Pallets: Shipping, Receiving, Unloading, and More

Pallets: Shipping, Receiving, Unloading, and More
article writer
by Paige Gray
May 10, 2022, Updated October 28, 2022


We appreciate your business, but we also value your safety. As such, we are writing this little ditty to help you and your team know what to expect when we send you a pallet order, and the proper procedures to accept your pallet.

When stacking/ unstacking and loading/ unloading pallets, load stability is important; stacking pallets incorrectly can make the entire load topple over, causing significant product damage and loss. During handling and transportation, loosely wrapped pallets with an uneven weight distribution can cause products to shift or even fall. For this reason, we ensure that the pallet orders we send are appropriately balanced and tightly wrapped for the safety and convenience of our customers. When unloading the pallets, it is important not to compromise the integrity of the load’s balance. So, in this short article, we will explain a few common pallet stacking variations used by Container and Packaging and provide you with best practice advice for how to find what you need on a pallet and safely unload it.  

PART 1: How are Pallets Stacked?  

When stacking various packaging products on a pallet for shipping, there is no “one size fits all” method. The way that the pallet is stacked will depend on what is being stacked along with the sizes, weights, and fragility of the products and boxes. It will also depend on whether it is stacked in our warehouse or comes pre-stacked from the manufacturer. 

Pallets Stacked by our Warehouses:  

There are many ways to stack a pallet, but the two most common methods used in our warehouse are the columnar-aligned pattern and interlocked stacking pattern.

With a columnar-aligned pattern, cases are placed one on top of the other creating a column; the same footprint is maintained all the way up the pallet, and cartons are stacked directly on top of each other. This approach allows each box to support the others along its stronger edges and corners, reducing the risk of individual box damage. This is most commonly used when boxes are directly proportionate to the standard pallet size (48”x40”) 

In an interlocked stacking pattern, each layer is stacked opposite the one below. This method provides stability when in transit and when stacking pallets atop one another. This is a popular method used both for shipping and warehousing.

In either method, the pallets stacked in our warehouses adhere to the following guidelines. 

  • Heavy items are stacked first on the bottom (this is to provide the most support when moving the pallet)
  • Boxes are stacked evenly and without too much of any case hanging over the edges of the pallet base.
  • Packed pallets abide by height and weight limitations.
  • Damaged pallets are not used.
  • When including boxes that are not all the way full, those partial cases are marked with a green sticker to identify the boxes as “partials”. Partial case shipments also include a picking slip to help you identity the contents of the partial cases. (NOTE: The picking slip for the partial cases is different than the packing slip for the full order).
  • Completed pallets are plastic wrapped for safe shipping.
  • Labels and pallet tags are applied to the shipment.

Below are some examples of pallets that have been stacked in our warehouses:  



Mixed Pallet example: 

While most of the product that is shipped via pallet is usually sold in full cases, it is not uncommon for partial cases to be included in a pallet shipment or order. Here is a good example of what a pallet with partial cases can look like. 




Pre-stacked pallets from the manufacturer:

When ordering full pallets or multiple full pallets of the same item, the stacking method might be different than shown above. In some cases, the pallet will be stacked the same way that we received it from the manufacturer. The items pictured below come to us directly from the manufacturers, packaged either using a column stacking method (described in the section above) or a layer packed method. The layer packed method uses cardboard spacers to separate each layer of a pallet, then the pallet is wrapped together using plastic ties and/ or shrink wrap. Layer packing allows the manufacturer to fit the most containers per pallet because it is not limited to the use of shipping boxes. This method also tends to be highly stable because of its lighter weight due to less shipping material being used. 

As an added benefit to our warehouse team, using the manufacturer’s pallet stacks lessens packaging/processing time and as they do not usually require extra steps to complete the order. This also benefits you, as a customer of ours, because these pallets can be shipped that much faster.  

Below are some examples of items that are layer packed and are best to purchase and ship on a pallet the way they arrived in layers from the manufacturer.  



PART 2: Opening a Pallet:

When unloading and receiving your pallet order, here are some recommended best practices to help keep you safe and make sure you get what you need.  

Unloading Pallets

  • BOL: Always check the BOL (Bill of Lading) paperwork and verify the case count on the pallet matches the paperwork before signing. At this time, it is important to make sure that all cases are accounted for or to note any damage that you may see. If there are missing or damaged items, please mark this on the driver's BOL when signing and please take pictures (this is important! If damage is not reported on the BOL at the time of delivery, it is very hard to investigate and assess for the proper solution).
  • Packing Slip: Find your packing slip. A packing slip of your shipment is included on the pallet (it may not “jump off the pallet” to you, but if you look for it, you'll find it 😊). Please note that on the pallet tag, you will find a QR Code. This code can be scanned by any device to pull up your packing slip for easy viewing and printing.
  • Partial Cases: If you have any partial cases on your order, you will find these in a box with a GREEN STICKER that says “Partial Case." Your packing slip will also state your partial case items and quantities.
  • Product Identification: Note also that the pallets are stacked with the item label facing outward for easy reading.


Breaking down/opening your pallet

  • Top-Down: It is always best to start from the top! If your pallet is mixed and you need items from the bottom, cut the pallet wrap off the pallet, down-stack and put away the boxes on top, and uncover the boxes at the bottom that you need. DO NOT take cases from the middle or bottom of the load without first safely removing the layer(s) above.
  • Layer-by-Layer: When using only the top layer of the pallet, you can cut the pallet wrap off to just expose the layer you’re using. This way the bottom layers remain wrapped and the most stable while you access the contents at the top.
  • Use a Buddy: To unload a pallet, our warehouse team members usually get help from another team member to ensure the stability of the stack as they unload each layer. We recommend this practice for you as well – it is always easiest and safest to unload a pallet with a partner.

Final Notes:

Believe it or not, there is more to be learned about pallet orders. If you have any questions about pallets, let us know. Contact Customer Care or your Packaging Consultant if you have any questions about your pallet order.