22 June 2024, 01:59
By Jake Rheude Jan 07, 2021

How to cut furniture shipping costs

Shipping furniture is tricky. You normally have to contend with large sizes and heavy weights, which means it won’t be cheap – while many items are fragile and require specialised packaging techniques and materials. However, even with shipping costs going through the roof and online orders on the rise, there are ways to cut costs, writes Jake Rheude …

Package carefully

The first place to start is by eliminating costly damages during the shipping process. You know how expensive it was to ship to the customer – if it arrives damaged, you’ll have to pay just as much to have it sent back and replaced. 

Unless the number of damaged packages shipped out of your warehouse is near zero, it’s probably worth auditing your packaging and infill design. There are many ways to safely ship fragile items. Using double-corrugated cardboard boxes and/or double boxing are two of the most common ways to protect the exterior of your packaging. 

On the inside, air pockets that prevent items from shifting or the box from being crushed are a good first step to take. For especially high-value furniture, it is advisable to deploy moulded infill made from cardboard, plastic, or styrofoam to snugly fit around the most delicate components that you ship.

Lower your DIM weight

If you ship a wide variety of furniture, you might sell products like lamps or chairs that take up a relatively large amount of space yet weigh relatively little. In this case, shipping costs for these items might be calculated by DIM weight instead of actual weight. 

DIM weight, or dimensional weight, is a formula that shipping companies use to determine the cost for shipping an item based on the dimensions it takes up. The larger the volume, the more expensive it will be to ship. When you ship products, both the actual weight and dimensional weight are calculated, and you get charged whichever is higher – so, for light, large products that are being calculated using dimensional weight, decreasing the size of the packaging can save you a pretty penny. 

Considering how much waste is generated by ecommerce packaging, reducing the size of your packaging not only lowers your shipping costs, it also gives you more branding cachet with the growing segment of consumers that care about reducing carbon footprint. 

Specialised packaging machinery and software offer the potential to optimise your packaging for size, albeit with a high upfront cost. If you produce a relatively standard range of furniture sizes, it’s worth consulting with a packaging design company to create a line of efficiently sized boxes. 

Speaking of efficient sizing, flatpacking takes the question of reducing size to its logical extreme. In the shipping business, bigger is not better, and assembled furniture is about as big as it gets. Even if the entire piece can’t be disassembled, there may be parts of it that can be, like the legs of a table. As long as these are easy to reattach by the customer, this is the perfect way to instantly shrink the size of your box and even make it more secure. 

The downside is that this requires a certain degree of engineering specialisation to segment pieces into the optimal configuration for shipping – not to mention that it potentially delegates assembly to customers, which is a non-negotiable “no” for many furniture companies.

Outsourcing to 3PLs for zone skipping and volume discounts

The final method for lowering the cost of shipping is a technique that is commonplace across many different industries – zone skipping. This practice involves moving products closer to their final destination, lowering the cost of shipping as a result of putting as much inventory as possible as close to as many of your customers as possible. 

If your furniture company exports to countries in the EU as well as Canada and the US, shipping every order from your factory in the UK will cost a lot more simply because of how much further each parcel has to travel. 

It’s relatively straightforward to set up agreements with a third-party logistics (3PL) warehouse in each one of those markets, whereby you send a container’s worth of inventory to them and they handle the fulfilment of orders for you. Not only does having your inventory closer shave off precious distance on each individual order, if you work with a 3PL you will find that the cost of shipping will be lower because they qualify for high-volume shipping discounts from major carriers such as UPS, DHL, and FedEx. 

Especially if you ship furniture outside the UK, partnering with a company that has expertise in foreign markets can help you navigate customs agreements, import tariffs and other complexities related to international shipping. 

Doing nothing is the easiest option, but not the best one. You might read this and decide that it’s too much work to hire a packaging consultancy, let alone partner with a 3PL abroad to store your furniture closer to customers in foreign markets. It’s not an easy decision to make! Cutting your shipping costs is one of those rare opportunities to improve your margins without having to sacrifice quality. What is that worth to you?

Jake Rheude is the director of marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, an ecommerce fulfillment warehouse that was born out of ecommerce. He has years of experience in ecommerce and business development.

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