Something I Just Don’t Get About Shipping

Last week I saw that Yankee Candle was having a 2-for-$20 sale on their 2008 jar candles (normally over $20 each) so I ordered a few.  When they arrived, they were packaged like this:

Yankee Candle Packing

It has slots for six candles when I only ordered two!  Two thirds of that box is completely empty.

You’re telling me that they don’t have a box for two or four candles?  Six is their smallest for anything more than one (that’s assuming they have a box for one, which might be a bit presumptuous on my part).  Does this make any sense to anyone?

To the best of my knowledge, all shipping companies charge based on weight, volume, and destination.  At least that’s how FedEx does it for us. Why would you want to increase your volume by 200% when it’s not necessary? Compared to a company like us that has ~120 different dimensions for our products, I’d imagine that candles are pretty standard and therefore it wouldn’t be too hard to pick boxes for common sized orders.  It would seem obvious to have boxes for one, two, four, and eight candles.

And this isn’t just Yankee Candle.  We’ve noticed that one of our main competitors only has a handful of box sizes as well.  A local e-commerce company that George worked for in college does the same thing.

Obviously we do the exact opposite.  We carry something like thirty different box sizes, using our box size system to correctly pick the box that will provide the most snug fit for each order.   We figure that this drastically minimizes both our total volume shipped and the amount of packing peanuts used as space filler.  Less packing means we can pack the packages faster.  It also seems pretty obvious that a tightly packed box protects the items better than a box that’s 75% packing peanuts.   The only real potential downside is box cost: some of our boxes cost a few cents more than others, and by diversifying we are slower to hit higher discount tiers.  To us though, those few cents per box are easily saved in packing material and shipping costs, not to mention that – on a grander scale – it just seems wasteful to ship a box that’s 2/3 empty.

Anyway, I can only come up with a few theories for this inexplicable phenomenon:

  1. Companies are completely lazy and never thought about it.
  2. Companies are striking flat-rate per-package deals with their shippers and it doesn’t matter how big their boxes are.
  3. Companies are getting their standardized boxes and packing material at extreme discounts from their suppliers, so much so that it’s cheaper to buy a few standard boxes for less and stuff them with extra packing material, even if the shipping costs are higher.
  4. A combination of 2 and 3, which is the most logical but also seems unlikely.


6 comments on Something I Just Don’t Get About Shipping

  1. Dave says:

    Great post!

    I know that the shipping companies ship based on volume, but I believe it’s also calculated on a volume tier. So if you have a 1lb box that’s 1x1x1, and costs $9 to ship…you could also have a 1lb box that’s 4x4x4, and still $9 to ship. Maybe their box fits into that same tier, regardless of the weight? It’s very possible that they did that with negotiations…though, I would think that using more packing material would outweigh the cost of a couple more cents to carry a 1-3 candle box.

    I think I remember reading in an older post that you closely scrutinized Newegg’s logistic process…I’ve seen the article on Anandtech, and they have a machine that automatically feeds boxes and tapes them. I wonder how they deal with different size boxes, because something on that scale must literally need tons of sizes.

  2. Adam Holland says:

    Coincidentally, my wife works for Yankee Candle. He’s her explanation…

    If you ordered it online, then that box would’ve come from the factory in Deerfield, MA.

    That kind of box with the interior egg-carton is just how they store the candles there. The “carton” is proprietary and is only made in that size… but shipping it like that ensures a safe delivery.

    Associates could cut the carton and use smaller boxes for smaller orders, but they’d rather just pay the difference in shipping.

    And, in my personal opinion, that shit is marked up so much anyways – they probably just eat the difference in cost of shipping, instead of creating new packaging solutions.

  3. Adam McFarland says:

    @Dave – good point about the tiers. That very well could be the case. Newegg is definitely one of those super-efficient companies that we try to model ourselves after so it would be cool to see how they handle it. I would be interested in seeing that video if you have a link handy. Like you said, I’d imagine they would have to have a ton of boxes to accommodate all of the thousands of different products they ship.

    @Adam H – freaking awesome. I love it when I get an answer to a question I never thought I’d get answered 🙂

  4. Dave says:

    This is the article, not sure where I saw the video:

  5. Adam McFarland says:

    Wow, fascinating stuff Dave. Thanks for sharing. Tons of awesome ideas. I also found another article on the same site with more pics and info

  6. […] They’re actually saving space as opposed to completely wasting it, ahem Yankee Candle.  Imagine how much warehouse space that saves them?  How many more they can fit on a truck when […]

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