages.
• United States Postal Rates – Standard non-discounted business rates from the United States Post office. From this page, international rates can be found as well.
• United States Postal Flat Rate Pricing – Shows sizes and pricing of flat rate boxes.
UPS is the second most popular shipping carrier. They offer better options for shipping expedited packages and are often more reliable that USPS. Below are some helpful links for shipping UPS.
• An All-Inclusive Guide For Shipping UPS – A long 183-page guide for shipping UPS. Includes everything in detail needed to ship UPS.
• UPS Packaging Guidelines – A real brief explanation of UPS packaging guidelines.
• A Step-by-Step Packaging Guide From UPS – A multi-page packaging guide for preparing shipments to ship via UPS
C. Fed Ex
FedEx is used less than UPS for Ebay and Amazon for several reasons. One specific reason FedEx is used less is that it is not an option for sellers with an Amazon web store. Etsy is very compatible with shipping packages via FedEx. Below are some helpful links for shipping packages via FedEx.
• An All-Inclusive Guide For Packaging FedEx Shipments – A 45-page guide detailing how to package products for shipment when shipping FedEx.
• FedEx Restrictions – Since FedEx is often used by sellers to ship international, becoming familiar with international shipping restrictions is important.
DHL is very rarely used by sellers on either platform for domestic shipments. Rates are often not comparable with the other three major carriers for domestic shipments. Where DHL does often excel is international shipments and rural area shipments. In fact, many international customers' request for DHL shipping. Below are some links to help become more familiar with DHL rules and Guidelines.
• General Shipping and Packaging Page – A general page with several different links for packaging and shipping via DHL.
• Prohibited Products for International Shipping – A long list of items DHL will not ship internationally.
Part 5: Presentation and Branding
Packaging serves a variety of purposes. The primary objective of packaging is the protection of products. Whether in a brick-and-mortar store or online, the main objective of packaging should be delivering an undamaged and untampered product to the customer.
Though branding and presentation is not the main purpose of packaging, it is very important. Companies spend billions of dollars annually on package design. Packaging plays a huge role in the marketing of products. Packaging helps products stand out on the shelf, offers an extension of the product, and tells about a brand.
Understanding the difference between primary and secondary packaging is important for understanding the packaging direction of the company. Check out the descriptions below to help understand the differences.
A. Primary Packaging
Primary packaging is best defined by the packaging that comes into direct contact or the closest contact with the product. The primary packaging market is a massive market composed of designers, manufacturers, machinery, materials, and many other working parts.
For brick-and-mortar sales, the primary packaging of a product should be considered as a top priority for marketing. Companies have to find ways for the primary packaging to stand out on shelves and fit on shelves while still accomplishing the main objective of protecting the product.
Online sellers are fortunate to not deal with shelving issues, but primary packaging is still incredibly important. Primary packaging is the most memorable impression before seeing the purchased product. There is an incredible amount of options available for primary packaging. In part 6 below, we look at some primary packaging options to consider. Sometimes the best primary packaging is the option that offers the best clarity to properly display the product.
B. Secondary Packaging
Secondary packaging is often the first line of protection for a product. For retail brick-and-mortar sales, secondary packaging can be a variety of materials. For online sales, corrugated cardboard is the most commonly used form of secondary packaging.
Corrugated boxes are the most frequently used form of secondary packaging because they provide protection during transport by major carriers. The shipping guidelines for the four major carriers we linked to in part 4 all require a corrugated box for the exterior packaging.
The type of corrugated boxes and the option of customization are important for a seller to consider. This is discussed in further detail in part 6 – A. The external box or envelope is the very first thing customers see when the package is delivered.
We recommend printed boxes if viable, but a good looking, more affordable alternative is branded stickers. Branded stickers with company logos, contact information, and any additional information are inexpensive. Below are a couple of online sticker companies to consider.
One more thing to consider when discussing secondary packaging; secondary packaging is any packaging that is not primary packaging. The external box is secondary packaging, but often sellers use a chipboard carton or something similar within an external corrugated box as another form of secondary packaging. This container can be branded as well to enhance the customer experience and increase brand awareness.
Void-fill is used to fill the empty spaces within the secondary packaging. It works as a shock absorber and cushion to protect products during transport. Probably the two most well-known forms of void-fill are packaging peanuts, and bubble wrap. Though these two are the best known, there are many other options available.
So why is void-fill included in presentation and branding? The type of void-fill a seller chooses should not contradict the brand and the message being presented. If a company selling environmentally friendly products is using packaging peanuts as a void-fill option, it is directly contradicting the message the company is sending. If a company is attempting to be the lowest costing product on the market, the lowest costing void-fill would help in accomplishing the message. Below are some void-fill options to consider that may help further the message a company is trying to present.
Foam Packaging Peanuts - Popular low-cost option, not environmentally friendly.
Bubble Wrap - Air-filled plastic bubbles often available on rolls. Affordable and effective, but not eco-friendly.
Starch Packaging Peanuts - Environmentally friendly option often costing more than foam peanuts. Completely biodegradable within months.
Kraft Paper - Available in recycled paper and completely biodegradable. An affordable and effective packaging option.
Shredded Paper - The repurposing of a product for environmental concerns. An affordable and biodegradable option. Can be messy for customers opening products.
Part 6: What Packaging Options are Available
In part 1 – C we briefly spoke about packaging options for bundling more than one product. In this section, we will cover in detail the packaging options available to sellers and offer tips and advice for purchasing.
Accurate sales forecasts are important when purchasing materials to help determine the number of materials to purchase. The ability to buy any packaging materials in bulk will substantially reduce overall costs. Packaging companies often offer discounted shipping or free shipping for material orders over a specified amount. If the storage space is available and the sales forecasts support a bulk material purchase it is highly recommended.
A. Corrugated Packaging Options
Essentially all of the major carriers prefer parcel shipments to be packaged in a corrugated carton. Corrugated containers can be expensive and difficult to source multiple sizes. An easy way to reduce or remove the cost of corrugated containers is shipping via USPS flat rate. The post office allows you to order flat rate boxes online or pick up at a local hub at no cost.
Sometimes flat rate boxes are not an option for shipping and purchasing boxes is the only option. We recommend sourcing corrugated boxes from the closest source possible. Shipping charges for corrugated products often cost as much or more than the cost of the boxes themselves. A local corrugated supplier will save time and money.
A great way to brand shipments is with printed corrugated boxes. If the same box sizes are used often enough, the use of printed boxes can add a professional touch. A plate fee is often required to get started, but costs are fairly reasonable after the initial run depending on quantities ordered. Most local corrugators have printing capabilities to fill large and small orders. The association of Independent corrugated converters has a great directory for finding nearby corrugators that can offer printed box quotes.
B. Mailers and Envelopes
Envelopes and mailers are an inexpensive way to ship smaller products. Determining the best type of mailer or envelope to properly protect products during shipping can be trial and error. We recommend if you are unsure, go with a bubble mailer for added protection. Below are some mailer and envelope options to choose from.
• Standard Envelopes – Available in different sizes and colors. Often the cheapest external packaging option for supplies and shipping costs.
• Flat Envelopes – Envelopes typically larger than standard envelopes with a variety of closure options available. Flat envelopes are inexpensive in cost and inexpensive to ship.
• Bubble Mailers – Envelopes the same size as flat envelopes with bubbled cushioning on the interior of the mailer for extra protection. Bubble mailers are often less than $.50 each, depending on size.
C. Flexible Packaging
Flexible packaging includes a large variety of products that can change shape after sealed or closed. Flexible packaging is used for both primary and secondary packaging. Flexible packaging is recommended for some products sold on Ebay and required for some products sold in Amazon fulfillment. Below is a list of commonly used flexible packaging products by online sellers.
• Poly Bags and Tubing – A very popular and common flexible packaging option for sellers. The bags can be sealed, taped, stapled, or come in the reclosable form. Poly products are commonly available in thicknesses ranging from 1-6 mils. Printed poly bags are fairly easy to source to add extra branding to product packaging.
• Heat Shrink Film – Available in a variety of forms, thicknesses, materials, and colors. Heat shrink film is used for primary packaging, secondary packaging, and a bundling option. For packaging with direct food contact, polyolefin shrink film is required because it is FDA approved.
Colored shrink film is easier to source in a PVC material. PVC has the same consistency as cellophane prior to heat being applied. For bundling two or more products as explained in section 1 – C a polyethylene or polyolefin shrink film is recommended depending on the size and weight of the products. The polyethylene is required for heavier products with sharp corners.
• Vacuum Packaging – An excellent way to preserve and extend the shelf life of perishable items. Vacuum packaging also protects products from moisture, dust, and any other exterior elements.
Vacuum packaging is most often used as primary packaging. The difference between vacuum packaging and shrink wrapping is the way air is removed from the package. Shrink wrapping uses vent holes in the film to allow air to escape when the film shrinks. The small holes keep shrink wrap from being completely sealed off from exterior elements. Vacuum packaging uses suction to remove air from a package and then seals the package completely from exterior elements.
D. Rigid Containers
Rigid containers are another large area of packaging. For most Ebay, Amazon, or Etsy sellers, a rigid container is an option for primary packaging. Rigid containers include any hard container, jar, bottle, or can that is designed to hold something.
Rigid containers can be made of glass, plastic, wood, rubber, and a variety of other materials. Below is a list of popular rigid containers used for primary packaging by online sellers.
• Bottles – Plastic or glass, bottles can offer great branding and presentation to customers. Bottles are normally tapered towards the top and are available in many different sizes.
• Jars – Like bottles, jars are available in plastic or glass. Jars have a variety of closure options available. Customized Mason Jars are very popular with Etsy sellers. Many Etsy sellers use mason jars for primary packaging as well as sell customized mason jar products.
E. Carton Closure
Carton closure often deals with secondary external packaging closure. The most popular carton closure option for online sellers is tape. Tape can come in a variety of forms and is also used for primary package closure as well.
Other carton closure options include string/twine, strapping, and staples. Below are a couple of popular tape varieties and explanations of other carton closure options.
Packing Tape – Clear and tan packing tape is by far the most common packing tape for sellers shipping online. Clear packing tape is most commonly available in 2 and 3-inch widths. There are multiple thicknesses available depending on the product weight and size
Kraft Reinforced Packing Tape – A very popular packaging option for online sellers. Reinforced packing tape use fiberglass yarn to create a strong and durable seal. Reinforced packing tape is most commonly water activated.
String/Twine – Recommended for primary packaging to add extra
presentation of products. All major carriers do not allow string or twine for secondary carton closure.
Staples – Commonly used for heavy products. Often coupled with double or triple walled corrugated boxes and strapping.
Strapping – Used to assist in heavy carton closure and bundling of more than one product. Strapping kits are available online for minimal costs.
Part 7: Packaging Machinery Options
This section is the last section in this guide because everything else should be considered and addressed before looking at packaging machinery. Prior to picking the proper machinery, you need to:
Know product dimensions
Determine if output levels justify a machine purchase
Know if and which products will be bundled
Understand the guidelines for carriers and selling platforms
Have a general idea of which packaging materials would be preferred
The reason it is not important to be 100 percent committed to a packaging material before making a purchase is that sometimes the machine or machines required for a packaging material can help determine the chosen material to be used.
We recommend knowing all the answers to the above points before looking at machines. Once determined, the two major factors that often define machine costs are size and efficiency. A larger, more efficient machine costs more than smaller, less efficient machines. Below are some common packaging machines used by online sellers with a brief description of each.
A. Case Erectors, Carton Sealers, and Tape Dispensers
Tape dispensers are used for packing tape and Kraft reinforced tape. Hand tape dispensers are often used for manual box closure. A machine tape dispenser is used for a reinforced tape that is water activated. The dispenser wets the tape and it is dispensed to activate the adhesive. They are available in manual and automatic versions.
Carton sealers become a necessary evil when production levels become high enough that hand carton closure does not keep up. Carton sealers enable users to fill cartons and send them through the sealer’s conveyor. Most carton sealers seal the top and bottom flaps with adjustable widths and heights available.
Case erectors are used with corrugated boxes to open ends of the box for filling and shipping. Case erectors are normally fully automatic and are made for higher production levels. See the images below of case erectors and carton sealers.
B. Sealing Equipment
Sealing equipment covers a large range of machines, but is most commonly referring to a heat sealer. Heat sealers are used on many different materials within the packaging industry. Heat sealers are used on: PVC, polyolefin, polyethylene, polypropylene, foil-lined pouches, cellophane, coated paper, polyester blends, and more. The main objective of a heat sealer is to seal two open ends together.
The type, size, and efficiency of a sealer are determined by the products being wrapped. The two basic forms of sealers are flat wire heat sealers and round wire heat sealers. The wire refers to the part of the sealer that heats up. A flat wire sealer makes a thicker, stronger seal. It is a great option for thicker materials and heavier products. A round wire sealer makes a thinner seal. The benefit of a round wire sealer over a flat wire sealer is the ability to seal and cut the film in one motion. A round wire sealer will seal a thinner film and cut off the excess at the same time.
The two basic sealers can come in a variety of forms depending on production levels. Small manual sealers are often called impulse sealers. Larger semi-auto and full auto sealers come in a variety of designs to increase efficiency.
C. Bag and Pouch Fillers
Bag and pouch fillers are commonly specific machines for small products and liquids. Bag and pouch fillers are designed to ensure a pre-set amount of product fills the same every time. Bag and pouch fillers also reduce headache from manually filling products.
Like any packaging machine, fully automatic bag and pouch fillers can attain amazing efficiency levels. Larger fully automatic fillers can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on the size of the line and production levels. Smaller manual and semi-auto fillers can range from a few hundred dollars up to a few thousand dollars.
The conveyor industry is a multi-billion dollar industry in itself. Aside from packaging applications, conveyors are used all over the world for production. Conveyors have a very large range in size. An accurate definition of a conveyor is a horizontal, inclined, or vertical device for moving or transporting bulk materials or objects in a path predetermined by the design of the device.
For packaging, a conveyor can be used to transport unpackaged products into a machine or packaged products out of a machine or production area. Conveyors used to transport products into a machine are referred to as infeed conveyors. Conveyors used to transport products out of a machine or area are called exit conveyors.
An infeed conveyor in the packaging industry is almost always powered with adjustable speed settings. Infeed conveyors are commonly used with fully automatic machines. Infeed conveyors allow products to maintain a consistent speed when entering the machine.
An exit conveyor can be powered or gravity controlled. A gravity conveyor is simply placed at an angle to allow gravity to carry the product down the conveyor. Workers or an exit bin are placed at the end of the conveyor to catch the packaged product.
View some images of commonly used packaging conveyors below.
Part 8: Conclusion
As an online seller, packaging should be a priority to ensure your brand and products are delivered to customers. This guide is intended to assist existing and new sellers with all aspects of packaging for online sales.
For an easy print out we have created a worksheet to help determine the type of packaging that may be right for your business. If you need any further assistance, feel free to contact us at 1-800-441-5090 or visit uspackagingandwrapping.com.