Some eBay sellers drop ship, but for the rest the processes of packing and shipping are an everyday reality. Detailed below are the most common packing materials and their uses.
Where to Buy
If you ship even a moderate amount you should invest in less expensive bulk quantities of these materials, since their retail prices at office supply stores, home improvement stores, or retail shipping counters are often many times the price you'd pay at specialty shipping stores like Uline, Shipping Supply, or Browncor. eBay and Amazon.com also tend to stock bulk quantities of these materials at shipper-friendly prices.
Shipping boxes come in all shapes and sizes. The most common boxes are brown, but some carriers—most notably the United States Postal Service—also make white boxes available to shippers, usually for flat-rate shipping services. When selecting boxes, pay attention to the burst strength and edge crush ratings in pounds on the bottom of the box. In particular, when shipping heavy items, always use boxes with a burst strength rating higher than the weight of the contents you're shipping
Packing peanuts are a staple for shippers everywhere, and are the classic box-filler. Use them to take up space and fill the box to the point that your item can no longer shift within it once it's closed. If you're a regular shipper you should be sure to get peanuts from a shipping supplier, rather than paying the astronomical prices charged by office supply stores and local shipping counters. There are several kinds of peanuts; the 'S'-shaped ones are made of polystyrene and are not recyclable, while tube-shaped peanuts are generally made of startch and are recyclable and biodegradable. Pink peanuts have anti-static properties, making them appropriate for electronic goods, while white and green peanuts do not.
Like packing peanuts, bubble wrap is horribly overpriced at most retail outlets. Buy bubble wrap, which tends to come in varying roll sizes and with large and small bubble versions, from a shipping supplier in much larger rolls for less money Use bubble wrap as a covering for fragile items before packing them in peanuts, as well as as a separator for items that are nested or stacked.
Packing or shipping tape comes in 2-inch-wide rolls, in several different materials and thicknesses. Avoid all of the "heavy duty" varieties that aren't made from brown paper; they adhere poorly and don't conform easily to box contours. Instead, get the thinner, cheaper variety for plastic tape, which sticks to cardboard far more securely and stretches nicely across gaps or around corners. Alternatively go with brown paper tape for a fully recyclable option.
Padded envelopes are ideal for items that aren't large enough, heavy enough, or valuable enough to demand the protection of a box. Items packed in padded envelopes can often be sent with simple first class postage, saving a bundle on shipping. Envelopes come in a variety of sizes with either paper (cheaper) or plastic (for water protection) exteriors and either paper (recyclable) or plastic bubble-wrap (for maximum protection) interiors. Most have self-adhesive folding flaps to seal them.
Stretch wrap is just like the cling wrap that you use in your kitchen to keep food fresh in the refrigerator, only it isn't. Yes, you can use the grocery store stuff in a pinch, but it's much more expensive and self-adheres much less well than the industrial stuff designed for shipping, which also comes on much larger rolls. Use it to protect anything that needs to stay dry and dust free, as well as to keep "clumps" or "assortments" of related-but-irregularly-shaped items together in a nice, tight bundle. Stretch it tight and wrap around your item(s) several times and in multiple directions, and finish with a loop of packing tape to hold it all in place.
Available in various shapes and sizes, these bags come in bulk packs and are essential for selling electronics and electronics parts in many instances, since they protect against static charges and blips of the sort that can easily occur as boxes slide around truckbeds—and that can do significant damage to gadgets and parts of all kinds. Pair with anti-static packing peanuts (above) for maximum protection.
Sheet Foam, Eggcrate Foam, and Other Foam(s)
There are so many different kinds of foam it's hard to describe them in a way that will encapsulate them all, apart from saying that they're all used in packing and shipping and that they all tend to be more readily (and cheaply) available than many beginning sellers imagine. Thin sheet foam is probably the most popular variety and tends to come in rolls or as a box of foam pouches. Thin sheet foam is great for protecting fragile items without the bulk of bubble wrap, or for sliding in between screens and keyboards when selling laptops or similar devices. Eggcrate foam is also immensely popular and is useful for protecting much more fragile and critical items in cases where peanut foam and bubble wrap just don't provide peae of mind.
Packing paper comes in a variety of forms, thicknesses, and qualities and is used for everything from making custom shipping "boxes" in the case of corrugated paper to protecting fine china in the case of tissue paper. Surprisingly useful, heavyweight brown roll paper is probably the most commonly used form of packing paper, and is often included as box filler for very large, irregular items of relatively low value for which piles and piles of peanut foam would be an expensive luxury. Don't make the mistake of using it to "wrap" shipping boxes, though—aside from being both expensive and time consuming, this practice makes your shipment more likely to go astray, as outer paper catches, rips, and disappears—along with labels.