8 min read

How to Ship Fragile Items

Geoff Whiting

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There is almost nothing that can’t be ordered online and shipped to customers. ECommerce companies have taken over product categories once reserved for brick-and-mortar stores because they were considered too hard to ship. Businesses now routinely ship heavy and large products like mattresses, furniture, and exercise equipment to their customers. For eCommerce companies that sell fragile items, shipping can be a challenge. However, with the right packaging, you can ship fragile items safely.

how to pack glass for shipping

Which products are most likely to be damaged during shipping?

Almost any product can be damaged in shipping. Even items that are not fragile can be chipped, scratched, or torn if they aren’t packed and shipped correctly. However, some products require special handling.

This is the perfect article for how to ship glass, and other fragile items that range from breakables like ceramics and glassware to electronic devices to musical instruments. Different types of fragile products require different protections during shipping. Some electronic devices could be damaged by excessive shaking, even if the box is intact. Breakable products are most likely to be damaged by a direct impact such as falling from a height or having another package dropped on top of them. 

shipping fragile items

Breakage and damage can eat up your profits. Fortunately, there are easy ways to protect your fragile items during shipping.

4 best practices for shipping fragile items

Before shipping a product that could get broken or damaged in transit, it’s important to think through your shipping process and materials. Here are four tips for shipping your fragile products to their destinations safely.

Don’t skimp on the box

The packaging you choose for shipping fragile items is crucial. Here’s what to think about when you choose a box.

  • Make sure the outer cardboard box is thick enough to protect the item. You might want to choose a heavy box, even if your product is light and doesn’t otherwise need such a sturdy box. Consider it an extra layer of protection.
  • Choose the right box for your product. The correct box size will be slightly larger than the item you are shipping. Leave just enough room for a layer of protective infill. You don’t want your fragile item to move around inside the box during shipping.
  • Consider double-boxing. This is particularly important for fragile items that are also high-value. An inner box packed tightly with infill inside an outer box with another layer of infill adds protection against impact, movement, and shaking.
choosing the right box

Choose the right infill for fragile item shipping

Infill is the material inside the box that provides cushioning and keeps your fragile item from moving during shipping. For more delicate items, you’ll need more protective infill.

The first packing materials that come to mind might be packing peanuts, but shredded cardboard or kraft paper infill is a more environmentally / eco-friendly choice, though it may not provide enough protection for shipping fragile items, particularly if they are heavy. Air pockets are a good green infill choice for breakable items. They protect against impact and movement. Air pockets also reduce waste, since the infill is mostly air.

shipping fragile items

For hollow products, such as a vase or mug, put infill inside the item as well as outside. The key is not to leave any empty space inside your package.

For high-value breakables, molded infill that snugly fits the product is a good investment. Molded infill can be made from cardboard, plastic, or Styrofoam.

If you’re shipping two or more fragile pieces in the same box and you don’t have molded infill, wrap each one in a protective layer of bubble wrap or another sturdy infill. Make sure your box is tightly packed so the items can’t shift during shipping. This will protect them from scratching or breaking each other.

bubble wrap

Seal the box securely

Use sturdy packing tape and seal your box well. This is a best practice for shipping any type of products, but it’s particularly important with breakable items. If your fragile product falls out of the box, the chances that it will become a damaged item go way up.

Use good packaging tape

Make sure the shipping boxes are properly labeled, and add fragile stickers for shipping

Follow the labeling guidelines for fragile items that need extra care from the carrier you ship with. Include a fragile sticker or handle with car sticker on more than one surface of the outer box. If the item needs to be kept upright, include a “This way up” shipping label with an arrow.

Does it cost more to ship fragile items?

Fragile items do cost more to pack. You’ll need to invest more in your packaging and infill. Properly packing and shipping a ceramic teapot will cost more than shipping a basketball that’s a similar size and weight. You may also want to pay for extra insurance, special handling, or air rather than ground shipping.

However, not packing and shipping breakable products correctly can cost your eCommerce business even more.

  • Every broken item is a business loss. It’s worth the investment to ship your products so they arrive intact.
  • If the product arrives damaged, you’ll have to pay for return shipping. That’s another hit to your bottom line.
  • Your customer will be disappointed. One of the most important factors in building your eCommerce business is trust. Every time someone orders a product from you that they can’t examine beforehand, they’re trusting you to deliver that product in excellent condition. Opening a box to find a broken item is a sad unboxing experience. Occasional shipping damage is unavoidable. However, if it happens too often, you erode your customer base. Since it usually costs more to get a new customer than to retain an old one, this will eat into your profits.

There are ways to offset higher packing and shipping costs for breakables. You can raise the prices of your products to cover the cost. Or you can turn to your eCommerce fulfillment company for help. Your 3PL is probably a volume shipper and may be able to help you get reduced shipping rates to offset the extra packing costs.

shipping fragile items

Shipping fragile items with the major carriers

Each of the major US carriers accepts fragile items for shipping. Here’s what you need to know to ship fragile items with USPS, UPS, and FedEx.

How to ship fragile items with USPS

USPS offers a Special Handling-Fragile service to ship a fragile package, or multiple fragile packages. There is an extra fee for each Special Handling-Fragile package (currently $11.15), in addition to postage. You must go in person to the post office to purchase this. You can add special handling to these USPS services:

  • Priority Mail Express®
  • Priority Mail®
  • First-Class Package Service-Commercial™
  • First-Class Mail®
  • USPS Retail Ground®
  • Parcel Select®
  • Bound Printed Matter
  • Library Mail
  • Media Mail®

Shipping fragile items with UPS

If you don’t ship many fragile items, you could have the UPS Store pack your box for you. When UPS handles packing and shipping using its own materials, your package comes with a guarantee to reimburse you for the cost of the item if it’s damaged in transit.

UPS doesn’t charge extra for handling fragile items. If your eCommerce business ships a lot of products that need extra protection, your order fulfillment warehouse can help you safely pack and ship fragile items with UPS.

Shipping fragile items with FedEx

Like UPS, FedEx doesn’t have a special service for fragile items, though it does offer packing tips. Once again, your 3PL services company can help you arrange for secure delivery of fragile items with FedEx.

Shipping Insurance

While packaging fragile items correctly will reduce the risk that they break or get damaged, it is still prudent to purchase shipping insurance for all fragile and expensive items that are shipping from the above carriers. 

How your 3PL company can help you deliver every shipment safely

The people who work at your fulfillment warehouse are packing and shipping experts. They pack hundreds of orders every day and can help you ship fragile products, and give you the peace of mind you deserve.

shipping fragile items

However, every fulfillment center is different. The best 3PL companies specialize in shipping specific types of products. A company that ships mostly clothing may not be the best partner to ensure that your fragile products reach your customers in one piece.

At Red Stag Fulfillment, we are pros at accurate, safe shipping for hard-to-ship products. Our zero shrinkage guarantee protects your fragile items against breakage in our warehouses. And we have been named the best fulfillment company for high-value, large, and specialty products four years in a row. We pride ourselves on packing fragile items with care and precision, so they arrive safely.

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