The situation I am trying to avoid
I am prompted to write this guide after receiving packages through the post or courier that arrive damaged or completely bust up. And I want to show what I try to do to ensure that my ebay sales get to their destination in the condition that the buyer expects to see them in. Because nobody wants to pay for something and then find they have been cheated when the thing arrives smashed. It wouldn't be such a disappointment if this happens only once in a while, but unfortunately it happens all too frequently. More often it is not the fault of the delivery company, but because the item has been packed-up in a shoddy way. The parcel gets knocked about on it's journey and if the packaging isn't up to the job then the contents are going to get wrecked. Here are some photos of one such package:
The ebay seller who sent this didn't think about the weight of the 3 items inside and whether or not they would move around in transit. The cardboard box had previously been used for transporting live insects. It was lightweight and punctured all over with perforations to allow air to pass through. Not then, the most sturdiest box to send three heavyweight loudspeaker cones each weighing 6kg and each with an innate impulse to fly around due to their extreme off-set centre of gravity. Lets have a look inside.
The box lid was taped-down with regular sellotape, not parcel tape so it didn't take much to flip open the lid. Inside are three loudspeakers, free to move around and bash into each other, with crumpled newspaper and carrier bags offering little cushioning effect. Notice also that the seller couldn't even be bothered to fold-back the two side flaps of the lid before filling the box - they are just pushed down the insides in a careless way. This is what the speakers looked like:
Net result... all three speakers wrecked.
So what can you say about that? People rush to get things in the post and use inadequate packing materials and all that happens is the item arrives damaged or destroyed. Nobody benefits. In a way ebay encourages this by penalising sellers who take longer than 5 days to get an item shipped off, and then operate a ratings system that allows the buyer to downgrade any seller they think has taken too long to send them their item. Well my own opinion is that it is very easy to sit in front of a computer screen and point and click and think 'that's the job done', but it is another matter entirely for the seller to go about packing-up the item and getting it shipped off. For a start you need to get hold of the right packing materials for the job, then you have to spend some time actually wrapping the item, and then spend even more time organising the courier / transporting the item to the depot / standing in a post office queue / or waiting for the courier to arrive. So when you think about all this, it starts to become clear just why so much stuff gets shipped-off in a hurried fashion and the buyer receives the package in a condition like the parcel above
So the other aspect of this guide is to show the viewpoint of the seller - the person who has to do all the packing-up and carting around of heavy and bulky packages. It is quite a lot of effort, which as I have said is not always appreciated.
Difficulties in obtaining packing materials
This might sound like a load of nonsense, but these days, in the UK, I am finding it ever more difficult to come-by packing materials. Hows that? you might wonder, you've seen cardboard boxes just left on the street every day of the week. OK well why don't you stop-by and inspect them? Most internet/mail order businesses these days send out their items in single-use disposable boxes which are designed to be ripped-apart and destroyed then sent to the recycling plant. They are manufactured in a way that 'self destructs' on opening and can't be put back together easily. The whole philosophy of 'tamper evident' packaging is to protect both the sender and recipient in the event that the package has been intercepted by unscrupulous delivery drivers. Not only that, but the EEC has stringent laws governing the disposal of waste material, and in particular the need to collect all material that can be recycled. Large businesses are careful to safeguard their waste and will send all their cardboard to the compactor before anyone else can get their hands on it. How often these days do you see piles of cardboard boxes by the side of the checkout in a supermarket left for their customers to take home? - practically never. White-goods stores used to be an excellent picking ground for large cardboard boxes, but these days all fridges etc are are packed-up in cradles of expanded poystyrene and plastic sheeting, neither of which are worthy of recycling and so avoid the EEC quotas. Of course I could always pay for new boxes and pass-on the cost to the customers... No, actually, that would not be a popular option, considering the cost of even a medium sized box.
So what I have to do, is keep my eyes open all the time, and just scavenge every large lump of cardboard that I come across, and keep them stored away in anticipation of the need to post a large item. Not all boxes are great, but if it is a decent size then it will probably come in useful some day. In the meantime a shed full of old cardboard boxes doesn't make me popular with the wife.
With regards to padding/packing for the inside of the box, foam chips tend to be the best, followed by bubble-wrap. I've found that these too are getting hard to obtain for free, as mail-order companies opt for crumpled paper and crinkled cardboard as their fillers, which are good for recycling but only really offer sturdy protection when sending lightweight items. Bubble-wrap can be bought-in for not too great a cost per square meter, but only if a huge roll of the stuff is ordered.
Hassle from grumpy buyersOK so you've won an auction, you'd stayed with it till the last minute and put on your bid in the closing seconds. And now you feel triumphant. You are going to click on that button that says pay now and you are going to expect the thing to arrive the next day. And you don't even consider that the thing is the size and weight of an average fridge/freezer. Nope that's not your problem. And if the listing said that this was a big item and may take some time to get it shipped off and you didn't read it, well that's not your fault. You still want it tomorrow cos that's how things work. Look, you got that paperback book from Amazon the next day, didn't you? Why not this?
So what happens when I as a seller, have sold a huge guitar loudspeaker cab and the buyer wants it shipped? Well funny you should ask that as I just so happened to take a load of photos of one such event.
So I have sold this speaker. It's big, about 28 inches wide, 23 high, and 13 inches deep. It weighs about 18 kilos. It won't go in a padded envelope.
I have a cardboard box - great. The box is big in terms of volume, but it is the wrong shape for the speaker cab. I need to do some adjusting and reconstruction of the box to get the speaker to fit inside.
Here is the speaker cab with the box next to it:
'Hey nice cab man'. Yeah it's good isn't it? Loaded with vintage Celestions.... it would be a great pity it it arrived bashed-up.
The box has plenty of space to it. It's the right height, but falls short on the length. So we have to re-shape the box by borrowing a bit from the sides. We need to cut into the top and bottom flaps and bend the side panel in a new place. Then glue it down to make it all sturdy. This could take a while. About two hours, making sure the glue has time to dry a bit.
First of all, measure-up the extra length needed and cut the top and bottom flaps above and below the side panel. Do the same on the opposite panel, rotating the box 180 degrees. 4 cuts into the cardboard box in total.
Then score the inside of each side panel to make it easier to bend. The box has been flipped-over and is now upside-down in the picture.
Bend the sides in the new place and straighten out the old corner.
Now start to glue down the base flaps.
Trim any excess cardboard before gluing-down the last bit of the base, and tape the lot together.
Now flip the box over and start on making ready the speaker cab. Check that the cabinet will indeed fit in the box with a bit of space to spare for packing materials.
The speaker is first wrapped in a black bin bag and sealed in order to protect it from water damage in transit. Then the front of it is wrapped in sturdy cardboard to protect the cloth grille from any packing material which might cause an indentation.
Next some packing material is put into the bottom of the box and the wrapped speaker is carefully placed inside. Packing material is put into the gap around all sides.
Then the top is packed and the lid closed and glued-down. There's a bit of extra cardboard on top to make things just that bit stronger.
Then everything is sealed-up with packing tape, and tape wrapped around the entire package to keep things stable. The box is heavy so from this point on I am putting it on a trolley whenever I need to move it around.
And now I need to book a courier. I do this online. The courier needs to know my address, the delivery address, the weight and size of the parcel and contact telephone numbers in case of difficulties in getting the thing delivered. A confirmation email includes all the relevant documentation and address labels which I need to print-off and stick to the side of the parcel. Then I need to somehow get it across to the courier depot which is two miles away. I could book a collection service and wait-in for the driver, but I work weekdays so that isn't viable. It's a lot of effort. All in all I think this one took about 7 hours from start till I got it off to the courier. 7 hours of my time. And I only charge £15 for shipping. The guy who got this speaker didn't even bother to leave feedback.
So what do we make of it all? People buy things off ebay and it's dead easy. A few clicks and it's done. They get vexed and anxious when the thing doesn't arrive the next day. What could the hold-up be? Well it might be something as simple as not having enough cardboard to box the thing up. Check the weather - it has been chucking it down for two weeks. Dry cardboard - no chance. Am I the big boss of a multinational conglomerate with a few thousand minions below me who I can instruct to get-on with the job? No, that's not me. I'm just an ordinary guy, with a family, and a job where I work long hours through the week and might get a chance to pack-up your speaker on the weekend. But won't be able to ship it until the courier is open for business the following week. So it could take some time. But at least the thing will arrive in good shape. So be patient and you will get the thing you ordered. Because there is no point rushing something off wrapped in newspaper and having it arrive smashed. A little thought please, before leaving feedback.
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