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Dunnage is a common logistics term that’s slowly making its way to the ears of ecommerce businesses and regular consumers, but there’s still a bit of confusion around the term, what it includes, and why it’s likely valuable to your business. Let’s take a quick minute to discuss dunnage and why you’ll likely be thinking about investing in it sooner rather than later.

What is Dunnage?

Dunnage is the protective material used to cushion products and packages to protect them in transit and before use. It can be made from a wide variety of different materials for different uses. This includes everything from some of the plastic inserts inside a product’s own packaging, to the filler you put around them in a shipping box or poly bag, to even the industrial usage of inexpensive material used to protect loads and secure cargo. 

Whether your most recent purchase arrived in an Amazon box or by cargo ship or rail car, dunnage was involved in the process. For your business, the right dunnage utilization can yield significant savings, and we can see what a few of them are right away.

The 3 Big Benefits of Dunnage

By design, dunnage protects your business as much as your shipments. Here are three of the most significant ways that smart dunnage use will improve your operations.

Protecting your products

Dunnage is primarily used to protect the goods you send and receive as they move around from factories to distribution centers and warehouses to customers. As products are loaded onto trucks, stacked, bags sorted, and much more, there’s a chance that they can be damaged.

Dunnage limits the damage to your products by offering shock absorption, increasing bulk around goods to absorb impact or weight, limit or prevent moisture, and to keep goods in place as they move. The right dunnage protects your goods against the most significant threats they face on the road.

Protecting your revenue

Dunnage limits breakage and can help you keep more revenue from each month’s sales. Dunnage is generally unbelievably cheap, and the right selection gives you security. When your glass bottles arrive safely to customers, they will be happier customers and more likely to order from you again. If products arrive damaged, you’ve got to refund the cover or pay for the return and replacements.

So, choosing and using significant dunnage for products helps companies keep more of the money they make by reducing additional and after-sale costs. 

Reducing labor costs

You get added savings from using dunnage: lower labor costs. Giving your team the specific dunnage to use and guidance on what each product needs can speed up your packing process. This improvement will move more orders out the door each day, allowing your packing stations to be more efficient.

You’ll also get to save by having fewer returns and refunds due to damage. If changing dunnage prevents just a few damaged and replaced items, that move can generate positive ROI in its first month.

Your Most-Common Types of Dunnage

You can utilize almost any material as packaging infill to protect shipping items. We’ve seen it all from standard elements to some eco-friendly companies that use wood chips and twine. There’s rarely a “wrong” choice, but many standard elements have specific instances where they perform best. Here are a few of the most common types of dunnage we use for our order fulfillment services.

Kraft paper

Kraft paper is large and flexible, supporting multiple infill methods. You can rip it as needed to wrap around products or bunch up in empty space. Crumpled, torn, or wrapped, kraft paper gives medium protection at an affordable rate. It is easy to acquire and can be recycled after receiving. 

Air pillows

One of the biggest newcomers on the scene is the air pillow. These plastic pillows are inflated to give cushion while being relatively cheap and lightweight. That makes them a big draw for ecommerce because you aren’t adding bulk (and cost) to your shipments. Some options can be recycled — though most can’t — so if you’re paying extra for that feature, be sure to explain it to your customers.

Bubble wrap

You know it. You’ve used it. The ever-present bubble wrap is perfect for protecting delicate items and giving the kids something to do when you’re done unwrapping a present. It can be used repeatedly, which is good for the environment and your customers.

Foam wrap

A common alternative to bubble wrap is the foam version. Made especially for fragile products, foam wrap is a thin, light material that provides padding. You can buy it in sheets, and some specialty items will have custom sleeves of foam wrap. You might’ve seen these sleeves for wrapping up china and dishes. While it can be used repeatedly, it can’t be recycled.

Shredded cardboard

Repurposed old cardboard boxes are shredded and set into your new box to protect fragile items. You can do the recycling yourself if you have a machine that cuts them into accordion-like sheets. Sheets are flexible enough to wrap around fragile items and provide strong protection, so they’re a common choice for bottles. You and your customers will also enjoy that they are eco-friendly and can be further recycled.

Hard plastics

If you’re shipping heavy or sharp products, especially in industrial and B2B settings, you might want to consider rigid plastic and solid plastic dunnage. These items are often molded to protect your product, so you must have consistent dimensions for products and the boxes or containers used to ship them. These units are more expensive, and you may have to meet specific requirements for using some in freight, but they can protect large and bulky equipment better than almost anything else.

Molded foam

Molded foam is a common element for dunnage that is set inside of a product’s own box, not necessarily the larger box they’re shipped inside of regularly. Think about the last piece of electronics you ordered, like headphones, a graphics card, or even a TV. They likely had some plastic or foam elements inside the branded box to prevent the sensitive equipment from moving around while also providing full shock absorption.

Packing peanuts

The classic box infill that most of us think about is the packing peanuts. These small Styrofoam balls can fit in almost any space and absorb significant impact. The downside is that they stick to everything and are often pulled out of boxes or bags. So, both you and your customers will likely have many all over the floor when the day is done.

If you need the versatility of peanuts, consider upgrading to modern cornstarch options. Not only can they be recycled and are a little easier to control, but they’re still okay to use in New York, San Francisco, and other cities that have enacted a ban on the Styrofoam version. Use sparingly.

Custom dunnage and materials

Working with a 3PL like Red Stag Fulfillment gives you access to a broad range of dunnage materials. To help our customers protect their shipments, we stock many of the types mentioned above and even custom-cut boxes, so everything fits and is secure.

If you’re concerned about specific materials or damage, or you just want to stand out, talk to us about custom dunnage solutions. We can work with you to source custom inserts and boxes, uniquely sized padded mailers, eco-friendly tape, and options for tape, boxes, and more that have your logo and branding. All of these help reinforce your company in the customer’s mind and can make your boxes stand out from the moment they’re opened.

There are plenty of non-dunnage ways to improve the look and feel of what you send, from custom receipts and flyers to stickers, tissue paper, and pre-printed offers or discounts. Whatever you prefer, we’ll help you create and ensure it’s in every order that lands on a customer’s doorstep.

Ask us your dunnage questions today by clicking here or using the “Contact” button at the top of the page.