I know how you feel. It seems like the holiday season starts a little earlier every year. Christmas is bearing down on you whether you like it or not, and you’ll have to start getting ready in the weeks ahead. However, this article has nothing to do with buying gifts or figuring out what you’re going to serve for Thanksgiving. It’s about the fine art of getting your packages to their intended recipients during what is arguably the craziest time of year for your delivery man.
The delivery system we use to get our packages from point A to point B is truly a marvel of modern civilization, but it’s also a vast and sophisticated machine that prioritizes speed over everything else. And the people who work in this machine, whether they be your mailman, a UPS driver, or just some anonymous guy sifting through thousands of brown packages on a conveyor belt, all have a thankless and difficult job that is even more challenging during the holidays. It’s safe to say that for these workers, your package is not a special snowflake that deserves their utmost attention and care.
In other words, it’s largely up to you to properly prepare your gifts for their journey, and extra precautions should be taken during the Christmas season if you want your packages to get anywhere in one piece. So here’s a few tips for making sure that these items can safely endure the rigors of our modern delivery system. Some of them aren’t as obvious as you might think:
Choosing the Right Box
You might think that any old box will do, but you need to be very careful about reusing old boxes. The delivery process is built with speed in mind, and your package is going to take a beating. Your box needs to be in excellent condition, especially for heavy items; and every time a box is reused it loses a significant amount of its carrying capacity. More importantly, every box size has a specific weight capacity that should never be exceeded. While at first glance your box appear to be stable, if you overload it the shipping process may very well destroy it.
As a rule of thumb, measure the length, width, and depth of your box, and if the total is less than 75 inches then it shouldn’t be used for any item that weighs more than 30lbs. Take a look at the UPS shipping guidelines for more details. They’re a bit more specific then you probably thought (you’d do well to follow company guidelines, because UPS and FedEx won’t reimburse you for any damages to your package if you don’t follow them). And if you have a really heavy item, consider using a box with double walled cardboard.
Securing Your Package
The guidelines are also pretty strict about how to secure your package, and they’re pretty much the same across all delivery companies. You can’t expect the box to stay closed during a delivery if it’s held together with twine, paper wrap, scotch tape, or cellophane. That may seem obvious, but apparently some people still use those materials. What’s less obvious, is that you shouldn’t use duct tape. For whatever reason the shipping companies hate that stuff. You need to either use packing tape, or nylon filament tape with a minimum tensile strength of 60 lbs per square inch. Either way, the tape shouldn’t be any less than 2 inches wide.
We all know that most items should be cushioned by some kind of packing material, even if they’re not very fragile. But what you need to know is that your item should be at least 2 inches away from the walls of the box, including the top and bottom. Your package will be handled carelessly at some point, and will probably be flipped over even if you label it “this side up.” So make sure the item is protected by a thick layer of packing material on all sides. Before you seal up the box, give it a shake and see if your item slides around a little. If it does, it needs more packing material.
If you can believe it, a lot of people make the mistake of sending out packages with two shipping labels on them. If you’re reusing a box, make sure you completely cross out the old label. Otherwise the delivery company might not know which label to read. In fact, if somebody reads the wrong label and sends it to the wrong address, while somebody else down the line reads the right label and sends it back, your package could wind up bouncing around the country in limbo for weeks (or until the shipping process completely destroys the box). As an added precaution, you should always write down your contact information and add it to the box in case anything happens.
Also, don’t ever write “fragile” on a package. You’re just asking for trouble. Some carriers like UPS don’t even recognize that label, and won’t treat your package any differently. Or worse, their employees will be even more careless with your package. A few years ago Popular Mechanics shipped a box through several companies with a 3-axis accelerometer inside, to see how the package would be treated under multiple conditions. Unfortunately, they found that if you write “fragile” on the box, it will be treated worse than if you write nothing at all. They also found that packages labeled “this side up” were flipped on their side or upside down more frequently than unlabeled packages.
Consider waterproofing your package, especially during the winter. Your package isn’t always going to be indoors, and at times, it will be left poorly sheltered from the elements. At the very least you might want to put your item in a plastic bag. However, that won’t prevent soggy cardboard from getting shredded to pieces during shipping. If you’re trying to send something that is really expensive and/or sentimental, stick it in a cheap styrofoam cooler, add another shipping label to it, and put that in a box.
This will also give your package a little extra protection if a heavier box smashes it on a conveyor belt, or if an employee decides to stand on your box while filling up a truck (it happens). And if you want to be really confident that your package reaches its destination, use of one of those cheap plastic Igloo coolers instead of styrofoam. They’re practically indestructible.
How Different Carriers Stack Up
That Popular Mechanics article had a few more interesting tidbits that you might want to know. Each shipping company treats their packages a little differently, so depending on what you’re sending, one carrier may be a better option over another. Consider the following: Popular mechanics found that the Post Office will give your package the gentlest ride, so they’re your best bet for fragile items. FedEx and UPS did the best job of maintaining a stable temperature, so send food stuff through them. And UPS was pretty good about keeping your package upright throughout the trip.
And finally, if you have an envelope to send, big or small, the Post Office should be your first choice. The other companies are capable of sending envelopes, but the machines in their system are designed primarily for packages. whereas the Post Office specializes in envelopes. Your envelope has a much better chance of making it in one piece with the USPS