Shipfusion Blog

What is Dunnage and How Can It Improve Shipping Efficiency and Reduce Costs?

All ecommerce businesses want their customers to receive their products in perfect condition. A smooth shipping process is essential to achieving this. It is important to use the right padding material, or “dunnage,” to safeguard the goods during transit.

But what exactly is dunnage? It’s the material that pads and protects goods when they’re shipped. It can be anything from bubble wrap and packing peanuts to rigid plastics and steel. Whatever the type, its job is to cushion items, keep them from moving, and prevent damage.

Not all products need dunnage when they’re shipped. Sturdy items that resist damage, such as rugs or tough plastic containers, may not need it. Additionally, if the product’s packaging material is a good fit, it won’t allow much movement. This creates less need for extra dunnage, which can cut costs.

Thinking carefully about how packaging design affects your shipping strategy can also reduce the need for dunnage. When selecting product packaging, consider the shipping method and how the customer will receive it. Product packaging is a part of the shipping process that should not be overlooked.

Always choose boxes or envelopes that fit the product size. Add molded inserts, dividers, or other protective elements for a tailored fit. This will lower shipping costs and create a positive unboxing experience for the customer. The goal should be to have a packaging solution that protects products, is cost-efficient, and represents your brand.

For most items, however, some dunnage is often needed. This guide will cover the benefits of using dunnage, introduce the different types, and offer some tips on reducing costs.

The Benefits of Using Dunnage

Dunnage is essential to preventing damage or breakage to your products during transit. If you’re shipping a delicate porcelain teapot, the newest release hardcover novel, or the summer’s trendiest sunglasses, you want to ensure your customer receives the product with no chips, bends, or cracks. Using the correct type of dunnage helps prevent all of that damage. 

Dunnage is used to secure products inside their packaging as they travel from the warehouse to the customer. Packages may travel alongside other cargo, be handled by different people, and board multiple vehicles. Choosing the right-sized box or bag and the appropriate dunnage for optimal protection is essential to preventing damage.

Here are some of the benefits of using dunnage in your ecommerce business’ shipping strategy:

Protection against damage

Dunnage can safeguard packages from harm while they are transported across different vehicles and sorting facilities. Using the right kind can keep your products in place during transport. Preventing movement protects your items from any sliding, dropping, squishing, or colliding, which can cause damage. It also absorbs shocks and vibrations, providing extra protection for your products.

Using the right-sized packaging for your products is just as important. Shipping an item in an oversized box will incur extra costs. These costs include the extra weight, size of the box, and extra cushioning needed to ensure the same level of protection.

Protection against moisture

Products shipped may encounter moisture in various forms. Rain or snow might occur during loading and unloading, or humidity may be present inside a vehicle. Shippers can protect valuable equipment such as electronics from moisture damage by choosing dunnage that blocks or absorbs moisture.

Stacking Support

In larger cargo shipments, dunnage can provide support and separate layers of products. This makes it safer to stack boxes without damaging the items inside.

Temperature Control

Certain types of dunnage, like insulated cold packs or thermal bubble wrap, can help maintain the temperature of products during shipping. This is especially useful for items that need to be kept at a specific temperature, like food or certain medical supplies.

Improved Customer Satisfaction

Customers receiving their products undamaged and in perfect condition improves overall customer satisfaction and encourages repeat purchases.

Enhanced Unboxing Experience

Unique, custom dunnage can create a memorable unboxing experience. This level of detail in packaging can reinforce brand image and encourage customer loyalty. For example, using biodegradable padding sends a positive message about the company’s commitment to sustainability, which eco-conscious consumers can appreciate.

In a crowded ecommerce landscape, personalized dunnage can be a notable factor that makes a brand stand out.

Types of Dunnage

There are many different types of dunnage materials available for ecommerce businesses. Below are the most common types of dunnage used for ecommerce shipping:

Bubble wrap dunnage for ecommerce

Bubble Wrap: Bubble wrap is lightweight, flexible, and versatile, making it a popular choice for ecommerce businesses. It is often combined with other types of dunnage, like kraft paper, to provide additional security for delicate items. Bubble wrap is also reusable – if one resists the temptation to pop each bubble!

Packing peanuts dunnage for ecommerce

Packing Peanuts: Packing peanuts are small, lightweight, and often unevenly shaped pieces of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam. Packing peanuts are cost-effective and light, but they are not usually preferred. They provide less protection, are messy, and they have a more negative environmental impact compared to other options.

Kraft paper dunnage for ecommerce

Kraft Paper: Kraft paper, or craft paper, is recycled paper crinkled and stuffed in a package. Kraft paper is popular for being cost-effective, eco-friendly, reusable, and versatile. Commonly used to wrap individual items, it can also be used for void fill.

Tissue paper dunnage for ecommerce

Tissue Paper: Tissue paper is a light, smooth paper used for wrapping and cushioning items. It is often favored for its aesthetic appeal. Its lightweight nature adds minimal weight to the overall package, making it a cost-effective choice. Tissue paper can be customized to suit a brand’s image and enhance the unboxing experience.

Air pillow dunnage for ecommerce

Air Pillows: Air pillows are lightweight, flexible air-filled cushions that provide excellent shock absorption and void-fill capabilities. Air pillows add virtually no weight to the package being shipped, making it a cost-effective way to secure most products. Air pillows are often the preferred choice for many ecommerce businesses. They are ideal for shipping most products and can be contorted to fit around irregularly shaped items.

Corrugated paper dunnage for ecommerce

Corrugated Paper: Corrugated paper is made from recycled materials and constructed with multiple layers. This high tech construction results in a sturdy and flexible dunnage option that offers impressive structural support and protection. 

Corrugated paper can absorb a certain amount of water before it reaches the enclosed product, helping to prevent moisture damage. It can also create dividers inside the packaging to prevent items from colliding. Corrugated inserts have open flutes that allow for air circulation.

Foam dunnage for ecommerce

Foam: Foam is lightweight and offers substantial energy absorption capabilities. Foam dunnage comes in different shapes, strengths, and levels of rigidity. Depending on what you need to protect your product, options can range from flexible foam wrapping to a sturdier styrofoam casing.

Molded pulp inserts dunnage for ecommerce

Molded Pulp Inserts: Molded pulp inserts are made from recycled paper pulp and are formed to fit around specific items. This dunnage type provides a high level of protection for products with irregular shapes or fragile components. The inserts snugly encase the product, minimizing movement and providing excellent shock absorption. 

Molded pulp inserts are a sustainable, recyclable, and eco-friendly packaging choice. Due to their custom fit, these inserts efficiently use space, reducing the need for additional void fill.

Plastic dunnage for ecommerce shipping

Solid Plastics: Solid plastics are primarily used for high-value industrial shipping. Though costly, solid plastics offer many benefits. These include robust protection, durability, reusability, static-free properties, and protection against dust and moisture. Solid plastics are also durable and reusable, making them an eco-friendly option for green-conscious businesses.

Wooden dunnage for ecommerce

Wood: Wood is often used to create barriers between heavy items and provide a stable foundation for palletized goods. It helps distribute weight evenly, preventing items from shifting or falling off pallets.

Steel dunnage for shipping

Steel: Steel is costly but effective for heavy products and high value shipping. It’s durable and long-lasting, making it an excellent reusable investment for businesses frequently shipping heavy items. Like wood, steel dunnage is often used to create a sturdy foundation for palletized goods, preventing shifting or damage during transportation. A stable foundation helps distribute the weight of products evenly and ensures the safe handling of goods.

Custom Dunnage Solutions

In the case of shipping fragile items with unique or specific dimensions, creating custom dunnage might be a needed option. Providers can help design and build the dunnage required for these products. Creating custom dunnage also presents a unique branding opportunity for businesses that offer products like subscription boxes. It’s a unique way to add a personal branded touch to packaging.

How To Store Dunnage

When thinking about using dunnage in ecommerce warehousing and logistics, one must consider how to store it properly. A dunnage rack is a storage system that keeps dunnage organized and easily accessible. Dunnage racks can be made of various materials, including steel, plastic, or wire. They can be configured to fit any warehouse or fulfillment center. 

A dunnage rack has multiple benefits. It keeps dunnage tidy and organized. It also protects it from damage, which extends the dunnage’s lifespan. 

Organizing a dunnage rack according to material or purpose helps businesses become more efficient. This saves time when looking for and retrieving the necessary dunnage type.

How to Reduce Dunnage Costs

It can be easy to overlook the cost of packing material when planning an ecommerce shipping strategy. However, these costs can quickly add up. Here are some ways you can reduce dunnage costs for your ecommerce business.

Don’t compromise protection for lower cost: 

Cost efficiency is vital in business. However, when it comes to dunnage, it is essential not to sacrifice product protection for lower costs. The primary purpose of dunnage is to ensure that your products reach customers in excellent condition, minimizing damage during transit. 

Protection being compromised to save on costs can lead to an increase in damaged goods. This can result in refunds, replacements, or lost sales. It can cost ecommerce businesses up to 17x the original cost of shipping a product to replace it.

Frequently shipping damaged goods can result in a long-term financial loss that far outweighs the initial savings on dunnage. Striking a balance between cost efficiency and sufficient product protection is essential for maintaining customer satisfaction and overall business success.

Consider dunnage weight:

Dunnage materials add extra weight to your packages, often increasing shipping costs. Consider this when calculating the cost of different dunnage materials, especially when shipping lightweight products. For example, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to use heavy solid plastic dunnage to protect a pair of sunglasses!

Be mindful of the size: 

Shipping small items in oversized boxes not can increase your ecommerce shipping expenses. This is due to added weight and the need to use more dunnage to fill the space. To avoid this, select packaging that matches the size of your products. It can be useful to maintain an inventory of varying package sizes to accommodate different products effectively.

Consider partnering with an ecommerce fulfillment service:

Dunnage is vital in ensuring your products reach your customers safely and in perfect condition. However, finding the right type and quantity for your specific needs can be challenging and time-consuming. Since the type of dunnage used has the potential to impact all aspects of ecommerce fulfillment – from product damage and returns all the way to the unboxing experience – it’s important to make the right choice. A third-party logistics (3PL) partner can handle specialized and other types of subscription box fulfillment for you, including choosing the best type of dunnage.

At Shipfusion, we specialize in providing comprehensive logistics solutions, including sourcing the ideal dunnage for your unique product line. Our dedicated account managers understand dunnage and will work with you to figure out the best option for your business.

If you’re ready to learn more about finding a solution that optimizes your order fulfillment, book an appointment to speak with a Shipfusion fulfillment specialist today.