Understanding Dimensional Shipping


This section is useful for getting the user to think about how the extension relates to the their business and what they are aiming to achieve. Try to get the user thinking of their business in the ‘terms’ used to describe the extension, e.g. shipping groups etc. Intended to prepare the user for the following ‘Configuration’ section.

The Problem

Before we dive into the extension lets take a look at the reasoning behind it’s approach.  I apologise for throwing some technical terms in here but I feel it’s important to explain what makes our extension popular.

Lets look at a common customer enquiry we see:

  • I’ve got many products, with different dimensions and weights
  • I’ve got X boxes
  • Can you make my shipping rates accurate?

Let me start by saying on it’s own there is no solution to the above. And anyone selling an extension that promises to resolve this is being lean with the truth.  Carriers such as UPS, Fedex, and Freight Shipping companies have invested a lot of money looking into this and they can’t solve it, the problem is known to be the Bin Packing Algorithm and is non-computational.

One Possible Solution

One variation on the bin-packing algorithm is the first-fit approach. This is basically where you take a set of boxes and a set of products then try stuffing the products in based on a ‘first-fit’ approach (i.e if it fits pack and move to next item). When the box ‘fills’ in terms of volume move on. People like it because it’s fast, but it’s also known to be non-optimal, which when you are trying to make your shipping rates more accurate isnt great news. Shipping isn’t academic, if you get your rates wrong you could lose all profit on your sale – this is real life. WebShopApps firmly believes that extensions using bin-packing techniques have a low level of accuracy. We have seen many customers try this approach because it seems easy on the surface, but then realise they are not getting any more accurate rates than not using dimensional weight.

There are some solutions which pretend to be emulating as the bin packing algorithm, but WebShopApps has looked at these and believes that extensions following this approach provide a very low level of accuracy. Packing purely based on the volume is not going to give good results. You could have 2 items with exactly the same volume, yet if you packed these into a larger box you would find maybe that you could fit 3 of one of the products and only 2 of the other. The reason – because when packing there is often clear space that is unused – objects dont fit snug, and they don’t all fit the same amount.

An Intelligent Solution

WebShopApps believes products aren’t just about weight and volume. We also understand from our experience many thousands of customers in the last 6 years that there are commonalities in the shipping rules. It’s not just about stuffing boxes. It’s about intelligent packing. It’s about providing customers with an interface that gives them the maximum flexibility to set up their shipping to get the best set of rates.  We can’t dictate how you pack, and every business packs differently. But we can give you tools that allow you to setup rules on how you pack.  We believe this gives a much higher level of accuracy than just throwing items in a box.

With the WSA extension we offer you the ability to use 1 of 3 different algorithms:

  1. Exact Packing – With this we look at how full a box is in reality. So we ask you to define the maximum quantity of each item that can fit in a box. You might have a set of lotions and for the small lotions you can fit 50 in a box. But the large lotions you can only fit 20. We can work out from this how many to pack in a mixed box setup, and also given a set of boxes make a good estimate on the box to select and use for shipping
  2. Best-Fit – With this algorithm you specify the dimensions of a product, and the possible shipping boxes it will fit into. Volumetrics are then used to determine how many of the item will fit in the box. It makes intelligent calculations based on the percentages of the box used to determine the best boxes to pack in
  3. Largest Box – We take the approach here of ignoring dimensions of products and instead allowing you to specify the boxes that a product fits into.  If you just specify dimensions it will take the largest set in the cart and that becomes the shipping box. If you specify multiple possible boxes it will take the one that it can most fill then pack all the items into this (assuming the products also specify that box)
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