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