All Things Shipping | Nov 23, 2021

How E-Commerce Pros Fill Packages To Protect Products During Shipping

Sarah Rickerd

Protective packaging is a booming business in and of itself, with logistics insiders worldwide waiting in eager anticipation for new material development and more sustainable options.

That said, no matter what materials individual e-commerce companies choose to use, their protective abilities have to outweigh other advantages in terms of importance. After all, bruised or broken shipments never win over customers.

Picking out the perfect packaging infill to ensure your products survive the shipping process is essential to keeping your e-commerce customers happy. Product protection is a leading issue among business leaders in this industry for a reason — poor product protection makes for even poorer profits as customers look elsewhere for a better buying experience.

Stuffing packages with specialized materials can help to stabilize items as they travel to their intended destinations. However, not all materials are made equally. Finding one that works well for the items you sell is an important part of protecting your profit margins and keeping your customers happy.

The Pros and Cons of Each Protective Packaging Method for E-commerce

With the question of customer satisfaction in mind, let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of some of the most popular protective packaging options.

Air Pillows

Air pillows are a relatively new contender in the world of protective packaging, yet they’ve already earned their spot in many company’s packaging processes.

Pros Cons
  • Air pillows are non-abrasive, making them a great match for smooth items that are easily scratched.
  • Air pillows are also great at filling large voids in your packaging, without the cost associated with denser fill options.
  • Air pillows are normally inflated as needed with a special machine. This makes them much easier to transport and store than common alternatives.
  • Air pillows might not be suitable for items at a high risk of breaking.
  • Air pillows will not work well for particularly heavy products or items with jagged edges.

Product Examples

Air pillows are commonly used when shipping the following product categories:

  • Electronics
  • Sporting Goods
  • Home Decor

Kraft Paper

Kraft paper is a simple shipping solution for problems with in-transit scratching and damage. It can also be used to create a better aesthetic presentation in your shipments.

Pros Cons
  • Kraft paper can be used creatively to achieve a better packaging appearance and a more enjoyable opening experience for your customers.
  • Kraft paper is versatile and can be balled up or layered for use as a void fill in any box size. In this way, it can be a cost-effective alternative for filling up extra space and keeping items protected throughout their journey.
  • Kraft paper is recyclable by both e-commerce retailers and consumers.
  • Shaping kraft paper to fill voids can be time consuming.
  • This option can also weigh more than other alternatives, increasing your shipping costs.

Product Examples

Kraft paper is commonly used when shipping the following product categories:

  • Books
  • Heavy products

Packing Peanuts

Packing peanuts are a long-time staple of the shipping industry for a reason — they’re effective and relatively inexpensive, though they may not be suitable for all kinds of shipments.

Pros Cons
  • Packing peanuts fill most packaging voids with ease, enveloping shipped items in a protective pool of air and polystyrene.
  • Packing peanuts are lightweight and unlikely to negatively impact your shipping costs.
  • Foam peanuts are also fairly reusable, with little loss in effectiveness.
  • Packing peanuts can present a significant risk of static shock to electronic devices of all varieties.
  • This option is not the most environmentally friendly (except in the case of packing peanuts that can be dissolved for disposal).
  • Packing peanuts also take up more space when not in use than other options, contributing to warehouse and storage costs.

Product Examples

Packing peanuts are commonly used when shipping the following product categories:

  • Jagged items
  • Heavy items
  • Items with irregular shapes (toys, musical instruments, etc.)

Bubble Wrap

The once ubiquitous bubble wrap has seen its popularity dwindle with the sudden adoption of air pillows, but this iconic void fill still fulfills enough primary packaging needs to remain relevant.

Pros Cons
  • Bubble wrap offers fairly exceptional protection of even the most fragile items, when used correctly.
  • Bubble wrap can help reduce the amount of packaging space your shipments require, eliminating unneeded expenses in the process.
  • This material is not environmentally friendly.
  • Bubble wrap is also a bit difficult to store. Because it takes up a lot of space while not in use, it’s less efficient overall than some alternatives.

Product Examples

Bubble wrap is commonly used when shipping the following product categories:

  • Small, fragile items
  • Large heavy items (even furniture)

Shredded Cardboard

Cardboard is already a core component of all shipping processes, but this baseline box material can also be used to add padding for packages.

Pros Cons
  • Shredded cardboard can be produced from recycled materials for a more environmentally friendly shipping process.
  • Armed with an industrial paper shredder, companies can create their own shredded cardboard to fill boxes on demand.
  • Shredded cardboard is not necessarily very soft, so it may pose a risk of scratching fragile items.

Product Examples

Shredded cardboard is commonly used when shipping the following product categories:

  • Small, heavy items (especially those made of glass)
  • Items with irregular shapes
  • Items with rough surfaces

Molded Infill

Molded infills offer a degree of fine-tunable customization that other options simply can’t match. Produced with cardboard or styrofoam, these forms of packaging infill can be shaped to closely match the contours of both the box and the item itself. However, they aren’t a perfect solution for all cases.

Pros Cons
  • Highly customizable styrofoam molds and cardboard cutouts can secure almost any kind of item.
  • By accommodating the box’s shape, this form of infill can help preserve the outer packaging’s appearance in transit. 
  • Options such as molded pulp produce lightweight results that cut down on shipping costs.
  • Molded infills can be bulky to store prior to use.
  • Molded infill made from styrofoam is not particularly environmentally friendly.

Product Examples

Molded infills are commonly used when shipping the following product categories:

  • High-value, expensive items
  • Machinery and large electronic devices.

Which Infill Type Should You Choose for Your E-commerce Business?

All of the infill options covered above make it possible to protect products when shipping them — no matter how far they’re traveling. However, it should be clear by now how different each option is and why it’s so important to pick the right one for your products.

Ultimately, selecting the right option comes down to balancing effectiveness, ease of use, and estimated expense. Your best bet will be the option that fits your budget — without forcing an inconvenient unpackaging experience on your customers or failing halfway through your item’s journey.

Once you’ve got your packaging squared away, Shippo can help ensure you’re getting the best deal on your shipping costs and shipping insurance. Get started today or reach out to our team for more information.

Sarah Rickerd is a Michigan-based freelance writer covering business, marketing, and technology topics. She is also the owner of Content Conquered, a B2B-focused content marketing consultancy.

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