Packaging: FFP/SIOC, and Why Your Amazon Store Needs It

FFP stands for Frustration Free Packaging and SIOC stands for Ships In Own Container. Basically, it’s Amazon’s packaging expectations for its logistics network.

Amazon recently launched testing protocols for ISTA 6-Amazon.com-SIOC Type A through F, and certain labs are part of Amazon’s program to get this testing done. I will point out, however, that we have never had any issues working with Modern Testing Services (MTS) to get our ISTA 3A/3B testing done, but the one and only time we’ve used Bureau Veritas for this, they messed our request up, refused to retest, and blamed us for the mistake. So that’s unfortunate.

What is the purpose of this kind of packaging?

Amazon defined their requirements here (please note the exact text typically changes annually):

  • 5.2. Cost Effective: Packaging should be optimized for efficient handling and transportation.
  • 5.2.1. Ships in Own Container (SIOC): Packages that ship to an end customer without the need of additional packaging are classified as SIOC. Certified items should be capable of Shipping in Own Container (SIOC). Packages that ship SIOC may experience various levels of cosmetic damage as it moves through distribution.
  • 5.2.1.1. Cosmetic damage such as dented corners, abrasions, and dust is acceptable, as long as the inner product remains undamaged. The Program Participant and the Amazon Packaging Certification Lab determines the acceptable level of cosmetic damage.
  • 5.2.1.2. Highly-gifted items, premium-printed shippers, or items valued greater than $400 require a fitted outer-box for additional protection.
  • 5.2.2. Package Shape: Packages should be easy to stack for storage, conveyance, and shipping. Rectangular-shaped packaging with square corners is preferred. Examples of packaging can be found in Appendix A and E of this document as well as in the FFP Design Library in Vendor Central and Seller Central.
  • 5.2.3. Package Markings and Labeling: Amazon requires package markings and labeling to clearly indicate contents and communicate any unique handling instructions.

The key point here is that SIOC is the certification approach to making sure that the product arrives in pristine condition to the customer.

We’ve talked a lot about what it means to arrive in “pristine condition” according to the Product Policy team who regularly take down products for being “used sold as new.” Achieving the standards set by this test standard is the most certain way to avoid these kinds of problems.

Note that while it’s only required to overbox items valued at more than $400, it’s a good idea for any product where the customer is expecting a “prestige” or “high end” product. I recently received a box that was supposed to be “gift ready” but it was smashed on three corners and completely unsalvageable after having been sent in a bubble mailer to my home. 

The way you package for Amazon needs to be focused on the logistical features of that channel. As can be seen in the below example, the Amazon packaging uses a thicker outerbox made of brown corrugate, rather than a thin white paperboard, with very little to no plastic blister packaging.

Why you need FFP/SIOC

The number one reason to get FFP/SIOC type packaging EVEN IF you don’t get certified (available to Brand Registered sellers through Seller Central as well as vendors) is that it’s sustainable, reduces wrap rage, and is often significant cheaper to store and ship than traditional retail packaging.

Retail packaging has two purposes – the first is to be a box to protect from dust or slippage (theft) in store. The second is to sell the customer on the product. As such, the type of packaging you need in store is typically bright, colorful, with clear plastic cutouts, etc.

However, by the time someone has bought your item on Amazon, you no longer need to convince them to buy. A simple brown corrugate box with a sticker to cover your legal bases is all that you need.

So what are the types of testing, and what do they cover?

In this summary, I’ll note only the key points of difference – for greater details, check out ista.org, or click on the link for each packaging testing type.

You may also be asked by the lab if the product is to be labeled and treated as fragile or not.

How does this compare with the traditional ISTA 3A and 3B?

The reason we always recommend ISTA 3A or 3B at a minimum for Amazon sellers is that they don’t just check the product for drop testing, they also check how it responds to random vibration and low pressure conditions. This simulates the experience of the package on a truck or on a plane, which is going to be how your products make it to a customer.

For ISTA 3A, the packaging sizes are:

  • STANDARD packaged-products shall be defined as:
    Any packaged-product that does not meet any of the definitions below for a small, flat or elongated packaged-product.
  • SMALL packaged-products shall be defined as any packaged-product where the:
    Volume is less than 13,000 cm3 (800 in3) and
    Longest dimension is 350mm (14in) or less and
    Weight is 4.5kg (10lb) or less.
  • FLAT packaged-products shall be defined as any packaged-product where the:
    Shortest dimension is 200mm (8in) or less and
    Next longest dimension is four (4) or more times larger than the shortest dimension, and
    Volume is 13,000 cm3 (800in3) or greater
  • ELONGATED packaged-products shall be defined as any packaged-product where the:
    Longest dimension is 900mm (36in) or greater and
    Both of the packages other dimensions are each 2 percent or less of that of the longest dimension.

The following packaging sizes are tested to ISTA 3B:

  • Standard, 200lb (91 kg) or less, including elongated and flat packages.
  • Standard, over 200lb (91 kg), including elongated and flat packages.
  • Cylindrical, including elongated cylinders.
  • Palletized or Skidded-Individual container, bulk container, or unitized load on or incorporating a base or platform which allows the entry or life truck forks.

Essentially, ISTA 3A is for small stuff; ISTA 3B is for bigger stuff. BOTH are to simulate truck or air delivery to customers.

If my product is a standard size item, should I do ISTA 3A, or ISTA 6-Amazon.com-SIOC (Ships In Own Container) Type A?

There are a few considerations when deciding what type of packaging testing to move forward with.

Are you planning to get certified? If certification, then you need to work with an Amazon approved packaging lab and use ISTA 6.

Are you just testing for the purpose of validation? If so, there is no reason not to use a smaller, cheaper lab to perform the ubiquitous ISTA 3 series testing.

Are you testing because of frequent returns complaints? Amazon has started shutting out products from FBA with frequent returns, and packaging damage is a frequent cause of returns. If so, then you may want to go with ISTA 3 series and work with a lab familiar with Amazon issues.

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About the Author
I got my first job at Amazon because of my German language skills from my Master’s in History. Take that, people who said I’d never get a good job with my liberal arts degree! I soon learned that I’m not good at taking orders and started my MBA coursework at Seattle University.

I worked at Amazon for 8 years, as a liaison for law enforcement in Fraud/Transaction Risk, a quality and compliance manager in Product Compliance for Amazon Brands and imports globally, and lastly, managing hardware for Website Availability. I love the flexibility that working for clients on Amazon rather than for Amazon affords me.

In my not significant free time, I do fiber crafts such as spinning, crocheting, and embroidery, and I have been in a community band since 2009, playing French Horn, Trombone, or Euphonium depending on the band’s needs that season.

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