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Ideas on reusable shipping containers?

 10:05 pm on Sep 22, 2008 (gmt 0)

I'm just curious what other people think about this... We sell items that are quite long, anywhere from 4' to over 6' and they are fairly fragile. Each item is custom to some extent, so it's very hard to have any kind of pre-molded packing or anything like that available. I've found over the years that packing and shipping long items is very difficult. The shipping industry just isn't prepared for them and it's very easy for them to get damaged. Packing them using normal materials does not insure they will make it safely.

What I started thinking about is using a reusable hard case. Has anyone ever tried this? What is the reaction of the customer? Is it difficult for you to get the case returned? Just wondering if anybody has experience with this.



 10:20 pm on Sep 22, 2008 (gmt 0)

We do some of this for B2B shipments -- however, corporate entities are able to agree upon procedures and regulations, implement the resultant policy and enforce them much better than I imagine your average customer will...

I must admit that I have no experience shipping long items (save for LTL shipments) direct to end-users, so my experiences are not very telling. I suspect that to get such a thing to work you would need to charge a deposit on the shipping container which gets refunded upon receipt back at your facilities. Something tells me that you will be taking a beating in your conversion rate when you put that notice/policy/term up, though. That, or you end up spending a lot on "reusable" shipping containers which make a great way for your customer to ship their next long package.

How do window dressing companies do it? I know plenty of people who have bought shades and blinds for odd sized windows, almost all of them in the 6'+ range, off of websites and received their product without damage. Haven't used such services myself, but I might investigate their packing material if such a solution is at all feasible.

Or, if you have money to burn and a UPS account, you can send items to UPS Addison, IL to their package testing facility and pay them a hefty fee to break a few of your products and determine your best-practice packaging. Also, when I have spoken to my UPS Rep. about such a service, I was told you are out the cost of the item as well (even your UPS Freight/Small Package insurance policy will not cover these items as you are contracting them to test packaging to the limits...

Sorry I can't offer any greater insight than to say scope some competitors or up your shipping account insurance to the point where they just collect an invoice of damaged material and pay accordingly!

[edited by: HugeNerd at 10:21 pm (utc) on Sep. 22, 2008]


 10:38 pm on Sep 22, 2008 (gmt 0)

We bought some custom blinds last year. As I remember, they just came in flimsy cardboard boxes (looks like a standard outside length, but the side flaps are very long and can easily create a variable "inside" wall- kinda hard to explain in words...) with one sheet of bubble wrap around the blinds. I finally put the last set up last weekend (talk about procrastination!) and found that it was a little damaged (not sure if it was from shipping or banging around on our end after the fact).

As a savvy consumer, I could probably the point in charging a deposit to ensure the return of a reusable shipping container. But most might not. At a minimum, you would have to include a pre-paid shipping label with the order. But most people will probably not want to bother calling Fedex or whoever to have them come pick it up. (Look at the NetFlix model- they include pre-paid/pre-addressed envelopes when they send you the DVD. But dropping an envelope in any mailbox is a LOT difference from trying to do the same thing with a long package.)

I agree with HugeNerd- you can probably get away with it with B2B shipping. With B2C, it's probably a losing proposition, unless you have a lot of repeat customers.


 11:22 pm on Sep 22, 2008 (gmt 0)

Thanks for the help... Yes, the customers that I was thinking of are basically B2B technologies type companies. Typically they should be use to dealing with shipping electronics. Most of our sales are single items to individuals, but every once in a while we have custom orders of multiple items to these larger companies. The items we ship have parts attached that differ from model to model, so the combinations are endless. Otherwise we could have pre-formed foam made. I guess I would just send pre-paid shipping with a colorful card that says to stick it on the case and leave it out for pickup. The inherent problem with shipping long items is that the item itself basically becomes the ridged part of the parcel. The box then gets laid across uneven objects, and that's where the trouble starts. No box can hold up to any real pressure when it's that long. Basically all you have to do is tap it on a corner and the whole thing will fold in. So unless you have a structure that's ridged on it's own, the item itself bares the brunt of whatever crazy things they do to it. We recently had one item that basically consists of two 3/4" tubes bolted together end up with about a 10 degree bend in it. You would have to put about 150 pounds of pressure on it to do that. It was a custom item that took a week to build and was a huge loss. I think they assume anything in a box like that is just a carpet or something. The conveyor systems are not meant to handle long items, so it probably jams the conveyor, then some guy working in the 100 degree sorting facility takes out his aggression on it.


 3:22 pm on Sep 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

Could you offer a rebate/credit on the next order for the return of the shipping container?


 3:25 pm on Sep 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

Yes, the customers that I was thinking of are basically B2B technologies type companies.

I think you could run such a program quite successfully with companies. I imagine that anyone with regular small parcel pick-up would have no problem complying with such a program -- just sell it to them based upon the truth: It may take you an extra 2 minutes to open the package, store it, and remember to ship "return-to-sender", but that's a heck of a lot less time than applying for credit on damaged material and waiting for the reship of a custom product!

Also, I don't know where my manufacturer's get the material, but many of them have been putting small air sacs into the UPS/FedEx boxes. They're about 2-3" long, 2" wide and look like plastic sandwich bags filled with air. They appear to be made in large sheets about 10 sacs wide and who knows how many long. These things hold up extremely well, protect items, and don't increase the package weight (the way an A-B Foam application will). They're reusable and recyclable...actually really nice gifts for us to receive as they come in quite handy, to be honest. I don't know where they purchase them, though, as we get so many we simply use what is sent to us.

You might also look into an A-B Foam set-up. This would give you instantly customizable packaging and rigidity -- its applied as a liquid, so you can shape as you please, and as it dries is puffs up into a harder material. I am not sure how this stuff would interact with electronics, though. The set-up is pricey as are the A-B chemicals. I don't recall exact cost, but I think we may have paid in the $5-10k neighborhood for our commercial unit. We have a $10 foam charge which customers are happy to pay for on large ticket items.


 3:30 pm on Sep 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

Instead of a long box, could you use heavy cardboard tubes? Tubes are stronger than boxes. I've seen many long, easily bent widgets shipped this way. May or may not be feasible for your items. If the cost of the widget is high enough & you can build the cost in, maybe even use PVC pipe. And just offer a refund to cover it **IF** they return it via a pre-paid ground label you include.

Also, you might consider 3-day or 2-Day Air service over ground. Air Service tends to get handled better in transit, especially on Fedex.

UPS/FedEx will work with you on rates if Air service would work better for you. Many online businesses ship exclusively Air service because it works better for the product (flowers, fresh food, electronics). Those companies get killer rates to ship exclusively Air.

We ship a rather fragile widget ourselves and had so many problems with Fedex Ground, Fedex offered us Ground rates for 3-Day Air service. Could have been a nice advantage with customers, but in the end UPS won our business.


 11:12 pm on Sep 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

Thanks for the tips... I've seen those big bubble things too. That might be a good option.

I thought about pvc as well, but I wasn't sure how we would do the ends. You either put the caps on fairly loose and run the risk of them coming off, or if you put them on too tight, you'd need a hammer to get them off.


 11:51 pm on Sep 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

but I wasn't sure how we would do the ends

Get the sort of pvc ( usually light grey coloured )used for plumbing drains and sink outlet runs etc ( they come in various diameters ) ..you can cut to length ..they come various lenghts but max is about 12' I think ( you can join them by making a collar out of the next size up and using PVC "plumbing glue" ( which is chloroform based in some countries so use in ventilated areas ) or ..they also have "inspection covers" or end caps that either "push pull" on / off or screw on / off ..or you can tape the end caps on ..whatever :) ..you can also fill them with "styrene peanuts" after inserting your product for extra security ..we've used them to send ultra fragile stuff from Europe to the USA ..and they dont add much to the overall weight ..and they are near unbreakable ..HTH


 12:03 am on Sep 24, 2008 (gmt 0)

And then it looks like a pipe bomb, so Home Land Security can confiscate it! ;)


 1:20 am on Sep 24, 2008 (gmt 0)

Now I know why some of our stuff gets from Europe to the USA in just 3 days from posting it here ..and then takes 6 weeks to get through customs and arrive at the customer there ..and now you've mentioned p*p*b*mbs ..the NSA ( and Edvige ..come the day ) are gonna be all over this thread ..:o


 4:26 pm on Sep 24, 2008 (gmt 0)

All you need for shipping purposes (with tubes or PVC pipe) is a circle of cardboard and a lot of good tape to seal the ends...


 6:21 pm on Sep 24, 2008 (gmt 0)

All you need for shipping purposes (with tubes or PVC pipe) is a circle of cardboard and a lot of good tape to seal the ends...

Or a friend at a plumbing company...sticky me and I can give you UPCs and prices/costs on items which match your specs. At least you'd have a good idea on what something like this might cost you. :o)


 2:00 am on Oct 1, 2008 (gmt 0)

We ship a really large wall map and also had problems with the shipping companies destroying the package. We tried rectangular boxes, tubes, triangles, etc. Nothing was immune. Then about 3-4 years ago one of our guys came up with the idea to ship it in a PVC tube, as others have suggested, and damaged shipments have gone from 10-30% to 0%. We make a Home Depot run once a month and then cut the tubes down to the desired length (about 5' in our case). The caps are just made from cut up cardboard and taped on the ends. No problems at all.

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