How to Choose Between a Mailer and a Shipping Box

How to Choose Between a Mailer and a Shipping Box

Posted By on Dec 20th 2023

For eCommerce companies, packaging is a top concern. Good packaging choices go beyond ensuring your products arrive at your customers’ doorsteps safely. Your packaging must also reflect your brand and values while offering a fantastic first impression.

These factors make a seemingly simple decision, like choosing between a mailer and a shipping box, difficult. The long list of considerations includes shipping price, the unboxing experience, sustainability, and more. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, but attention to details like these can elevate your customers’ experience from bland to breathtaking.

Luckily, as packaging experts, we have plenty of experience guiding eCommerce companies to the packaging that works best for their brands and products. Here’s our guide to help make the decision between mailers and shipping boxes easier.

Defining mailers and shipping boxes


Often referred to as a shipping envelope or flat mailer, these shipping solutions are preconstructed envelopes that typically contain a self-sealing strip. They come in various styles, thicknesses, and materials, including poly mailers, bubble mailers, padded paper mailers, flat paper mailers, thick rigid mailers, and more.


Shipping Boxes:

Often referred to as mailer boxes, corrugated boxes, or cardboard boxes, these are made of corrugated sheets. Shipping boxes come in various styles, depending on how they’re secured. Fun fact: The term “cardboard box” isn’t technically correct, as cardboard boxes are made from paperboard—the same material that makes cereal boxes. But because so many people use this terminology, we occasionally do, too.


Why it’s essential to choose the right packaging

Your chosen packaging says a lot about your business, especially within eCommerce. Often, a shipping box or mailer is the first physical impression a customer has of your business, and you want to ensure that you’re putting your very best foot forward. Your packaging should be beautiful and well put together while protecting your products and keeping shipping costs low.

Today, more than ever, sustainability is a huge consideration when setting the right impression. Customers are wary of excess packaging, and even if their products arrive pristine, they might be put off by layers of padding that they deem unnecessary.

Choosing between a mailer and a shipping box is about striking a perfect balance between protection, cost, sustainability, and aesthetics. Before you start comparing the different packaging types, it’s beneficial to come up with a list of what your customers find important, such as inexpensive shipping or minimal packaging. This will help guide your packaging choice.

Custom Mailer Box and Mailers

Choosing between mailers and shipping boxes

Deciding between a mailer and a shipping box will come down to a few key things: shipping cost, type of product being shipped, material usage, fulfillment speed, unboxing experience, and more.

When is a mailer the best packaging choice?

Mailers are ideal for flat or thin lightweight goods. Apparel, books, picture frames, wallets, sunglasses, cosmetics, jewelry, and essential oils are all excellent product categories to be shipped in mailers.

Let’s take a look at some selling points for mailers.

  • Material usage: Mailers use less paper than boxes and much less glue. It's a more sustainable option from a carbon footprint and waste perspective.
  • Postage rates: USPS, FedEx, and UPS often offer flat-rate postage that you can only attain through a flexible mailer.
  • Easier to size: You don't need a shipping box for packages containing one or two small items. Today’s consumers want the businesses they support to be sustainable, and dead space in a mailing box screams, “I don’t care about waste.” We encourage you to right-size your packaging; a thin envelope is often the best strategy.
  • Fulfillment speed: Mailers are fast to fill. All you have to do is open the mailer, put the product inside, peel the paper strip, seal it, and send it to your customers.
  • Storage space: Mailers occupy less space in your warehouse and shipping trucks, improving logistics efficiency.
  • Unit cost: Mailers have the most competitive unit costs compared to shipping boxes.

When is a shipping box the best packaging choice?

Shipping boxes are best for heavier items, items that can’t be bent, and multiple items in one box. They also create a more thrilling unboxing experience. A well-designed box arriving on your customer’s doorstep can cultivate excitement and start conversations surrounding your brand.

Here are some of the top selling points of shipping boxes.

  • Unboxing experience: Shipper boxes, especially in presentation styles such as tab locking and literature mailer boxes, are optimal for creating a wow-worthy customer experience. Custom branded boxes, tissue paper, and other decorative void fill make for a layered packaging strategy your customers may appreciate, especially if you sell premium products.
  • Versatility: You'll want to use shipper boxes if you ship various orders with different product quantities. Many companies aren’t in a position to be able to stock both mailers and boxes. As such, they only use boxes that are versatile enough for almost all of their orders.
  • Protection: The corrugated walls of shipping boxes offer padding and rigidity that keep your products safe. Even though mailers are durable, especially when filled with eco-friendly padding, they don’t always cut it when you’re sending something fragile. Shipping boxes are the way to go when shipping heavy products that could break through mailers when lifted or delicate items that need thick, rigid packaging.

Long story short…

Mailers win in almost every metric except protection and aesthetics. Mailers are the way to go if you’re shipping one or two lightweight items that can be protected with just a little padding. However, if you want to create a unique unboxing experience or that extra layer of protection, then shipping boxes are the right choice for your brand.

Let’s talk about sustainability

Modern brands must consider sustainability if they want to be competitive. 82% of consumers have said they are willing to pay more for eco-friendly packaging. Sustainability should be a top consideration when making your packaging decisions, including when you decide between shipping boxes and mailers.

Shipping boxes require more materials than mailers. This results in a higher environmental footprint. Furthermore, shipping boxes are bigger than mailers and occupy more space in a transport vehicle. This leads to less efficient shipping, negatively affecting your environmental footprint.

Initially, you might think that poly mailers are less environmentally friendly than shipping boxes because they’re made of plastic. However, the poly mailers we offer here at EcoEnclose are made of 100% post-consumer or post-industrial recycled plastic, which means that the plastic in our mailers was rescued from a landfill. Even though they are made of plastic, they contribute to a circular waste system, which is ultimately good for the environment.

Even though shipping boxes use more materials than mailers, we also use 100% recycled materials in our boxes. So, if you decide that shipping boxes are suitable for your brand, our boxes are still an eco-conscious choice. However, if your products can be shipped in a mailer, and minimizing waste is essential to your brand, then mailers—poly or paper—might be the way to go.

Choosing between a shipping box and a mailer is a complex choice. As you make your decisions, consider all factors, including branding, customer experience, waste management, efficiency, and more.

If you’re still unsure, that’s okay. It’s a big decision! We offer free samples so that you can get a good look at our packaging options. Or, if you want to talk to the experts, you can always contact us, and we’ll guide you toward the right packaging choice.

Shop Recycled Mailers and Shipping Boxes

EcoEnclose offers eco-friendly recycled mailers and custom shipping boxes that adhere to our Sustainable Packaging Framework.

ivory and gray 100% recycled poly mailers

Poly Mailers

Thin-film recyclable, tear strip for easy opening, second adhesive strip for reuse. 100% recycled.

back of 100% recycled paper apparel mailer

Paper Mailers

Available from economy to premium. Ideal for shipping apparel and textiles. 100% recycled.

upcycled 100% recycled paper padded mailer

Cushioned Mailers

Available in padded paper or bubble poly. Ideal for shipping fragile items. 100% recycled.

self-sealing recycled rigid paper mailer

Rigid Mailers

Thick and extra thick paperboard. Ideal for shipping art prints, photos, and documents. 100% recycled.

custom corrugated shipping boxes

Custom Shipping Boxes

Choose your style, size, strength, and branding to create an exceptional unboxing experience. 100% recycled, 95% post-consumer waste.