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Polybags vs. Boxes for Shipping

The fairly recent rise of eCommerce as a viable alternative to in-store shopping has created a wealth of new opportunities, but running an online storefront also creates some unique challenges. Figuring out how to safely and affordably ship all of those goods to your customers is just one of them, but it’s arguably one of the most important. It doesn’t matter whether you take care of order fulfillment in-house or work with a third-party logistics company (3PL). If you’re still using nothing but cardboard boxes to ship products, the chances are good that it’s taking a hidden toll on the company’s budget.

Cardboard boxes are fantastic for shipping larger products, but they create unnecessary waste when used to ship smaller items. Shipping small products safely in cardboard boxes often requires extra packing materials to fill in the empty space so the items don’t get broken in transit, which creates an extra expense and a lot of unnecessary waste. If you’re already familiar with this problem, it’s time to consider adding polybags to the company’s shipping lineup.

What Are Polybags?

Polybags, also known as poly mailers, are used extensively by experts in eCommerce shipping. These lightweight yet sturdy plastic bags come in multiple sizes and styles, making it easy to find the right one to fit your shipping needs.

Types of Polybags

If you want to use polybags to ship items, it’s important to learn about the different types available. Each type of poly mailer is designed to fulfill a specific purpose and set of applications, so choosing the right one is the key to optimizing your packaging and shipping expenses. The most common types of polybags are:

Lay-Flat Polybags

Lay-flat polybags are available in many sizes and thicknesses. They feature a single opening that can be sealed using tape, ties, staples, or heat, depending on the material. Thicknesses range from 1 mil to 6 mils or higher.

Bubble-Lined Polybags

Bubble-lined polybags are designed for small items that need a little extra protection during shipping and handling. They combine a plastic outer shell with an inner lining of bubble wrap to create a ready-to-mail packaging solution.

Resealable Polybags

Resealable polybags can be either lay-flat or bubble-lined. Both options can be opened and resealed, making it easier and more affordable to facilitate returns when necessary.

Anti-Static Polybags

As the name implies, anti-static polybags are resistant to static, making them ideal for shipping sensitive electronic equipment.

Polypropylene Polybags

Most poly mailers are opaque, with polypropylene polybags being the exception. They are made from high-clarity, fully transparent plastic and can be used to showcase items being shipped, usually perishable foods, while simultaneously keeping them safe from moisture.

Expansion Polybags

Expansion polybags are made from heavy-duty polyethylene. They’re designed primarily to protect goods from moisture but are also puncture, tamper, and tear-resistant. The padded bottoms in expansion polybags also allow them to be used to ship thicker items.

Polybags vs. Cardboard Boxes: How to Choose

Now that you know what types of polybags are available, it’s time to address a second essential question: how to choose between polybags and cardboard boxes. When choosing a packaging solution, consider the following factors.

Product Size

Like cardboard boxes, polybags come in different shapes and sizes. However, they’re only suitable for shipping smaller goods, unlike cardboard boxes. Large items always need to be shipped in boxes.

Customization Requirements

There’s only so much one can do to customize the size and shape of a cardboard box. With poly mailers, you can order custom bags that match a product’s dimensions precisely, further reducing the need for extra packaging.

Branding Needs

Polybags are very easy to customize. Your company can order full runs of customized poly mailers that feature the brand name, logo, and colors, creating new opportunities to foster brand recognition and loyalty.

Are Polybags Cheaper than Boxes?

There’s a good reason that many eCommerce business owners use polybags instead of cardboard boxes, and it’s that they are lightweight and cost less to mail. In many cases, poly mailers are smaller than boxes, which can make a difference if the shipping company charges based on how much room packages take up in the trucks.

Company Image

Today’s consumers are very conscious of the impact their shopping choices have on the environment, so it’s common for companies to adopt green practices to bolster their images. Of course, plenty of business owners genuinely want to create less of an ecological impact. Either way, polybags are often made from recyclable and/or biodegradable materials, making them an eco-friendly option.

Items Commonly Shipped in Boxes vs. Polybags

Still unsure whether polybags will be a good fit for your eCommerce business? Generally, you should never use them to ship fragile items that could be crushed unless they are already in sturdy packages. For those, stick with cardboard boxes. If an item will be OK if something heavy gets placed on top of it, it’s usually fine to use a poly mailer. Common examples of items shipped in polybags include:

Books and Printed Media

Books and other printed media can always be mailed in polybags. If you’re worried about rips or dents, go for a bubble-lined polybag. Otherwise, a lay-flat poly mailer will do.

Cloth and Fabric-Based Products

Any item made of cloth or fabric will be a good candidate for shipping via polybag. This category of products includes things like yarn, face masks, bedding, sheet sets, fabric swaths, and most apparel.

Items Already in Sturdy Packaging

Small items that already come in sturdy packaging can usually be mailed using polybags. Examples include smaller board games, packaged cosmetics, vitamins and supplements, and some kinds of electronic accessories.

The Easiest Way to Choose a Shipping Solution

The easiest way to choose between cardboard boxes and polybags is to entrust this decision to a reputable and experienced third-party logistics company (3PL). We have enough experience working with eCommerce merchants to know that there’s no one right solution for every shipping scenario. Instead, we’ll choose the perfect packaging for each item based on your company’s needs.

Andrew Kirk

I am an experienced logistics and supply chain executive with over 15 years in the global end-to-end logistics field, including retail, direct sales, and B2B. I leverage strong relationship skills, a team-oriented management style, and a focus on talent development to drive results and lead change for our internal team and clients alike.