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How to Pack Arbitrage-Sourced Items for Amazon FBA

Dave Consolazio
December 11, 2023
December 11, 2023
Packing items for Amazon FBA

When I started my retail arbitrage reselling business back in 2015, I was super excited to explore my local big box stores and thrift stores for products that I could resell for a profit. Sourcing products to sell on Amazon sounded fun, but the one thing I was nervous about was packing items for FBA. How would I set up and prepare FBA shipments? Was creating packages for Amazon warehouses difficult?

Fortunately, I didn’t let these fears hold me back. It wasn’t long before I was selling thrift store items online and loading my Amazon FBA storefront with new items on a near weekly basis. I learned plenty of tips and tricks along the way through packing and preparing hundreds of Amazon shipments, and in this article I’m going to share that knowledge with you.

Overview of the Amazon FBA Packing and Shipping Process

Instructions on how to pack and prepare Amazon FBA shipments have come a long way since I was a reseller. From your Seller Central page, you can now find the Send to Amazon guide in the help section, and it walks you through every step of the process with detailed written instructions and videos. Amazon breaks the process down into the following steps:

  • Step 1 – Choose inventory to send
  • Step 1b – Pack individual units
  • Step 2 – Confirm shipping
  • Step 3 – Print box labels
  • Step 4 – Confirm carrier and pallet information (for pallet shipments only)
  • Step 5 – Print pallet labels (for pallet shipments with an Amazon partnered carrier only)
  • Final step – Tracking details

This Amazon tutorial is very well put together and should walk you through all of the basics about putting a shipment together. You can also learn more about the Amazon seller fees FBA charges and what Amazon FBA customer service covers from Amazon’s help pages or from the posts linked here.

The “Send to Amazon” page will teach you a lot of what you need to know, but it isn’t catered specifically to resellers looking to pack shipments of items for Amazon FBA found through retail arbitrage sourcing. It also explains how to do certain things like pack a box without giving you any ideas on where to get that box. The tips and suggestions here will fill in the blanks that I had to learn on my own through experience.

Tips on How to Prepare Before Shipping to Amazon FBA Warehouses

An ecommerce shipping workstation with packages, computer, and coffee

Most of the work you do on your retail arbitrage Amazon FBA shipment will be done before an item is ever placed in a box. Here are a handful of useful recommendations to walk you through the preparation process.

Sourcing Your Products through Retail Arbitrage

Before you pack a shipment full of items sourced from brick-and-mortar stores in your area, you’ll need to actually go out and source those items. Reselling from thrift stores is a great place to start because you can find unique items that aren’t widely available to other sellers. It is also generally easier to find products at lower prices in thrift stores than it is at other retail locations.

There are many great tips and tricks to sourcing products to sell on Amazon, but nothing beats first-hand experience. Equip yourself with a helpful scanner tool, like the one provided by ScoutIQ, that will show you the profitability of an item on Amazon in just a few seconds when you scan its barcode. And then get out there and start scanning!

Remember too that you can sell used items on Amazon FBA as well. Have some old books on your shelf? Check how much they are worth and consider throwing them into your first shipment.

Finding or Purchasing Boxes

Brown cardboard boxes

For my first few Amazon FBA shipments, I purchased heavy duty boxes at Home Depot because I wanted to be absolutely sure that the box wouldn’t be damaged during shipping. This isn’t necessary as the standard boxes do just fine. I routinely purchased large quantities of medium (18” x 18” x 16”) and large (18” x 18” x 24”) standard boxes at Home Depot and kept them in my closet for weekly shipments.

Note that Home Depot’s box sizes have changed at some locations, including the large moving box, which is now 27” x 16” x 15” and would not be allowed for Amazon FBA shipments. Boxes with standard-size items in them cannot exceed 25 inches on any side, per Amazon’s policies. Check the hardware stores in your area for boxes that meet the size requirement.

While I preferred the convenience of running to my local Home Depot, I did also on occasion source free boxes from local vendors. Keep an eye out for stores in your area that throw out large quantities of clean boxes. To be extra safe, you could ask a manager if it is okay that you take them once they have been discarded.

I also used to hold on to boxes of various sizes that I received from products I purchased online. You never know when you might need a small box to complete a shipment of retail arbitrage goods, so it’s always nice to have some on hand. Boxes you source or re-use can cut down on your shipping and handling costs.

Removing Price Tags

Once you start sourcing items for retail arbitrage in big box stores, you’ll immediately discover that all price tags are not created equal. You must remove price tags and clearance stickers from products that you purchase in stores prior to sending them in an Amazon FBA shipment.

In some cases, depending on the tag and the surface area of the item it’s stuck on, this process is easy and the tag peels right off. Goodwill thrift store price tags and Target clearance stickers, for example, generally come off easily. On the other hand, discount stores like Ross and Marshall’s have notoriously difficult-to-remove tags that break into pieces or have super sticky glue.

Ross price sticker with annoying circle holes that cause it to break during removal

I developed solutions for both of these issues. Believe it or not, using a hair dryer on the bottom of a sticker while you are peeling it off will melt the glue and make it easier to remove. I would also affix a piece of scotch tape over those annoying little circle holes on the Ross stickers to ensure that the entire sticker could be removed in one peel.

Be very careful during the sticker removal process as you won’t be able to sell your product as new on Amazon FBA if the packaging is damaged. When glue residue was left behind by the sticker, I would use a cotton swab and some rubbing alcohol or “Goo Gone” adhesive remover to clean it off.

Using a Barcode Scanner to Add Products

As a retail arbitrage reseller, you will constantly be adding new inventory to your storefront as you find new things on your sourcing trips. From the Add Products screen on your Amazon Seller Central account, you can search for products by product name, UPC, EAN, ISBN, or ASIN.

Searching by product name is unreliable as there are often many different listings under each product name and it’s hard to identify which matches up with your product at a glance. Typing out UPC codes is tiresome when done in bulk, and one mistyped digit will ruin the entire string of numbers.

Fortunately, there is a much easier way to add products by their UPC codes, and that’s with a barcode scanner. Simply search “USB barcode scanner” on Amazon, and you will receive dozens of results for wired and wireless scanners. I purchased a wired scanner I plugged into one of my USB ports for under $20, and the process of adding products on Amazon was a breeze from that day forward.

Of course, there are some products that don’t have UPC barcodes to scan. These you will still have to type in, or you could even request an Amazon GTIN exemption if necessary.

Printing and Placing Labels

Man holding a labeled box and printed sheets of half-page labels

Amazon and eBay are both your friend when it comes to buying shipping labels in bulk. I used Avery printing labels and spent quite a bit of money on them at Staples when I first started in retail arbitrage, but I quickly realized that the off-brand labels worked just as well and were substantially cheaper.

Assuming you have a standard-size inkjet or laser printer, you can purchase 8.5” x 11” sheets that come with 30 1” x 2-5/8” peel-and-stick labels on them. I also purchased 8.5” x 11” half-sheet peel and stick shipping labels to make the process of printing and posting labels on boxes much easier.

Either type of printer (inkjet or laser) will work, just make sure that the labels are compatible with your printer type. I started with an inkjet printer, but eventually upgraded to a laser printer that gave me more bang for my buck. If you don’t have a printer yet and will be buying one for Amazon FBA label printing, I’d suggest an affordable laser printer.

When to Use Poly Bags

Poly bags used on Amazon FBA products must be at least 1.5 mil thick, transparent, and display a suffocation warning on them. The Amazon product label must be readable and scannable through your poly bag as well.

There were a handful of items for which I used poly bags:

  • Stuffed animals
  • Hats
  • Other products that could potentially be damaged by dust or dirt
  • Items bundled together (with a SOLD AS SET label)

I didn’t use poly bags very often, but I always had them on hand for when I needed them. You can buy them with the suffocation warning already printed on the bag. I would buy variety packs so that I had different sizes covered, but you might want to get specific sizes based on what type of products you wind up sourcing and reselling.

How to Pack and Ship Items for FBA

Man pushing a hand truck loaded with packages

Now that we’ve gone over everything you need to do to get your products ready to ship to Amazon FBA warehouses, let’s go over a few pointers on the shipment itself.

Creating and Using a Packing Checklist

When I first started sending shipments in to Amazon, sellers weren’t responsible for filling out box content information. I could just pack up my shipments and send them off. Being required to fill out a web form with which products were packed in specific boxes required some additional planning.

This isn’t a big deal if you are only sending in one or two boxes at a time as it’s pretty easy to keep track of in that case. But in my case, especially in the fourth quarter gearing up for Christmas, my Amazon FBA shipments often consisted of five to ten different large boxes and hundreds of items. Here’s how I handled it.

1. List all your products and quantities on an Excel or Google sheet

Once you have set up your shipments and know which warehouses all of your items will be going to, you’ll want to build a packing checklist on Excel, Google Sheets, or whichever spreadsheet program you prefer for each shipment. Start by listing all the product names and units, which will look something like this:

An Amazon FBA spreadsheet example with Product Name and Units columns

2. Add squares with borders

After this is done, add five (or more) columns to the left of the “units” column and mark them with a letter X. Resize these columns into squares. Then, by using “add row” to create empty rows for products that have a lot of units, you can make space to fill in these boxes with “Borders”. Create borders for the same number of squares as there are units, like this (I’ve shaded the empty spaces in yellow so you can see more clearly):

Spreadsheet with columns of bordered square boxes

3. Print this out and use it as you pack

Rename the sheet to reflect which shipment this is, and then print it out. The printout will look something like this:

Final Amazon FBA spreadsheet printout

Now as you put items in specific boxes (which you have pre-numbered), write the box number you placed the item in into these squares. For example, if you pack three of FBA Item B in Box 1 and the other six in Box 2, your squares would be filled out 1-1-1-2-2-2-2-2-2.

This is helpful because Amazon’s web form will ask you exactly how many of each item you put in different boxes, and with this list you’ll easily be able to keep track of that and report it. And instead of trying to put all similar items into a single box, you can spread them out based on size and weight so that you are using your space optimally instead of worrying about losing track of where everything is.

Weighing Boxes

Keep in mind while you are packing that boxes in Amazon FBA shipments are not allowed to exceed 50 pounds (unless they contain only a single heavy item). This generally isn’t a problem for small and medium-size boxes, but it can become one for larger boxes when you include heavy items like books in your shipment.

As you get more experienced with packing and prepping shipments of your retail arbitrage finds, you will be able to gauge just from the feel of lifting a box up how heavy it is. In the early stages, though, you should get in the habit of weighing the box as you go so you can keep track of its weight. It’s best to confirm the weight of all your boxes before sealing them in case you have to move things around.

So how do you weigh boxes? On Amazon, you can find box-weighing scales that include a wired display that you can turn on after placing the box on it for under $40. I wish I’d had one of these back in the day, but I was old-fashioned and used my bathroom scale, activating it with my foot and then plopping the boxes down on it. That worked fine for me, so don’t feel the need to invest in a fancy scale unless you want to.

Where to Drop off Your Packages

A woman looking at a van loaded with packages ready to ship

I dropped all my shipments off at my local UPS stores. Since the shipping was already paid for and the shipping labels were attached, all I had to do was bring them in and drop them off. The UPS workers would scan the labels and take it from there.

If you will be making a lot of shipments using big boxes like I did, be sure to buy yourself a dolly. I had a foldable one that fit easily in my car trunk or closet. I would use that to load my car up with boxes, head to the UPS store, drop them off, and then rinse and repeat until the shipment was completed.

It is also possible to schedule pickups, but I personally only did that when I was dealing with an extremely large Amazon shipment close to the holidays. You may want to check the price and availability of this service in your area to decide if the convenience of not having to drop boxes off yourself is worth the pickup cost.

Using these techniques and the ScoutIQ scanner and services, I was able to run a successful and fun retail arbitrage business making shipments to Amazon FBA for five years prior to 2020. I hope you are able to use this knowledge to jumpstart your business as well!