Depending on the source you find, it seems that anywhere from 2% to 11% of small carrier shipments arrive with some level of damage. Over the past eighteen months, damage rates have certainly skyrocketed. According to Route, COVID has led to a 19.1% increase in damaged packages, due to increased volume, volatile volume that is difficult to plan for, and labor shortages. According to Sealed Air, 20% of ecommerce returns are due to packages arriving damaged.
With such varied and inconclusive data available, we reviewed our own trends from 2021. We found that less than 0.1% of our shipments were damaged in transit.
While this is a very small number of our outgoing shipments, we recognize that these damages are still a burden to:
- our customers (who need to wait for their reshipment)
- our team members (who need to process and manage claims, and reship orders)
- our business (which needs to absorb these added costs)
- our future sales (as customers may be hesitant to order from us again if their package arrives damaged)
- the environment (given that double the amount of items need to be shipped)
We also recognize that businesses vary greatly in terms of the damage rates they may incur, based on what they are shipping and the type of packaging they ship in.
For example, the rapidly growing set of online furniture companies are likely seeing fairly high damage rates, given the weight of what they are shipping, the awkwardness of the boxes they likely need to ship in, and the number of parts and components included in each shipment. Additionally, companies that sell fragile items or unbendable goods likely see much higher damage rates.
Apparel brands, on the other hand, sell goods that - like packaging - are fairly difficult to damage. While they may see instances in which their packaging itself is damaged or torn, their product damage rates is likely similar to what we see at EcoEnclose.
With all of this variability based on industry and products being shipped, the question should shift from "what is a good damage rate?" to "what is my current damage rate, should I reduce it, and what steps can I take to reduce it?"
Do a Product-Damage-Potential Assessment
Review your product set and identify what kind of damage it has the highest potential to incur in transit. Wine glasses have high potential to shatter from being dropped or from glasses bumping into each other in transit. Furniture has the potential to break from being dropped. Art prints have the potential to bend or incur water damage. Electronics can suffer from water damage. Oils and lotions have the potential to leak. Apparel has the potential to have dust or lint rubbed on it, or incur water or dirt damage. Assessing the type of damage your products have the potential to incur is a great first step in ensuring your packaging strategy helps avoid these issues. Some products have the potential to come apart in transit. For example, a bundle of cards, held together by a wrap, could come apart if in a package that shakes around a lot in transit.
Choose the Right Mailer (if you're using mailers for shipping)
If a mailer works well for your business (versus a corrugated shipping box), you're in luck. Mailers are less expensive, easier and more cost effective to use for fulfillment, and more eco-friendly (because they use less source material). Learn more about the pros and cons of shipping boxes versus mailers.
But its not enough to just choose any mailer. You have to find the mailer that best matches with your product set. If you are shipping apparel, go with a 100% Recycled Poly Mailer, EcoX Mailer, Kraft Mailer or Paper Apparel Mailer. These are specifically designed for softer goods.
If you are shipping cosmetics with sharp corners, you may want the rigidity and cushioning of a Padded Mailer or Bubble Mailer. You certainly want to avoid Poly Mailers (as the cosmetic item won't fill out the poly mailer and its sharp edges may tear the thin plastic) and other paper mailers designed for apparel.
If you are shipping art that cannot bend, you will want to avoid poly mailers or thin paper mailers (unless you want to use a corrugated pad to provide rigidity) and stick with rigid mailers instead.
Don't ship bulky, dense goods with edges in a Padded Mailer. Sharp edges, coupled with pressure from the bulky weight of the product can tear the inside paper layer of the padded mailer, leading the product to cut into the cushioning layer.
Don't Ship Rigid, Sharp Items in a Thin Mailer
This point mentioned above is important enough to repeat. If you are shipping something with sharp edges or corners, or something with a lot of bulk to it, skip the thin poly or paper mailers. The sharp edges can more easily cut into the substrate. For example, picture frames, baseballs, vitamin bottles, cutting boards - these are all items that need a mailer with some cushioning or rigidity (or may lead you to consider a shipping box instead).
Choose the Best Box Style and Fluting, and Size it Right
Check out our definitive guide to shipping boxes for guidance on how to best match your product set with the right box style and fluting. Then, be sure to size your packaging efficiently, leaving as little excess room as possible (0.125" all around for non-fragile items and up to 2" around for fragile goods). Minimizing this extra space will make it easier to avoid the issues that arise when items jerk around while a box is in transit.
Use Void Fill to Wrap Fragile, Breakable, "Spillable" Items
If your product is fragile or susceptible to breaking, exploding, or spilling, take the time to wrap each item in protective cushioning. When you're wrapping your items, consider the impact of the box being dropped from tall heights and thrown around. Consider the impact of your packaging landing, as well as the movement of your products within a shipping box.
Skip the "Fragile" Stickers
While research on this is informal, enough evidence out there affirms what we have historically believed to be true - putting a "Fragile" sticker on package just taunts delivery and logistics workers, encouraging them to handle these packages with extra aggression, not protection.
Fill All Empty Space, Especially in Shipping Boxes
Every square inch of remaining space between the product(s) and your shipping box should be filled in with void fill. Ideally, you want all the empty spaces filled with the right packing materials so nothing can move around.
This is especially important for products like wine glasses, electronics, and loosely held together items that can come apart in transit.
Conduct Shipping Trials
Whether you are a startup, considering your packaging for the first time, or a long standing company making major changes to your shipping strategy, take the time to do a thorough shipping test. Larger brands should consider large and varied shipping tests - sending out 50-100 shipments in new packaging options, spanning different products and delivery scenarios. Smaller brand may be fine sending out one or two sample orders to see what packages and the products contained within them look like upon delivery.