Finding The Lowest Price Packing Supplies
If you’re a regular online seller, you’ve probably already spent considerable time shopping for the lowest cost packing supplies. Lowering overall shipping costs not only adds to overall profit, but can also boost sales. By reducing shipping costs, you can offer a lower total purchase price than your competitors.
Corrugated boxes, usually the most expensive single piece of packaging, are covered in a separate article which details low cost sources, box terminology and some brief technical details. In this article, we discuss the inner packing materials including foam peanuts, bubble wrap, wrapping paper, and sealing tape.
Of all inner packing materials, foam peanuts—technically known as “loose fill”—vary the most in price. This is due to the high freight costs of shipping the large volume but low weight bags which are subject to balloon or dimensional surcharges. Many sellers get around the surcharges by offering peanuts in only small bags usually around 1.5 cubic feet. That amount is really designed for the general customer who wants to ship a single item, not a user shipping multiple items on a regular basis. If you buy peanuts in those small amounts, you’ll pay a premium: an average of $4.43 per cubic ft ant Home Depot and Lowes; $3.30 a cubic ft. at U-Haul; $3.28 a cubic ft. at OfficeMax. Foam peanuts are available in three formulations: regular, anti-static and biodegradable. The prices quoted here are for the regular peanuts. Anti-static and biodegradable run about 10% higher in price.
The best prices on packing peanuts are almost always at local packaging wholesalers who don’t have to pass along high freight costs. The standard commercial size of bagged foam peanuts is 14 cubic ft. In my Midwestern town of about 350,000, I pay $16.00, or $1.14 per cubic ft., for that size bag with no minimum purchase. Some sellers offer discounts on multiple bags but the large size can be difficult to store. If your local seller offers a substantial discount for larger numbers of bags, see if they will let you pick up the bags as you need them if you buy the qualifying amount.
A somewhat similar situation exists with bubble wrap: it’s another bulky but lightweight product that most sellers only carry in small amounts. The most common bubble sizes are one quarter-inch and 1½- inch diameter. Bubble wrap is almost always sold in rolls either 12”or 24”wide but length varies widely among sellers. Wrap may also be perforated every 12” along the length of the roll or non-perforated.
Because sellers offer so many variations, it’s very important to carefully read their product descriptions of bubble wrap, particularly the roll length. All of the following comparisons are based on 12” wide, non-perforated wrap with one-quarter inch bubbles.
A local packaging wholesaler has the best price where I live. They sell a 350 foot long roll for $40, or just a little over 11 cents per square foot. Next best is U-Haul with a 150 foot long roll for $19.95, or just over 13 cents per square foot. OfficeMax comes in at 17 cents per sq. ft; Home Depot at 19 cents and Lowes at 22 cents, all three with varying roll lengths. All these sellers have the product on the store shelf, no minimum purchase. Some rolls are packaged in large cardboard boxes which act like dispensers which you may find handy.
White wrapping paper, or newsprint—the same paper newspapers are printed just without the ink—is also somewhat tricky to compare because every seller packages it differently. Not only does the sheet size vary but also the sheet count. Sheet sizes range from 24” x 24” to 24” x 30” and sheet count can range from 70 to 400. The true price, then, is the square footage per sheet multiplied by the number of sheets. [length X width in inches of sheet / divided by 144 = sq ft. X number of sheets = total sq ft of package. Price divided by total sq. ft. = price per sq ft].
The winner here is U-Haul. It sells a bundle of 400 sheets, 24” x 27”, for $20.95 which is just a touch over 1 cent per square foot (.0116). U-Haul’s 70 count package of the same size sheets at $5.95 is almost as good at just under 2 cents per square foot (.0188). Next best is my local packaging wholesaler at just under 2½ cents (.024). Home Depot and Lowes were the same at about 3½ cents per square foot (.0356). As an alternative to relatively weak newsprint, consider using the heavier brown paper similar to what paper bags are made of (Fig. 1). That can be bought in rolls at building centers and paint stores for less than 2 cents per square foot.
While simple math will eventually determine the best values in wrapping paper, buyers are not so fortunate when it comes to choosing carton sealing tape, another major item when calculating the total cost of shipping materials. Sealing tape, most commonly referred to simply as “packing tape” is available in a bewildering number of variations. There are plastic tapes and paper tapes; filament reinforced plastic and paper tapes; adhesive tapes and moisture activated tapes. You can buy widths anywhere from 1½ inches to 3 inches or more; lengths from 18 feet to over 1000 feet. Major brands are 3M and Duck but there are countless generic names and almost all the big chains have their own house brands.
For the vast majority of everyday shipping needs, you’ll probably be just fine using a clear plastic tape with nominal width of 2 inches. Look for “Meets US Postal Regulations” on the packaging or shelf label (Fig. 2). That statement guarantees a tested standard of strength, flexibility, adhesion and endurance. Don’t pay extra for a brand name. As long as a tape meets Postal Regulations, lower priced generics and house brands perform as well as heavily advertised tapes. If you have a particularly heavy package, use a heavier tape such as those specifically labeled for heavy service. Those tapes are reinforced with fiberglass mesh or have embedded strands of fiberglass which significantly increases their breaking points.
Pay particular attention to roll length when comparing tape prices. Some manufacturers state lengths in yards, other use feet. Many lengths are expressed in irregular figures like “218 yards” making quick comparison to feet awkward. Decent quality 2-inch tapes generally run about $2.75 to around $3 per roll in 6 to 12 roll quantities. Here again, you can save substantial amounts of money by buying as much as you can use in a reasonable time period. Any tape meeting US Postal Regulations will almost always have at least a 12 month or longer shelf life.
To find local suppliers beyond the obvious chain stores do an online search or look in your telephone business directory for “packing supplies,” “shipping supplies,” or “packaging.”
By Mark Chervenka for Ruby Lane
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