Fragile Goods? How to Safely Ship Products (And Reduce Return Fraud)

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With return fraud cases rising, businesses are putting more effort into packaging fragile items safely. Return fraud is when a buyer claims to receive a defective product even if said product is in good condition. This involves them swapping the new purchase with the merchandise they bought earlier, which has since become damaged or stopped functioning. In 2022, more than one in 10 requests for returns were actually return fraud cases.

Nevertheless, there may be times when unquestionable damage occurs during shipping or when your products leave the warehouse. In fact, one out of 10 packages in the US arrive damaged at consumers’ doorsteps. Although some incidents may result from your courier or fulfillment partner’s negligence, you’re still responsible for retrieving the product and issuing a replacement or refund.

Yes, returns are inevitable. But you can take steps to prevent legitimate and fraudulent cases from hurting your bottom line. This article discusses how you can ensure the safe delivery of your fragile products.

Fragile Goods Defined

Fragility can mean different things to different sellers. But in general, fragile items require extra care and attention when shipping. These goods may be breakable such as glass, crystal, and ceramic. They also include objects with many curves, small delicate pieces that can bend or come off, and parts that can sustain scratches, tears, or dents when not packed well. Examples include electronic gadgets, musical instruments, artwork, furniture, and plants. Notebooks with wire binders, leather items that can be scuffed, and books with high-gloss covers that can have scratches can also be counted as fragile.                                                                

Common Causes of Shipping Damage

A study showed that 81% of ecommerce returns are due to product damage. Let’s look at all the factors that can cause damage to your fragile items, from inadequate or improper packing to external elements.

Improper packaging

Oversized box

improper packaging oversized box

Your products can bounce up and down or shift from side to side during land travel if your box is too big for your item. Your item’s body or edges may crush against each other or other packages if the box is too spacious and doesn’t contain enough infill that suits the product’s fragility, size, and quantity.

Weak material

Your box should be thick enough that it won’t collapse under your product’s weight. The packaging should stay intact throughout its journey to your customer. Lower-quality material can put your item at higher risk if your padding is already skimpy.

Absence of labels

Labels saying “Fragile,” “Hazardous,” or “Perishable” help alert delivery handlers about the nature of your package and how they should handle it.

Rough handling

Your package will go through several warehousing and shipping staff hands before reaching its destination. They may not always gingerly handle boxes or position them securely in their vehicles the way you expect them despite the labels you put on them.

Improper storage

Items containing food and perishable goods may rot or change in quality if you fail to keep them in temperature-controlled, infestation-free storage.

Climate and bad weather

Besides varied weather from state to state, we live in a time of sudden environmental changes. Climate and durability testing your packaging will be a good idea if you have a temperature-sensitive, breakable product.

Poor transit route choice

Like bad weather, choosing high-traffic routes for ground shipping may delay your delivery. Ask your fulfillment center about your options to address this concern.

Theft and tampering

Choose tamper-proof packaging and apply for insurance to ship high-value products safely. 

6 Steps to Ship Fragile Items Safely

1. Choose a box based on your item’s size and weight

We can borrow UPS Guidelines for packaging fragile goods: provide at least two inches of space between the box’s walls and the item inside. The right-sized box should also support your product’s weight and fit the necessary cushioning material.

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Heavy-duty materials may cost more, but consider the additional expense you’ll spend for possible return or replacement if you use a lower-priced but thinner and flimsier packaging that tears or deforms by just the touch of sweaty hands.

High-value items may require double-boxing (package within a package) for extra protection. This technique can also apply to large products—you can disassemble the parts and pack each into smaller boxes to spread the weight evenly in a larger box. However, this will naturally increase your shipping costs.

2. Wrap the item and surround it with infill

Wrap the item and surround it with infill

Wrap each product with paper and seal with Scotch tape followed by bubble wrap, ensuring you cover all the parts. Use packing tape to secure your plastic wrapping. Think twice before adding a second bubble layer, as it might make unboxing harder. It might be better to wrap your product in foam first instead of paper. If you’re shipping several items in a box, wrap them separately.

Fill the base of your box with crinkle paper, packing nuts, or other internal packaging before placing your product in the center. Then pour more infill around the item to restrict movement. Add corrugated inserts or craft paper on the box walls to make them sturdier. Give your box a slight shake to check if your item or items don’t shift. Pour a final infill layer—just enough to close the top flaps shut without a bulge.

Package Filler Type

Examples

Uses

Paper

Kraft paper

Thicker variants for heavier fragile items and thin variants to cushion lighter items

Paper 

Tissue paper

– Dust protection for shoes, clothing, and plastic

– Base layer before applying Kraft paper wrap on soap bars, candles, glassware, jewelry, and items that easily scuff

– Can carry logo and branding elements

Paper

Crinkle paper

Product presentation

Paper

Custom carton inserts

For blocking (prevents side-to-side movement) fragile items of various materials, from glass to heavy plastic

Plastic

Bubble packaging (paper bubble wraps, perforated and non-perforated bubble wraps/rolls, bubble bags with self-sealing closures)

Impact and vibration protection for uniquely shaped items (The larger and thicker the bubbles, the higher protection your item gets.)

Plastic

Air pillows/ air bags (requires inflating machine)

For blocking and vibration protection

Plastic

Stretch wrap films

Dirt, moisture, and debris protection for furniture, appliances, and other heavy items

Fiber

Molded fiber packaging

– For wines and beverages

– Rigid construction allows for multi-layering

Foam

(being phased out in some U.S. states)

Foam rolls or sheets

– Anti-static material for electronics

– Scratch and shock protection for dinnerware or artwork and photos (with or without framing)

Foam

(being phased out in some U.S. states)

Foam packing blocks

For blocking, bracing (prevents up-and-down movement), and crush protection for appliances and equipment

Foam

(being phased out in some U.S. states)

 

Packing peanuts/packing popcorn

 

For cushioning large, irregularly shaped voids and conforms better to an item compared to crinkled paper

Note: Now available in a biodegradable version, made with starch. Meanwhile, polystyrene packing peanuts aren’t recyclable and can be messy during unboxing

You can follow the packing tips below for each fragile item category.

Ceramics and glassware

ceramics and glassware fragile shipping method

  • Use thick packing paper or bubble wrap to wrap products individually. The bubbles should face inward to maximize cushioning.
  • For cups and vases, fill the inside with crumpled paper or small bubble wrap pieces to prevent them from cracking from within.
  • Stack plates vertically, not on their sides or edges. Put packing paper or bubble wrap between each individually wrapped plate and place them in a sturdy box.

Mirrors and artwork

  • Use a box slightly bigger than your wrapped item to give room for cushioning material.
  • For large artworks and mirrors, create a custom-sized hardboard or plywood cover to place over the front of the item for puncture and pressure protection.
  • Attach cardboard or foam corner protectors to keep vulnerable portions from dents or scratches.
  • Place the item in the center of the box to reduce direct contact from its edges, which are prone to external impact.
  • Slide a framed mirror or artwork into its box vertically, the same way you would put a book on a shelf.
  • For shipments with several pieces inside, always position the heaviest item at the bottom and the more delicate or lighter products on top to prevent damage from compression and distribute weight evenly.

Electronics

electronic product packaging how to safely ship

  • Use the original packaging of the electronic product as much as possible—they’re designed to protect the item while in transit. If that’s unavailable, choose anti-static bubble wrap or bags when packing sensitive electronic components (like circuit boards and computer parts) to protect items from damage due to static electricity.
  • Attach corner protectors or foam inserts for added support to gaming consoles, monitors, and other oddly shaped electronics.
  • Wrap loose accessories and cables individually before placing them in a separate box or bag. Doing so prevents them from scratching or damaging the main product.
  • Remove batteries from gadgets to prevent the possibility of leaks and damage.

3. Seal the box well and place safety markers

Seal the box well and place safety markers

Once you close the box, tape it securely—several times if necessary. Couriers recommend the H-taping method. Before filling the box base with padding, fold down the bottom flaps—the smaller flaps go in first before the larger flaps—and tape down the middle of the box. 

For square boxes, fold two opposing flaps in, then the remaining two. Leave an overhang of tape on each end so the tape’s edge sticks to the side of the box for a secure seal. Apply pressure to ensure the tape adheres to the box.

Next, tape the opposite edges to form the letter H. Apply half of the tape on top of the box and the other half on the side. Repeat this method to seal the top of the box once you’ve put your products and fillers inside.

Apply “fragile” labels or stickers and other markings or instructions on how to store the package.

4. Add impact detectors or shock and tilt sensors

These tamper-proof detectors or sensors heighten awareness for handlers to keep boxes upright. These visual reminders typically turn red after tilting or excessive impact. 

Such sensor labels force couriers to be careful because the red marking becomes permanent, indicating mishandling. Due to their high price, these sensors are only advisable for highly delicate products.

5. Get shipping insurance

Couriers and third-party insurance providers offer shipping insurance. This fee covers damages or losses during your package’s transit.

Shipping or freight insurance differs from liability coverage, which covers only a specific dollar amount for every pound of your package’s weight. Coverage also varies among couriers and depends on your product’s commodity type and size.

In liability coverage, you must file a claim proving the carrier’s negligence and wait for processing, which can take several months. Under liability limits, the shipping firm can’t be responsible for damage or loss due to the shipper’s improper packaging, natural disaster or bad weather, government action, such as road closures, trade embargoes, or quarantines, and war.

When the carrier accepts your claim, it won’t pay for the item’s retail selling price—only the manufacturing cost or whatever its policy states.

Meanwhile, insurance providers will only ask you to declare that damage or loss occurred but won’t require you to supply proof of negligence. It’s more costly, but you can receive payment for claims within 30 days.

6.   Keep your return policy updated

Verify if the information about returning broken or damaged products is still accurate. Confirm whether you’ll apply your terms during the holidays or other events.

To prevent return fraud or abuse, ensure your policy requires the following:

  • Duration: Number of days for filing returns.
  • Set a limit for the return window: This will range based on the type of product, but is typically 30 days.
  • Proof of purchase: Maintain paper receipts, confirmation codes, and emails to ensure claims aren’t for stolen goods. 
  • Proof of damage: Your policy can also include submitting videos or images for proof of damage.
  • Original packaging: Unique boxes can help to deter claims from “wardrobers” who return purchases after using them, as well as swappers.
  • Valid ID: Including a photo that matches the buyer’s name to verify identity
  • Quality assurance check: You can arrange for the shipping provider to perform a quality check at your customer’s doorstep on your behalf. Let your policy state that you will refuse returns that fail your parameters (incorrect product, used appearance, lack of supporting documents, such as tags, labels, and others).
  • Penalties: If the number of fraudulent returns has become unmanageable, require customers to shoulder the costs of returns. You can also include a clause in your policy that your business “reserves the right to limit returns or exchanges in all instances.”

Another way to reduce returns is to provide sizing guides, 360-degree product views, access to customer reviews, and other content to help consumers grasp the look and feel of products better.

Moreover, keep track of feedback. Discover common complaints so you can make necessary adjustments to your product or offer.

How Top Couriers Treat Fragile Items

How Top Couriers Treat Fragile Items

UPS

UPS charges $10.85 per package for “additional handling” or special handling of packages weighing over 70 pounds or any package if its longest side exceeds 48 inches and its second-longest is over 30 inches. The company also offers boxes and packaging services through The UPS Store.

UPS recommends limiting breakable contents per box to six to nine items, each weighing five pounds or less. It also advises shippers to stick a shipping label inside the parcel and outside the box.

FedEx

FedEx Express Package and Ground Services apply surcharges for large packages (the longest and second-longest sides are similar to UPS) weighing over 50 pounds for local shipment and over 70 pounds for overseas delivery. The rate depends on the company’s zoning system.

FedEx’s packing guide for fragile items suggests double-boxing sensitive products with three-inch padding inside and around a smaller box. Moreover, it offers cold shipping solutions for a fee.

USPS

In 2022, USPS stopped offering its “Label 875” option for special handling of fragile shipments, saying customers must pack carefully and purchase insurance. America’s national postal office offers up to $100 worth of insurance for Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express.

3 Ways to Test Your Packaging’s Performance

Packaging testing ensures that your product will be in good condition when it reaches your customer. Various tests are available to help you determine if your cushioning material and boxes can keep your product free from damage and degradation while on the way to its destination. Here are some ways to test your box’s durability:

1. Send a few products to people you trust

Are you just starting your business? Try shipping your products to relatives and friends. Then ask the recipients to send you images of the shipped item to help you see their condition.

2. Perform an improvised drop test

Pack your item the way you plan to do it for actual shipping. Then do any of the following: push it to the table’s edge until it drops. Or toss it in the air and let it fall to the ground. Put a heavy box or two on top of it. Then open your package to see whether or not your item sustained damage.

3. Bring it to a certified testing center

Although more costly, testing your materials at International Safe Transit Association (ISTA)-certified labs can give you peace of mind about your box and internal packaging choice. 

These facilities conduct drop, vibration, and compression tests to simulate different situations like products falling off a shelf or traveling on a bumpy road.

Impact of Damaged Goods on Business

Impact of Damaged Goods on Business returns losses bad reviews

Reexamining your packaging strategy for fragile items can help you avoid the following consequences when customers receive damaged products:

Returns

Goods returned to American online retailers reached $212 billion or 16% of the $1.29 trillion the sector earned in 2022. The highest expenses reportedly came from warehouse and equipment charges.

Losses

The cost involved in managing product returns could reach up to 17% of the item’s prime cost or all the expenses that go into producing it, including materials and labor. Other expenses include storage and disposal costs or repair fees for cosmetic damage. This means you get a lower profit from the repaired product.

You also risk losing future business because the shopper may fear receiving another damaged product if they order from you again. 91% of customers go to other brands after one bad experience. In some serious cases—for example, damaged items that cause fire or physical harm—shoppers might file a lawsuit against your company.

Moreover, staff can lose productivity from attending to tracking return orders, repackaging, and shipping replacements.

Bad reviews

Feedback about damaged products posted on your website, official social channels, or review sites mars your credibility.

Detecting Fraud

While merchants and resellers must accept returns as a business reality, you can take the following steps to detect perpetrators of returns abuse and fraud:

1. Review your customer records

Practice thorough record-keeping and regularly audit your data to determine “serial returners.” Create a blocklist to decline returns from these shoppers. Anti-fraud protection software can do this for you automatically.

You may also opt to manually approve orders from suspicious buyers. Another alternative is to end cash refunds and instead offer like-for-like swaps.

2. Train employees to enforce your policy and spot fraud

Set and post guidelines on spotting red flags and how to respond to suspicious behavior. Make them ask the returner, “What didn’t you like about the product?” Fraudsters will give lame excuses for this question.

Or rehearse staff on how to handle tricky situations, such as clients who turn irate over a lost receipt. Also, keep employees updated about scams like gift card tampering. 

Promote Product Safety and Client Satisfaction

Promote Product Safety and Client Satisfaction

If your business involves delicate items, packing your fragile product with the appropriate material is the first step toward customer satisfaction and revenue growth.

Refine Packaging has a wide array of boxes for every industry. At the same time, our team can answer any questions you may have while we work with you to design a customized box for your brand. Contact us today to discuss the packaging solution that will give your fragile goods a winning edge.

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