7 Ways to Get Free Shipping Supplies for an eBay Business

eBay shipping supplies
Free shipping supplies are closer than you think. Getty Images

An eBay business comes with all sorts of expenses including listing fees, final value fees, Paypal fees, labels, printer ink, packaging materials, and of course, shipping supplies. Successful business people are always looking at the bottom line and analyzing expenses to create a larger profit margin. There are quite a few creative ways to get free shipping supplies and cut expenses on a regular basis.

USPS Priority Supplies are Free

When shipping USPS Priority Mail, supplies are free. You may only use these supplies for Priority Mail – not for first class, parcel select, media mail, or international shipping. The post office strictly forbids turning the materials inside out to use for other classes of mail. You may think this is a clever trick, but turning boxes, Tyvek envelopes, or padded flat rate envelopes inside out is considered misuse of mail supplies and you can be fined. In fact, the following disclaimer is written on each and every type of Priority Mail supplies:

“This packaging is the property of the U.S. Postal Service and is provided solely for use in sending Priority Mail shipments. Misuse may be a violation of federal law. This packaging is not for resale. U.S. Postal Service; July 2013; All rights reserved.”

Regular Priority Supplies (not flat rate or regional) can be altered, telescoped, Frankensteined, or cut down as long as the Priority mail fee is paid when the item is shipped.

If you have an item that doesn’t fit in a priority box, it is ok to make a box in the correct size using priority materials because Priority Mail shipping costs are based on weight and distance. Flat rate and regional rate supplies can only be used as is and cannot be altered in any way, shape, or form because flat rate and regional rate fees are predetermined.

In other words, the post office will refuse a flat rate or regional box that has been altered. Don’t do it.

Check FreeCycle

This is a community forum where the goal is to keep items out of the landfill. FreeCycle’s mission statement reads:

“Our mission is to build a worldwide sharing movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources & eases the burden on our landfills while enabling our members to benefit from the strength of a larger community.”

Members post when they have moving materials left over, have packing materials to share, or for some other reason have an abundance of boxes or packing materials that are in good condition and reusable. Members can also post wanted ads asking for specific items. A great ad for shipping supplies could read:

“Wanted: Boxes, bubble wrap, packing peanuts, or newsprint for home eBay business.”

Freecycle is safer than Craigslist and everything is free – no negotiating needed and no cash changes hands. FreeCyclers are earth-friendly people who want to dispose of items in a responsible way. Nevertheless, always meet your trading partner in a public place and in a well-lighted area. A great meeting place is a police or fire station. Always use good judgment when meeting strangers from the internet.

Ask Local Furniture Stores.

Furniture stores are a goldmine for free packing materials. Large pieces of furniture are usually wrapped in heavy brown Kraft paper or bubble wrap. These pieces can easily be cut down and used for smaller items. Boxes containing lamps, vases, small mirrors, and other small home décor are perfect for shipping. Ask the manager if you can come by on a regular schedule to pick up packing materials. Some managers will refer you back to the dumpster where you can carefully retrieve clean reusable materials on top of the dumpster pile.

Dollar stores have great boxes for media mail, parcel select, first class, and international shipping. The boxes are sturdy and small – perfect for household items, kitchen items, small sporting goods, lots of clothing, or small electronics.

Ask the manager if you can have boxes from the back, or find out when shelves are stocked and drop by the store to pick up boxes at a predetermined time.

Independently Owned Boutiques

Look for boutiques in your area that sell breakable items. Those items are usually shipped from suppliers in boxes and wrapped well in cushioning material to prevent breakage. The boutique owners may gladly give you the bubble wrap, foam sheets, packing peanuts, or air pillows to re-use. Also, you can develop a relationship with the boutique owner. Pay attention to what she sells in her store to get ideas for new product trends and what might sell well on eBay.

The Grocery Store

Another great place for boxes. Also, ask to have your groceries bagged in paper bags as they are perfect for wrapping breakables. Paper bags can be used for wrapping, crumpled up and used for cushioning, or used for dunnage. Brown paper bags are reusable, recyclable, and earth friendly, unlike plastic.

Ask Neighbors, Family, Friends, Co-workers, and People You Do Business With

People are usually glad to help contribute to an entrepreneur’s business and success. People like to help. Let your friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers know what you do. They may have a great source for shipping supplies they can connect you with. For example, my next door neighbor was the advertising manager for a magazine and every month received a shipment of magazines to his home. The boxes were perfect for shipping books. Once my hairdresser learned I sell on eBay, she offered to save boxes and packing materials the salon supplies are shipped in. If people don’t know what you do, they can’t help or contribute.

Pass the Liquor Store

The post office does not allow anything to be shipped in liquor boxes. Liquor boxes are great for moving and storage but aren’t allowed in the mail. According to the USPS,

“Examples of commonly reused boxes include cleaning supply boxes and liquor/wine/beer boxes. Some cleaning products are hazardous materials; although most alcoholic beverages are not hazardous materials, they are prohibited from mailing. Packages containing alcoholic beverages or with alcoholic beverage markings are prohibited in the mail.”

It isn’t always necessary to spend money on boxes or packing materials. Use your ingenuity to think about how to get free supplies. $50 a month not spent on shipping supplies equals $600 a year added to your bottom line.