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Shipping category

A way of grouping similar types of SKUs by different shipping needs and options

Unfortunately, not every item you want to sell can be shipped in the same way. This is due to physical, practical, technical or legislative requirements. Specific products need particular care or special handling. They can’t travel using standard methods. That’s why you need to define different shipping categories for your SKUs.

In other words, shipping categories are used to group products of similar type. And they define some shipping methods, to provide a rate for each class of products.

The shipping categories contribute to defining the Shipping Methods available in your Market. Once associated with some SKUs, they determine how those products are shipped.

In Commerce Layer, shipping categories are one of the two reasons why you have to split an order into different shipments. The other being Stock Locations in the Inventory model.

Let’s say an order includes many items, and you must ship certain items by a specific method or carrier. Alternatively, you must charge a different shipping cost for these items. In this case, your order is split into as many shipments as the number of shipping categories associated with the SKUs it contains.

Within Commerce Layer, you have to define at least one default shipping category. That’s because you can’t create an SKU without first associate its shipping category.

In the same way, every shipping method must be associated with only one shipping category.


As mentioned above, shipping categories are used to address special shipping needs for one or more of your products. The most common use for shipping categories is when certain products cannot be shipped in the same box. This is often due to size or material constraint, even though some other exceptions may occur.

Size and dimensions

Size matters: that’s a saying, but this is indeed the case. Many carriers now calculate shipping rates based on the dimensional or volumetric weight of your shipments. Actually, most of them calculate their shipping rates on weight rather than the size of a package. That’s why, for orders with items very different in size, you may need to split into shipments with different shipping methods.

For example, let’s assume you’re running an online exercise equipment store. A customer purchases a jump rope and a treadmill from your website. The treadmill is an oversized item for most shipping carriers, and it needs special shipping arrangements. However, the jump rope can travel via standard shipping.

Hazardous and dangerous items

Some particular products are listed as Hazardous Items or Dangerous Goods:

  • pure chemicals,
  • mixtures of substances,
  • manufactured products or articles which can pose a risk to people, animals or the environment, if not handled correctly in use or transport.

This list includes items that may not be dangerous in their day to day use. They become dangerous in case of:

  • unusual movement
  • changes in temperature
  • variations in atmospheric pressure.

Here below you can find some descriptions that could state such materials:

acidic, caustic, combustible communicable, compressed gas, corrosive, explosive, infectious, inflammable, poison, radioactive, refrigerated, toxic, volatile

You don’t have to deal with some particularly dangerous industrial business to bump into this kind of products. Let’s assume you’re selling luxury goods such as bags, accessories, jewelry, and perfumes. If some fragrance in your catalog contains alcohol, it will likely be inflammable. Therefore it needs special handling for shipping.

Fragile and perishable items

Artwork, antiques, glassware and other delicate items can have sentimental and monetary value for the sender and receiver alike. So ensuring the safety of the items during the transit is of the utmost importance. In a few words, they need some extra care. For example, a box equipped with an impact shield protection. That’s why they should be part of a dedicated shipping category. A particular shipping method should guarantee they aren’t damaged while delivered to your customers.

Much in the same way, a lot can go wrong when shipping perishable items such as frozen or refrigerated food. These products need special packaging to make sure they arrive in good condition. Moreover, they need to be delivered in a short time. On the one hand, you have to keep the heat out by choosing the right insulation method, on the other, you have to keep the food cold and refrigerated. To ensure this latter condition, there are two common solutions are dry ice and ice packs. The general rule of thumb is to use ice packs when shipping refrigerated items, and dry ice when you need to keep your product frozen. Remember that when you use dry ice, you will be handling hazardous material. Which makes this shipping category (frozen food shipped using dry ice) an exceptional one.