How do you package clothes for a boutique?

 

Packaging serves to protect your clothing while travelling through the mail.  It also serves as a way for you to market your brand.  This article will address the following questions.

 

  • How do you package clothes for shipping?
  • What supplies do you need to ship your products?
  • Where can you get shipping supplies?
  • How much should you charge customers for shipping?
  • How can you ship your products from home or business?

 

Outer Packaging (Shipping Envelopes and Boxes)

To ship your clothing and accessory products, you’ll likely be using either boxes or poly mailers.  Boxes are rigid and durable.  If you are shipping items that you are concerned about being crushed, such as sunglasses, you should consider using a box or a padded poly mailer.  Poly mailers are thin, light weight, waterproof envelopes that contain adhesive to close them.  Poly mailers take up a lot less space than boxes.  They are great for shipping clothing.  Padded poly mailers are also available for purchase with a layer of bubble wrap in the inside, used to protect fragile items.  You can also purchase a poly mailer and wrap your items in bubble wrap instead of purchasing a padded poly mailer. Similar to boxes poly mailers can hold multiple products at once depending on the size of the products. Poly mailers are self-sealing.  With boxes you’ll need to have tape and scissors on hand.  Keep in mind as you make your outer packaging selection that your packaging must protect your products from the weather and any abuse it may sustain during transport to its destination.

 

Paying attention to details when preparing to place your products in a mailing envelope or box can help set your company apart from other companies.  Your packaging is the first thing someone sees when they receive your product in the mail.  You have the opportunity to stand out amongst other generic packaging that may be arriving in your customers mailbox.  It is especially important for you to pay attention to detail with your packaging if you are trying to build a luxury brand.  Make sure you provide packaging that conveys the feel of the brand of your company.  If you’re just starting out with your business you don’t have to spend a lot on packaging.  You can start out with plain neutral packaging.  Don’t be afraid to get creative with your packaging.  Just make sure to keep the look of it professional.

 

There are several options to add branding and other messages on your packaging.  You can buy shipping envelopes and boxes that are generic, have prints on them, or are custom printed with your company information.  In addition, you may add customizations such as a sticker, stamp, or custom tape to brand your packaging.

 

Keep in mind, when buying customized branded packaging with your company information there are usually minimum purchase order amounts and often the more you purchase the lower the cost per item.  Customized packaging is likely to be more expensive than generic or preprinted packaging materials.  Whether you are buying custom packaging or not you’ll likely want to buy in bulk to save money.  Just make sure you have a place to store your shipping and packaging supplies.

 

Shipping envelopes and boxes are available in a variety of sizes.  Shipping costs are affected by weight, dimensions, and travel distance.  Poly mailers are thinner and lighter in weight than boxes and may be cheaper to mail.   You will want to use envelopes and boxes that are close to the size of the items that you are shipping.  Use the minimum package size that you can get away with to deliver your products to your customer in the condition in which they are intended for use so that you are not spending more on packaging materials and postage than you need to.   If ordering customized boxes carefully consider your needs, and order boxes with optimal dimensions and weight, to deliver your product safely, with minimum cost, and less environmental waste.  A slight change in dimensions or weight can cost you several dollars in shipping costs per box.

 

The United States Postal Service (USPS) offers free boxes, envelopes, and labels for customers to use.  The boxes are available in a variety of sizes.  Your local post office may have a limited number of boxes in stock.  You’ll want to go on the USPS website and order the packaging supplies that you will need and have them delivered for free to your doorstep.  It will take several days for the boxes to be shipped to you.  You’ll want to order enough supplies to have a stock pile on hand so that you don’t run out when you need to ship out your products. 

 

Initially, it may be hard for you to determine what size packaging you need.  You can order what you think you may need and you can always return what you don’t use back to the post office for someone else to use.  If you choose not to ship using the USPS you will need to purchase your own shipping boxes, envelopes, and labels.  If you are shipping items that are larger than the boxes offered for free by USPS you will need to purchase your own shipping supplies but can still ship by USPS.

 

Inner Packaging

You want to make sure your products do not get damaged during transport.  Packaging serves a function to protect your products.  Boxes and envelopes can get ripped and torn during transit.  Clear protective bags can protect your products adding an additional layer of protection inside the outer protection.  If you are shipping something that can easily be damaged you need to use additional packaging material to protect your products during transit.  You can use a poly mailer that contains bubble wrap, packing peanuts, air pillows or other packaging materials to protect fragile products that you may mail.  You should make sure that you fill voids in the package with packaging materials to keep your products from being damaged.

 

Another function that packaging serves is to add a decorative touch on the outside of the product that you are shipping.  You can wrap your products in tissue paper or wrapping paper.  Add a bow, sticker, tag, or other decorative items if you would like.  Make sure to use paper where the colored dyes will not transfer to your products.  You can purchase tissue or wrapping paper with a pre-printed design, design your own at home or in-store, or design and have the paper custom printed.  Just be mindful of the time requirements and the cost of ink if you decide to do the printing yourself.  Depending on how many orders you have to ship it may be more cost effective to have someone else do the printing on the paper.  Tissue and wrapping paper also serve the function of being protective.  You can use paper to separate a product that can potentially cause damage to another product in the same shipping box or envelope.

 

Inner packaging adds to the weight of your package thereby increasing the cost to mail your products. You want to use the lightest protective packaging that will adequately serve the purpose of protecting your products.

 

To determine what condition your products will arrive in when reaching your customer, you can send out a few test packages by mail.  Package your products as you plan to send them to customers, send them in the mail to a friend, then observe the condition your items and the packaging arrived in. 

 

Mailing Inserts

Taking the time to putting care and thoughtfulness into your packaging is a good way to send off your products to the customers that support your business.  Besides taking time to carefully package your products you can also include a thank you card.  Add a personal touch to your package with a handwritten thank you note.  You can also send printed cards.  You may tempted to print out thank you cards on your printer but it will probably be cheaper to get them printed by a printing service provider.  You can also have someone design your mailing inserts or purchase predesigned mailing inserts.  Consult your local print shop, search online for printing services, and you can even buy supplies on Etsy.  To save time you can write out thank you cards in advance and add the customer’s name just before shipping.

 

Including information about your business can be really helpful, especially if your customer has questions. You can include your business card and inserts with your social media information.  You should also consider including an invoice and return policy.  Including a coupon or discount code can encourage your customer to purchase again from you.  You may also ask the consumer to leave you positive feedback for their purchase or contact you if they have issues with their order.

 

Mailing Labels

There are several ways to create address labels. You can purchase labels with adhesive on the back and write out your address and your customer’s address on the label.  You can type out your address and your customer’s address on a computer, print it out on paper, and attach it with clear packaging tape.  You can purchase adhesive labels that can be printed.  There are also several applications that can be integrated with online stores, that can prepopulate your customers information entered during checkout, which can then be printed out on adhesive labels.  There are printers available for purchase that are specifically designed to print out mailing labels.

 

Shipping Costs

Over time, with some experience you’ll be able to get a good idea of exactly how much shipping costs is associated with your orders on average.  Most clothing boutiques offer a flat shipping rate for all orders.  Often for purchases over a certain amount shipping is offered for free.  Around holidays some clothing companies offer free shipping on all purchases with no minimum purchase requirements.

 

Tissue paper, ribbon, stickers, bubble wrap, and mailing inserts all add to the operational cost of your business in terms of the costs for the items and the costs to mail them.  Make sure you figure out the cost per package for all of your shipping supplies.  Make sure that it makes sense from an economic standpoint as to what you include in your packaging.  You’ll be passing these expenses on to your customers.  Not all customers willing or want to pay for these added expenses. 

 

If you charge too much for shipping you will experience high rates of cart abandonment.  Cart abandonment is when your customers place items in the cart and do not purchase them when they go to check out.  It will be up to you to determine what an acceptable shipping rate is.  You can look to other businesses in the industry to get an idea of how much you should be charging.  At times instead of charging high shipping rates you may want to include some or all of the shipping costs in the price of the item.  In other words, increase the price of the item to compensate for shipping expenses and offer lower shipping rates or free shipping.

 

When it comes to shipping your products, you have several different options.  The major courier companies that transport packages around the world and in the United States is the United States Postal Service (USPS), United Parcel Service (UPS), DHL, and FedEx.  The costs to ship your products will vary depending on the courier that you decide to ship with.  These couriers have tools available on their websites that will allow you to calculate the cost to ship your products.  To determine how much it will cost to send a package you need to know where you’re sending the package to, desired delivery date, and package size (outer dimensions- length, width, height) and weight.  Use a scale to weigh your items.  Make sure to weigh your items with the packaging.  The tools allow you to estimate shipping for both domestic and international shipping. 

 

You can ship your packages directly through the couriers or you can ship your packages through one of their partners such as Stamps.com or Endicia.  The partners offer additional discounts that you cannot get at the post office.  You don’t need any special equipment aside from a computer and printer.  Many of the partners require that you pay a monthly or yearly fee to use their services.  The partners also have tools to help you calculate the cost of shipping.  Their tools allow you to print out your own shipping labels that include your address, your customer’s address, tracking, insurance, and postage.  If you plan to send out a lot of packages you should enquire about obtaining an account manager through one of the couriers or partners.  Business accounts get better rates. They will be able to provide you with some guidance on the best way to send your packages and save money.  They also are knowledgeable of discounts that you may be eligible for. 

 

Using the tools that are available online you don’t even have to make a trip to the post office.  You can compare and determine which shipping carrier is the least expensive and has the quickest delivery.  You can print out your shipping labels that include your address, your customer’s address, tracking, insurance, and postage.  A lot of these services can be integrated with your website as well as online marketplaces where you may be selling your products.  Although the tools can be quite helpful you will still need to first setup how your customers are charged for shipping on your website or in your point of sale system (POS).  When a customer enters their information during the checkout process that information can be automatically populated to calculate shipping and create the shipping label. 

 

When you first start out and aren’t sending out large volumes you should use the available tools to compare and calculate the costs for your packages so that you get the best available rates.  Many small businesses in the United States start by shipping with USPS because of the benefits and familiarity with having previously shipped with USPS. 

 

It’s a good idea to develop a shipping policy.  In the policy you can state the shipping rate and delivery time.  It’s up to you to decide what courier you will use, what speed(s) you will send your products, and how much you will charge for shipping and handling. 

 

Shipping Your Products

Once your packages are prepared and labeled you can take them to your local post office or local postal courier to have them shipped.  At the post office your package will be weighed and you will then be asked to pay the appropriate postage.  You can also purchase a scale, weigh the packages yourself, and affix postage at your place of business.  If you’ve printed out the postage you can simply drop of the package at the post office.   You can further streamline the shipping process by scheduling to have your package picked up from your home, saving you time, if you’ve printed out the postage.  Directions to do so can be found on the postal service provider’s website.  There are also drop off locations if you’ve prepared your package with address labels and postage.  Drop off locations may help you get your package shipping faster than scheduling a pickup.  Drop off locations can be found online as well.  There’s no need to go to the post office very time you get an order.  No lines, no driving, and no extra cost!  Save time, money, and hassle.

 

If you are in business long enough, you’ll likely have customers that will report to you that they did not receive their items.  For that reason, it’s a good idea for you to purchase insurance and tracking.  Currently, if you ship Priority with USPS insurance and tracking is automatically provided up to a certain dollar amount.  You may not want to purchase insurance on items below a certain value, but rather for expensive items.  If you’ve made payment online you can find your tracking number on the label, the confirmation page on your electronic receipt, or in your account details.  You can most likely have an email automatically sent to your customer with the tracking number upon payment.  If you pay at the post office you’ll find your tracking number on the receipt given to you. 

 

You’ll want to set aside a dedicated time during the day, or week, to prepare and ship out your orders.  Preparing and shipping out orders one-by-one as you receive them will be less time efficient and likely overwhelm you.  As part of your shipping policy you can state that it takes one to two business days to process orders.  It’s a good idea to also include your shipping policy on the customer’s invoice, as a reminder, and in case the customer doesn’t read your policy.  This will allow you to ship out orders up to three times a week (every other day) instead of every day. 

 

Keep in mind we live in a world where we want instant gratification.  Don’t delay too long and wait several days before shipping your items to customers.    Make sure to have some sort of plan or add a message to your website if you will be away (on vacation) and are unable to ship out products for several days.

 

Be sure to send out an email to your customers when you’ve shipped their order.  You can track the packages and inform your customers so they can track where their package is and when to expect it to arrive.

 

 

Returns

 

You should develop and post a shipping policy for your business.  Some smaller businesses opt to not accept returns, have an exchange only policy, or offer returns within a certain timeframe.  You should state whether or not the customer is responsible for paying return shipping costs and what the return process procedures are.  With certain tools such as those integrated with websites and offered by having a partner account you can email your customers pre-addressed, postage-paid shipping labels, which they may print out, to all ow them to return merchandise.  You must specify the shipping costs for return delivery.  If you package your products in a poly mailer containing double adhesive strips your customer can return products in the same packaging. 

 

1PL, 2PL, 3PL, 4 PL, 5 PL (1st/2nd/3rd/4th/5th – Party Logistics Provider)

If you don’t want to handle packages, ship them, or even sell them directly yourself there are companies that will do if for you for a fee.   You never even have to touch a garment.  Just watch out, a vendor may include their own marketing materials cutting out future revenue for you.  You should buy one of your products from your logistics provider and check out how it is being shipped. 

 

Sustainable Packaging Solutions

If you are currently purchasing clothing and accessories for your business from a wholesaler or manufacturer then you are aware of all of the packaging that the items arrive in.  Consumers are becoming more aware about environmental pollution.  You should consider going one step further than ordering recyclable packaging and ordering packaging that is biodegradable.   You can also skip including all of the paper in the packaging.  For example, you can decide to provide online invoices only instead of including a paper invoice in the packaging.

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