The company for which I work does not really have any special shipping needs. We do not ship anything that is temperature-sensitive; hazmat materials rarely enter the equation; and we don’t ship a lot of heavy freight. What we do ship is tons of paper, paper, and more paper that contain the lives of our customers. Protection of the names, addresses and Social Security Numbers are paramount. Unfortunately, not all 100,000+ employees at my company understand packaging; fewer still consider the processes it takes for a package to arrive from Point A to Point B. Without proper packaging, the probability of unintentional exposure of this data increases. 

What are the three things I want to say to each of my customers that call with a problem? Use your common sense’ package materials as you would package a cherished family heirloom’ and realize that your package is subjected to how well everyone else packs their box. After having them thinking about that advice, I then want to take them on a tour of the closest small package shipping center. I want them to see the handling that packages receive and the complex systems that are used to ensure routing of the package is correct for a timely delivery. Let them spend five minutes in the middle of conveyer belts going multiple directions, watch packages go down a slide and observe the unloading and loading of packages. If this could be done for every one of my customers, just once, then user-created shipping problems would just about vanish.

Since I cannot be quite that forthright and open with my customers, I must be satisfied with providing you with a little insight into the conversations I have on a daily basis. Here are the top five questions I seem to answer repeatedly: 

1. I am just shipping paper. Why do I need to cushion paper? 

The purpose of using peanuts, crumbled newspaper, air packs, etc., is to prevent excess movement within the package. The less the contents shift within the package, the less likely it is that damage will occur. A five-pound ream of copy paper can destroy a box just from moving around inside it. Has anyone ever seen the flippers that fling the package off the table into a bag? I can just picture a package coming open at just the right time. It would look like a paper storm.

2. Why can’t I use a copy paper box for packaging? Those are the only boxes I can scavenge.

Only use corrugated boxes with flapped lids for shipping. Using a box with an actual “lid” increases the likelihood that the lid will get hung in conveyor belts, chutes, or other sorting equipment. It is the responsibility of the office to have adequate shipping supplies, just as it is the office’s responsibility to have pens and pencils. Need money? That is a management problem. Go see Mark Taylor’s article in previous issues of PARCEL for advice.

3. I am reshipping in the original manufacturer’s box. Why was the product damaged? 

Not all manufacturer boxes are designed for shipment through a small package carrier. Many manufacturers design the boxes and cushioning for freight shipping, which incurs much less handling. Do not assume that because it got to you in one piece that it will get to the next place in the same condition. As a rule, do not utilize more than 75% of the recommended Box Maker’s Certificate (BMC) when shipping with a small package carrier. If unable to find a BMC, don’t ship it via small package ground carrier.

4. I shipped two items and the recipient only received one of the items in a severely damaged box. Didn’t someone see the item come out of the box? Why couldn’t they have just put the item back in the box? 

This is the question where I have to take a deep breath and explain: “Your package is not hand walked through the facility nor does someone maintain eye contact with your package at all times.” A package going across the country will be unloaded, placed on conveyer belts, sorted, placed on more conveyer belts, shoved down chutes and placed in a bag with other packages. Kid gloves do not exist in small package shipping.

5. I know this package is only going 150 miles, but I want it to go by plane. It MUST go air! 

Just because you want it to go by air service does not mean it will. Let’s see, the small package carrier has 12 hours to move the package 150 miles. Fly it or drive it? What would YOU do?

Yes, education is the key to most of these questions. We do have opportunities to provide education, but packaging always seems to take a back burner to the “real work.” At least until the next shipping fire…

Brenda Jackson, EMCM is a Senior Distribution Specialist with the Internal Revenue Service. She has attended and taught at numerous PARCEL Forums and serves on the PARCEL Forum advisory committee. She has negotiated small package shipping contracts for the Treasury Bureau and served on many technical teams relating to shipping.