How To Get Free Shipping Supplies + 10 Packaging Hacks
“Free” stuff is great, but things are seldom truly free. Most often, in business, companies offer free goods or services as a way to entice customers to pay for other things. As someone who delivers products to your own customers, you may offer free shipping to them (you pay the cost) as an incentive for them to purchase from you — and keep coming back.
By the same token, shippers themselves offer free stuff to individuals and businesses who use their services. Boxes, stickers, packing material, envelopes, and labels are among the free shipping supplies companies might provide to you when you use their service.
And it’s likely to do so, because shipping can cost a lot of money. According to one survey, more than one-quarter (26%) of a business’s overall budget for materials handling is spent on packaging and the materials used in packing shipments.
In that survey, a company worth less than $20 million was likely to spend just under $100,000 on shipping materials per year, and a $1 billion company is likely to spend nearly $10 million, so free shipping supplies can make a big difference.
4 Shipping Carriers that Offer Free Supplies
Free shipping supplies can help reduce costs and give small businesses a way to pass the savings on to their customers — potentially by offering free shipping themselves as a means to attract and retain those customers.
Of the companies that offer free shipping supplies, the most prominent are the United States Postal Services (USPS), FedEx, United Parcel Service (UPS), and DHL — which are the initials of that company’s founders, Dalsey, Hillblom, and Lynn, in case you’re wondering.
Most often, free supplies provided by one carrier may only be used when shipping with that carrier, not with competitors.
If you’ve been to your local post office recently, you’ve probably seen some of the packaging materials USPS has to offer. You can go right in and grab things like free flat rate boxes and Priority Mail envelopes from a display there and walk out without even having to speak to a U.S. Postal Service employee.
You can also order supplies online. If you click on “Free Shipping Supplies” on the USPS website, you’ll see there are 71 products to choose from.
Free USPS shipping supplies include:
- Priority Mail boxes in a variety of sizes, such as 8 11/16” x 5 7/16” x 1 ¾” and 11 1/16” x 2 ½” x 13 1/16”.
- Triangular tubes for things like rolled-up maps and posters.
- Padded Priority Mail envelopes sized 12½” x 9½” or for legal-size documents.
- Mailing labels, tracking labels, and insurance receipts.
- Registered Mail Envelopes.
Note that Priority Mail packaging can only be used for Priority Mail; Priority Mail Express packaging can only be used for Priority Mail Express, etc.
USPS also has low-cost shipping service options such as media mail.
FedEx offers free packaging in a variety of shapes and sizes. Free FedEx supplies include:
- FedEx 9½” x 12½” (internal size) envelopes that hold up to 60 unfolded papers.
- FedEx Paks of tear- and water-resistant packages measuring 12” x 15” for larger documents and compact items.
- FedEx Padded Paks measuring roughly 12” x 15”.
- FedEx Boxes (flat rectangular)
- Small: Designed for catalogs, file folders, CDs, and videotapes; weight limit 9 kg (20 pounds).
- Medium: For books, binders, and large documents; weight limit 9 kg (20 pounds).
- Large: Made for machine parts, computer printouts, large sheaves of paper; weight limit: 13 kg (about 28.6 pounds).
- FedEx Tubes are thin, triangular tubes that are slightly over 3 feet long, suitable for rolled items like maps and posters
- Shipping labels
UPS provides a variety of free supplies, including the following:
- Express Envelopes in packages/increments of 25 in legal and standard size, as well as reusable envelopes in the same sizes.
- Shipping forms and labels
- Supplies for shipping hazardous materials (hazmat) like pouches and shipping paper
DHL has a large global network and is a leading choice for international shipping. While some shipping supplies are free, payment is required for others. Free supplies include:
- Envelopes, minimum order 25, measuring 350 mm x 275 mm (13.7” x 10.8”)
- Standard and large flyers, minimum order 25
- Express Easy Boxes
- Box 1: weight limit 0.5 kg, 350 mm x 275 mm x 10 mm
- Box 2: weight limit 1 kg, 337 mm x 182 mm x 100 mm
- Box 3: weight limit 2 kg, 336 mm x 320 mm x 52 mm
- Box 4: weight limit 5 kg, 337 mm x 322 mm x 180 mm
- Box 5: weight limit 10 kg, 337 mm x 322 mm x 345 mm
Other Options for Cheap Shipping Supplies
In addition to companies that give away shipping supplies to promote their products, there are others that give them away just because they don’t need them.
If you’ve ever found yourself facing a move and needing a way to pack a lot of things quickly, you might have explored this option. Buying shipping boxes at Walmart or UHaul can be expensive, but supermarkets often have boxes they don’t need anymore. They receive shipments, unload the boxes, and then have no further use for them.
But you might. Of course, you’ll want boxes that aren’t damaged or soiled, and are the right size for what you plan to ship, and you must also be willing to use boxes that don’t carry your brand (but may well carry someone else’s).
Boxes are often just left out behind the building in loading bays, but it’s better to ask the store manager whether any good ones are available they’d be willing to let you have. You can also ask about clean paper bags they’re not planning to use, which you can use as packaging materials rather than buying styrofoam peanuts or bubble wrap.
If supplies have been used once and they’re still in good shape, why not reuse them? That’s the rationale behind FreeCycle, another good source for supplies that taps into your ability to network.
FreeCycle is a community forum where members post to let others know they have things they’re not using that can be recycled for free (hence the name FreeCycle). Those things can include moving materials they didn’t end up using when they moved.
The site’s environmental focus distinguishes it from Craigslist. You’re more likely to find recyclable materials like boxes there, and it’s generally a safer way to make contact with those who might have them than it is through Craigslist.
Furniture stores can be a great source for packing materials like bubble wrap and brown paper, which are commonly used to keep furniture pieces from being scuffed or scratched in transit. As with grocery stores, you might find some of this material out back by the loading or dumpster area. Check with managers to find out what they have available.
10 Creative Packaging Hacks
There are plenty of ways to cut corners on packaging costs without hurting your brand — and if you’re creative, you can even enhance it. How you pack what goes inside your packages is also important, and you can save there, too.
1. Use washi tape
Washi tape is a decorative adhesive tape that can be used to dress up packages. In addition to looking good, it can increase your customers’ trust that packages haven’t been tampered with.
2. Adapt treat bags
Treat bags are small, inexpensive bags you can buy in bulk on Amazon, Uline, or from other sites like Oriental Trading. They can be made from clear cellophane, wax paper, or other material. The foldable kind are great because you can dress them up easily by using a clothespin to attach a thank-you note or business card.
3. Add branded stickers
There are endless ways to use stickers. Add “freebie” stickers to orders to show your customers appreciation or place them on your boxes to give them a personalized touch.
4. Design custom rubber stamps
Eliminate the cost of custom printing by creating branded rubber stamps that can be used on boxes, thank-you notes, and other packaging.
5. Use colorful poly mailers
Poly mailers are lightweight envelopes that make shipping clothes and small items simple and cost-effective. Remember, the weight of the packaging is incorporated in your total shipping cost if you’re not shipping flat rate. Choose brightly colored or patterned poly mailers to stand out from the rest of the mail.
6. Emboss your logo
Embossers add texture and depth. They’re great if you create your own packaging and want a minimalistic look. For example, emboss your logo on the top of a jewelry card or thank you note.
7. Use cardboard and twine
Dress up brown cardboard boxes with colorful twine. Experiment with different ways to tie it. For example, layer multiple colors around your box for a gradient or rainbow effect.
8. Try a corner rounder
Small details make a big impact. Soften the corners of your cards or packaging with a corner rounder punch that will get rid of harsh edges.
9. Use a die-cut machine
Cricuts and Silhouettes are a popular option not just for packaging, but also for customizing your products. You can make your own stickers using the print then cut feature, or create your own uniquely shaped boxes.
10. Stuff your packages with color
What sets your small business apart is exactly that — you’re small. Let your customers know how much you appreciate them with a handwritten note. If you’ve corresponded with them prior to the purchase or they’re a repeat customer, add additional personalization.
If you’re looking for free or low-cost shipping materials, you’ve got a number of options, whether you’re shipping something the size of a suitcase or shoe box.
Free shipping boxes are available from many sources at retail locations locally or online. Large companies like FedEx, UPS, and DHL are vying with the USPS for your business, but don’t forget online sites that can provide you with discounts and smaller local companies that may give you good options, too.
When it comes to meeting your shipping needs, do your research and come up with the solution that’s likely to save you the most money and provide the best service, both for you and your customers.