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Selling online: packing and shipping tips for beginners

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Selling online is a great way to make extra money from home.  It can be a side hustle, an ecommerce business venture or even a way to declutter your home. 

Over the past seven years I have dabbled in a few online selling ventures such as running an online jewellery shop, selling handmade items on Etsy, reselling and I continuously use eBay to sell our old unwanted or outgrown household items and clothing. 

One thing that’s vital to get right when selling goods online is the P&P.  In this blog post I will share advice for how to successfully handle your postage and packaging when selling items online.


So you’ve sold something online (woohoo) and now you need to ship it to your customer.  First things first, you need to suitably package your item.  Here’s some advice when packing your item:

Choose suitable packaging

There’s nothing worse than an item arriving damaged because the packaging wasn’t suitable, so make sure you choose appropriate packaging that protects the goods inside, especially if they are fragile.

I never trust the couriers to handle the goods well, even if they do clearly say fragile, so make sure the packaging protects the goods and don’t rely on writing ‘fragile’ on the packets.

I expect the goods are offloaded or sometimes thrown onto conveyor belts and moved between various vans, stacked up with other parcels, etc.  Keep this in mind when packing and make sure the contents can handle some movement or being upside down.

Local post offices and stationery stores sell packaging, but eBay is a great place to buy in bulk at a great discount.

Packaging for businesses

If the items you are selling online are for a business then you may wish to consider branded packaging.  This will make your parcels instantly recognisable and could enhance the customers experience.

Consider investing in custom packaging to have control over the design and sizes of your packaging items. Customizing your packaging means you can get boxes that are exactly the right size for your products to keep them better protected and cut down on shipping costs. Designing your packaging also allows you to build the visual image of your brand and improve customer brand recall. 

If you’re worried about the safety of a package with obvious branding, then you could use a discreet outer package, but brand something on the inside such as using branded tissue paper or inner wrap.

Consider the environment

Combatting single-use plastic is big news right now.  We are all aware of the dangers and negative environmental consequences of our plastic addiction and over-use.  Keep this in mind when packing your items and opt for eco-friendly packaging that can be recycled.

Though your products need to be suitably packaged, don’t over package them.  There’s no need to be wasteful and the customer doesn’t want to spend time unwrapping and disposing of excessive packaging. 

I once received a pack of vitamins which were already in a hard case (and unbreakable) in a mountain of plastic bubble wrap, cardboard and no end of brown tape wrapped around.  It was ridiculous and dampened my experience with the seller as I couldn’t even get into my parcel as it had so much brown tape around!  Mostly, though, I was frustrated by the fact that it was totally unnecessary and not very eco-friendly at all.

Factor in packaging time and costs

You might not have thought about this and to be honest, until recently it’s not something I had considered either.  My husband Ben has a handmade furniture shop on Etsy and recently sold a rather large desk with heavy industrial legs.  He arranged shipping with TNT who collected from us with a lorry, but of course Ben had to suitably package it first.  Cue jumbo sized rolls of bubble wrap and flexible cardboard!

I am not exaggerating when I say it took Ben around one hour to package this desk.  It was a large thick topped piece of wood and then two heavy industrial steel legs.  He wrapped each piece separately in numerous layers of bubble wrap and cardboard to ensure it was well protected.  Then, as it was being sent as one package, he had to wrap the parcels together to create one large parcel.

Most of the items I post only take a minute or so to package, but if you have something custom made or fragile that takes time to pack, then consider the value of your time when deciding on your item’s cost or the P&P costs.

You’ll also want to factor in the cost of the packaging required when pricing your items so you’re not left out-of-pocket or with a chunk taken out of your profits.

Always have plenty of packaging in stock

Packaging is one thing you should always make sure you have in stock.  It’s no good selling something online and promising a next day delivery if you have no way of packing an order should someone buy from you.

Of course you can always buy last minute packaging from your local post office, supermarket or stationery depot, but be prepared to pay a premium compared to ordering bulk packaging online and being prepared.


Search online for quotes

Pretty much the only option for sending parcels for the regular consumer used to be Royal Mail, but nowadays there are a lot more options with many couriers competing for your business.  This is great news as it means prices are competitive and services are too.  There are even parcel websites offering a same day delivery service, so your options really are quite unlimited. 

Simply use a parcel broker website to compare prices for several couriers at once so you can find the best deal and a service that suits you or your customer.   Just have the dimensions and weight of your parcel to hand.

If you plan on selling a lot of items online then it’s a good idea to invest in some scales to accurately weight your parcels.  I always have a tape measure to hand and a large letter/small parcel size template for goods that I sent via Royal Mail.

Here are some questions to consider when deciding which service to book:

  • Does the standard level of compensation cover the cost of the item or do you need to pay extra for additional cover?
  • Is the delivery tracked and do you require a signature from the customer?
  • How quickly does the item need to arrive?

Make sure you factor in the cost of shipping when deciding on the price of your product if you will offer free delivery.  Or alternatively give your customer’s a range of delivery prices and options so they can choose a service best suited to them.

Appeal to more with free shipping

As a consumer I prefer to search for items with free shipping so there are no surprises at the checkout.  I like to see the price I am going to pay. 

Some websites even allow the option to filter results by free shipping, so consider giving your customers free shipping so your products will appeal to more people.

Of course, it’s not really ‘free’ shipping as you’ll simply need to factor the costs of P&P into your items price to make sure you are making a profit, but it just makes the shopping experience easier for your customers.

Use a reliable service

Make sure you use a reliable postal service.  This can come from personal experience.  Is there a postal service that regularly throws your parcels over a garden gate if you’re not home, or leaves boxes on the doorstep in the rain?  If so, then do not use them for your own customers!

Whilst most people have probably had a bad experience with each available courier at least once, make sure you choose a courier that represents good value but is also reliable and delivers consistent good service.

Always get proof of postage

If your item gets lost or damaged in the post then you will need proof of postage to make a compensation claim.  If you’ve purchased your postage online then you’ll have an email confirmation with a tracking number.  If you post in person at the Post Office then make sure you get a receipt as this is your proof of postage.  Even if you don’t use a tracked service and just regular 1st Class or 2nd Class mail, you are still financially protected against lost mail up to a certain amount, but only if you have proof.

Final word

Providing you are packaging your products suitably and sensibly and using a courier that is reliable and trustworthy, you should not receive any complaints or be out-of-pocket when it comes to your P&P.  The packaging and delivery experience is a part of your customer’s journey, so make sure you are never skimping and only send goods how you would like to receive them.