ATLANTA — Pictures of crunched and battered packages are not what you want to see, especially on your doorstep. When the photos are coupled with a 'fragile' label, that's even more confusing. Are we taking it for granted that labeling a package as 'fragile' can protect it? 

In the height of a busy shipping and return season, we turned to Allen Kim at Edwin Jarvis to verify.

“A lot of times people prefer to use stickers because they are more visible but writing [fragile] does make an effect,” Kim said. But according to Kim, there’s a limit to a label’s effectiveness. For instance, factors like reusing a box could diminish the message.

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“Your expectation of that effectiveness should be lower than if you're using a new box with no labels on it and the word ‘fragile’ really stands out,’ Kim said.  

Despite the packing box and label, Kim said other factors come into play when it comes to keeping your package secure.

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“What it boils down to is whether there's a lot of automation that goes into your package or whether it's hand handled,” Kim said. “Different shippers have different levels of automation,” he explained.  

The VERIFY team checked in with UPS, the United States Postal Service and FedEx to learn more about each carrier’s policy for fragile packages and whether a label serves as an alert for special handling.

According to a spokesperson for UPS, the most important part is how items are packed, “not necessarily how they are labeled.” UPS policy indicates a package should not leave an employee's hands until it's on a surface. The spokesperson said that policy applies to all packages, whether labeled fragile or not.

U.S.P.S statement instructed packages to be marked ‘fragile’ if they can break. The postal service also offers preferential handling for fragile items for an added fee, but that does not insure the item against damage. While a response from FedEx included a list of packing tips but no mention of fragile labels.

So does a fragile label protect your package? According to Kim, yes, to an extent.

Answer:

“Yes they do, but don't expect it to put a magical force field around the package,” Kim explained. “Instead, it's all about the mix of which shipper you use…how much hand handling they do and how well have they trained their staff,” he said.

“There are different levels of fragility,” he said “There's no sticker in the world that will make glass stronger. If you're not sure, that's what professionals are for. Bringing it to a professional is the best course of action.”

Full statement from UPS: 

The most important aspect of any shipment, but certainly those that contain fragile items, is how they are packed – not necessarily how they are labeled. Our package handling methods focus on “hand to surface” handling, meaning that a package should not leave an employee’s hands until it is on a surface. And that handling method and our training that teaches it is the same for a package labeled “fragile “ as it is for one that is not. What is key for any shipment, again, is how it is packed. Consumers can go to ups.com and get tips on packing or they can have a UPS Store employee pack it for them. If the consumer pays to have the package packed by the UPS Store and the customer also pays for excess value coverage, it is covered 100% in case of damage. There are myriad tips depending on the type of item – liquid, glass, computer, etc. To give you an idea – all computers must be shipped in the original manufacturer’s carton with the original Styrofoam inserts in order for it to be considered “proper packaging.” Liquids and other items may require a “box within a box” packaging, and so on. So regardless of outer labeling, the more important focus should be on appropriate packaging.

Full statement from FedEx: 

We recommend the following to avoid issues with fragile items:

  • Tip 1: If packing an oddly sized or shaped gift, square off all angles and fill hollow spaces with cushioning wrap to prevent breakage. 
  • Tip 2: If reusing a box, make sure it’s not torn or otherwise damaged from its previous journey. 
  • Tip 3: When using cushioning wrap, face the bubbles inward and use at least 1” around fragile items. 
  • Tip 4: Double box fragile items for added protection. 
  • Tip 5: Drop an extra shipping label, business card, or letterhead inside the shipment, just in case winter weather smears the outside label.
  • Tip 6: Seal all flaps and seams with packing tape, making the shape of an H. 
  • Tip 7: Don’t wrap the outside of your shipping box. Keep the wrapping inside the box. 
  • Tip 8: Don’t forget to completely fill out the shipping label or airbill and make sure the label or pouch is securely on the box. 

Some items are simply too precious to trust to less experienced hands. Or maybe the gift is a really odd shape and size. FedEx Pack Plus at FedEx Office is an in-store packing solution designed to help customers with large, bulky and fragile items by offering professional packing services and specialized boxes. FedEx Office Pack and Ship experts are trained to pack a variety of items, including those hard to pack objects that won’t fit into standard-size boxes. 

Full statement from U.S.P.S: 

“For the protection of packages, all employees responsible for mail acceptance are required to ask customers if the parcel contains anything fragile. They should also examine the parcel on all sides and check for the sound of broken glass or contents; delivery or return address; preprinted marks; manufacturer’s name; shifting weight or liquid sounds. Any parcel not properly labeled is nonmailable.

The Postal Service offers Special Handling — Fragile for Priority Mail Express customers for an added fee to enhance their shipping options. This service provides preferential handling for packages with the fragile designation, to the extent practicable in dispatch and processing, but does not insure the item against loss or damage.

When shipping fragile items, remember to use a sturdy box with enough room to add cushioning to protect the items and prevent them shifting. Mark your packages "Fragile" if they can break.”

For additional tips on shipping fragile items during shipping, watch the USPS video, “How to Pack a Box, on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b4xGpzn2s5k.