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Packaging Costs for Selling Online
Published at Apr 21, 2016.

Packaging costs are often hidden financial drains for online sellers. Meeting eBay or Amazon packaging standards can use up a lot of boxes, tape, and cushioning, and all too many start their online selling businesses without considering these expenses.

So, what are some of the most popular Amazon/eBay packaging options? What costs should you factor into your budget? Where can you get supplies? Here are the answers:

What Packaging Basics Should I Know?

The UPS website has an excellent guide to packaging for shipping. I strongly recommend reading it to get an idea of good packaging practices and the kinds of materials you should use for the items you are selling. However, it doesn’t say much about costs.

What Will I Need to Buy?

There are three major packaging costs involved in mailing most items:

  1. The box or envelope
  2. Tape
  3. Cushioning

Here's a rundown of all three:

1. Boxes and Envelopes

Corrugated Boxes

Boxes vary in price depending on where you buy them and the quantity you order them in. At websites like Paper Mart or Uline, you can buy corrugated shipping boxes in bulk for about $0.50 to $2.00 each (though you can easily spend an extra 25–50% on shipping.)

Padded envelopes can serve in a box’s stead if your item is small, lightweight, and not particularly susceptible to damage. They’re available on Uline and similar sites.

These envelopes can save you a lot of money, as you can buy them in bulk for less than $0.20 each before shipping. Just be aware that they do have some drawbacks.

Getting Free Boxes

You might be able to save a ton of money on packaging by getting free boxes. The USPS free boxes program is an excellent choice for anyone using Priority Mail.

2. Tape

Carton Sealing Tape

You can typically buy packing tape in bulk for about $1.25 to $3.00 per 110-yard roll. Adding in extra for shipping costs and assuming you’ll use about 3 to 5 yards of tape securing an average package, you shouldn’t have any troubles if you budget $0.10 per package. In practice, you may spend as little as $0.05.

3. Cushioning

Packing Materials

You can’t just leave an item rattling around in a box. You need something to hold it in place and absorb the beating when the delivery guys inevitably use it as an improvised hockey puck.

Packing peanuts, bubble wrap, crumpled kraft paper, and air bags are all good options, but they won’t all work for everything. See the UPS packaging guide for tips on determining the appropriate choice for your items.

Cushioning is probably the most variable cost in Amazon and eBay packaging. You can easily end up using half a cubic foot of packing peanuts for one item and two cubic feet for another, even though you’re using the same box.

Here are some sample costs:

Packing Peanuts

You might be able to buy packing peanuts in bulk for less than $1.50 per cubic foot, but due to the amount of space they take up, they are generally cost-prohibitive to ship directly to your home. You may also need to pay as much as five or six dollars per cubic foot to buy them from a standard office supply store.

Your best options are to find a local store that sells them in bulk or buy from a website that offers free shipping. Amazon is a good place to start.

With costs varying immensely, packing peanuts could run you anywhere from $0.50 to several dollars per package.

Bubble Wrap

Bubble Wrap

You can get bubble wrap from Amazon for great prices, especially if you have Prime. You can easily find 175 feet of 12-inch-wide bubble wrap for $16. If you typically use 8 feet of bubble wrap per package, then this option will run you about $0.75 each time.

Crumpled Kraft Paper

You don’t typically buy kraft paper with the intention of using it as cushioning. It’s more commonly used like a protective wrapping paper or for other business and manufacturing applications.

However, it’s quite inexpensive. You can get 50 pounds (the equivalent of 7,700 8½" x 11" sheets) from Uline for $73 or less, or under $100 with shipping included. You could use up 25 sheets of kraft paper and it would only cost you about $0.30.

This is often the best option for sellers who can’t spare much for their Amazon or eBay packaging costs. Just keep in mind you might spend a lot of time crumpling up paper!

Air Bags

Air Bags for eBay or Amazon Packaging

You can get prefilled air bags on Amazon for a surprisingly good rate despite their size—$35 for 300 4” x 8” or 4” x 9” bags, shipping included, is a reasonable amount to expect. So, if you used eight of these to securely pack your product, it would cost about $0.95.

How Much Does It Cost to Use Just One of These Things?

Here’s a cost-by-unit analysis to help you further judge the costs, down to the nearest tenth of a cent:

  • 1/12 cubic foot of packing peanuts: $0.125 to $0.750.
  • 1 square foot of bubble wrap: About $0.093.
  • 1 sheet of kraft paper: About $0.013 or less.
  • 1 air bag: About $0.117.

That’s certainly not a pound-for-pound analysis—the packing peanuts will take up a lot more space in a box than a single sheet of kraft paper. However, it should help you formulate an idea of how much things are going to cost you.

Remember, those certainly aren’t the only options out there. You may also need to pay more or less depending on prices at local stores or the cost of shipping to your location.

So, How Much Should I Expect to Spend on Packaging?

Packaging Costs

Here are some estimations based on the prices we’ve covered above:

  • Padded envelope, no extra cushioning: $0.20+
  • Padded envelope with extra cushioning: $0.25 to $0.50+
  • Small box (e.g. 9" x 7" x 3” flat box): $0.75 to $1.25+
  • Medium box (e.g. 12" x 12" x 12” cube): $1.50 to $5.00+
  • Large box (e.g. 20" x 20" x 12” rectangular box): $2.75 to $8.00+

If you need to pack something really big, like a refrigerator, then the cost of packaging could exceed $20. Of course, that would just be a drop in the bucket compared to the price of shipping the thing!

Variables in Packaging Costs

Free Shipping Supplies

Your prices will probably be higher or lower than the prices mentioned above. Here are the biggest things that will affect your final price:

  1. Cushioning: What you use, where you purchase it, and how much you need to securely pack the item.
  2. Boxes: How much they cost per unit and whether you’re paying for shipping or getting them from a local supplier.
  3. Tape: How much you use and how much you pay for it.
  4. Extras: Whether you use anything else in your packaging—for example, plastic wrap and pieces of cardboard for protecting book covers.
  5. Deals: Whether you've worked out deals with different packaging suppliers, or taken advantage of discounts and free supplies from major couriers, like the free USPS boxes for eBay sellers.

Most people end up paying about 10 to 50 cents more per package than the minimum prices listed above. If you shop and pack smart, though, you could pay less than those minimums.

Summary

eBay and Amazon packaging costs can bankrupt a business that doesn’t take them into account. Avoid that mistake by using the prices in this article to help determine whether you can turn a profit from an item you want to sell. Once you start selling, pay attention to the packaging you use and determine a more accurate cost per sale.

Customer service can also cost your business a pretty penny. Find out how we can help you with Amazon and eBay message management.

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