What is a shipping label? As an e-commerce seller, of course you know the answer to that question. But have you ever thought about just how important they are? Your shipping labels are a crucial element of your supply chain. They help humans and their machine counterparts understand where your package came from, where it needs to go, and what stops it may have made along the way.
Without a clear shipping label, packages can be delayed in-transit, delivered to the wrong address, or lost completely. Any of these scenarios may lead to either a financial loss or a loss of customer trust. So, let’s take a look at the anatomy of a shipping label and how to create and print a shipping label. This will be especially valuable for those of you just getting started in the exciting world of e-commerce!
The Basics: A Sample Shipping Label Explained
Shipping labels between the major carriers—USPS, FedEx, and UPS—all have slight variations, but they generally contain the same information. Here’s a hybrid shipping label example that highlights the various elements you can expect to see on a carrier’s label.
2. Recipient Name & Address, the package's destination.
3. Package Weight, including the item being shipped and the box/packaging.
4. Unidirectional Code, or maxicode, designed to be read by a machine in any direction.
5. Postal Barcode, or IMpb code, the recipient’s scannable zip code.
6. Service Type, the method of shipping, i.e. Standard, Express, Priority, etc.
7. Routing Number, which informs sorting where to route the package.
8. Tracking Number, which customers can use to track the package online.
If this seems daunting for those of you just starting out, don’t worry—much of this information will be automatically generated by the carrier or shipping software!
Two Ways to Create a Shipping Label
Even if you’re only shipping a few packages a week, purchasing labels at your carrier’s office is throwing away money because you’re paying for postage at the retail rate, which is the most expensive way to go (you also waste a lot of time standing in line in order to ship packages from your carrier’s office).
To save money and time, you’ll want to create a shipping label yourself. In doing so, you can take advantage of postage discounts and make pickup arrangements from your home with the carrier. You can do this by creating shipping labels through the carrier’s website or by creating them with shipping software solutions.
Creating Shipping Labels Through a Carrier
You can create a shipping label manually through your carrier’s online services. It’s not the fastest method, but it’s fine if you’re shipping a low volume of packages. Simply visit the carrier’s website, fill out the shipping label template, and then download the file and print it out. Here are the major carrier sites for reference where you can do this:
Creating Shipping Labels Through Software Solutions
There are a variety of shipping label software solutions available online that easily integrate with your e-commerce software platform. There are some that follow the pay-as-you-go model, ideal for small-to-medium volume sellers, or monthly fee-based models ideal for high-volume e-commerce sellers.
What’s really great about these solutions is that most of them do more than just provide labels. Regardless of the payment model you choose, you generally get substantial carrier discounts and access to a dashboard offering a number of reporting tools. Some shipping label software solutions you may want to check out include:
A Few Shipping Label Reminders
To wrap up, here are a few other things to remember regarding shipping labels:
If the contents of your package require special instruction, make a note of it on the package. This could mean labeling it “Fragile,” “Perishable,” or “Flammable” (carriers will often ask this as well). You may also want to note if a package needs to be “This Side Up.” Noting these special requirements will help ensure your package arrives at your customer’s doorstep in perfect condition.
Labels should be placed on the top of your package (especially if there is a “This Side Up” instruction). Make sure the label is fully visible and not folded over any edges, as this could obscure important information or make it unscannable. Also, be sure to flatten any bumps after sticking it down as this could also make codes unreadable. If you cover your label with transparent tape or place it in a plastic wallet for protection, just be sure the whole label is legible.
A good e-commerce seller always includes packing slips, sometimes called a “waybill.” This goes inside the package (or outside, in a plastic wallet) and basically serves as a receipt. The slips should include your company contact information, the customer’s address, the order date and number, the items included in the package and their quantity, a customer service number, and any additional comments or information about returns, refunds, etc.
Shipping Label Costs
Are shipping labels free? Yes! That's the good news. Your carrier doesn't charge to print shipping labels, but of course, you won't actually be able to ship the package until you've paid the postage. You can also find free shipping labels on sites like Shopify.
Spending Too Much Time Shipping? Consider The Fulfillment Lab!
Most e-commerce sellers eventually find that they’re spending too much time packing boxes, printing labels, and shipping packages. After all, there are more important things to do, like growing the business! When this time comes, consider The Fulfillment Lab.
At The Fulfillment Lab, we store inventory strategically across domestic and international centers to reduce shipping costs with major carriers and increase the speed of delivery. We also use proprietary warehouse management software to ensure order accuracy and to offer you valuable metrics. Interested in customizing your packaging? Through an online portal, you can tailor packaging to your customer based on demographics and data analytics, delivering a more personalized, unique customer experience that won’t soon be forgotten.