Shipping labels are an essential part of e-commerce logistics, but can be more confusing than they seem. No matter the size of your store, if you get shipping labels wrong, things can quickly become costly, inefficient, and even prevent packages from being delivered.
Whether you’re just starting to deliver your first products and you’re looking for more advice on how to do this, or you’ve been sending packages for a while, our guide to shipping labels doesn’t leave any stone unturned.
In this article we will help you fully understand;
- What is a shipping label and what is its purpose?
- How do shipping labels work?
- How to create a shipping label?
- How to print a shipping label?
- How to place shipping labels on the package?
- Extra labeling information
All this advice will help eradicate the risk of your packages not being delivered because of issues with your shipping labels. It will also help you to save money and time as your business grows. Use our best practices to keep things efficient in your shipping process.
Shipping labels display the key information for a carrier to transport a package from their start destination (your warehouse) to its end destination (the customer’s hands).
The key information includes: postal code, country, tracking number, date, package quantity as well as the weight, address, validation, and ship street, city and state (area). Shipping labels can also specify the contents, particularly if they’re for international shipments.
Labels also include information relating to the method of shipping (e.g. Express, Standard, etc.) for the carrier to ensure the service that was paid for is provided.
Each label is unique and you cannot reuse old labels. A new label must be created for each delivery.
A shipping label displays the information to direct packages to the correct destinations, track them throughout each stage, and ensure the correct service is provided. Each carrier uses a specific template for its shipping labels. They are designed to be read by humans and machines, and so they need to be clear and easy to read. Each carrier designed their label to work with their own process of sorting and delivery, so it’s vital to use their templates.
On a shipping label, you’ll see barcodes, numbers, and letters. These are all key to the process. Each section provides information to specific sections of the chain.
The Anatomy of a Shipping Label
1: The name and address of the sender
2: The name and address of the recipient
3: A MaxiCode – a code that can be read in any direction by a machine
4: The Routing Code – informs how to route the package within the sorting section
5: The Postal Barcode – the zip code of the destination
6: Tracking Number – the number given to the customer to track their package
7: Level of Service – the chosen method provided by the carrier (e.g. Express, Standard, etc.)
Most of the information is automatically generated by the carrier. The main information you will need is:
- The sender’s name and address
- The recipient’s name and address
- The service method
Key to note: the standard size of shipping labels is 4 x 6 inches (10 x 15cm). If this doesn’t fit your package, then other standards are 6 x 3 inches (15 x 7cm) and 4 x 4 inches (10 x 10cm).
Shipping labels are generally created during order processing. Carriers have specific requirements for their shipping labels. It is not possible to create your own template or fill out a label by hand. To create a shipping label you must follow carrier requirements.
You can either:
- visit your local post office and pay for a label there
- arrange the label yourself
When you buy labels at the post office, you’re actually purchasing postage at retail rates which are the most expensive pricing tier for shipping labels.
Arranging your own shipping labels has more advantages, including discounts on postage and scheduling package pickups instead of having to wait at the post office. There are even ways to automate the process to minimise manual input as much as possible.
Learn how you can arrange your own shipping labels with the 3 methods below:
1: Create Your Labels Online
You can create a shipping label using the carrier’s online tools. Each carrier will have its own online tool where you can create shipping labels that fit their specific requirements. Visit their website, fill out the label template and then download the file so you can then print it out.
However, this isn’t the fastest method. For each order, you will need to visit the site and manually enter the information.
2: Use Shipping Label Software
This option will allow you to download a carrier’s shipping label template and fill the label out locally on your computer. This will also allow you to customize the process, with possibilities for automation as well as the ability to work offline.
3: Fully Automate With A Shipping Tool
Automatically aggregate order information from multiple platforms and carriers to fill forms in quickly and efficiently with a shipping tool. A good shipping tool will directly connect with your store, retrieve the order information needed for the shipping label, and help you to automatically create the label in the correct template.
If you have a significant amount of orders, a shipping tool can save you time and effort, eradicating the need to manually fill out labels.
When considering a Shipping Tool, consider the following:
- Which selling platforms (Shopify, Magento, etc) do you need to integrate
- How many shipments do you make per month
- Where do you ship to? Do you need international shipping?
Free Shipping Label Template
Sendcloud’s free Shipping Label Maker is a free tool to generate a shipping label for your business. Just fill in the origin and destination addresses, print it on an A6 (sticker) sheet and stick it to your box!
When To Advance To The Next Stage?
No matter the number of parcels you ship, try to avoid purchasing your shipping labels at retail rates from the local post office. This can be costly and waste time. The methods above will help you save money, and time.
If you ship less than 10 packages a week: arrange the labels online through your chosen carrier’s website.
Research which carrier(s) offers the best services you need, for the rates you want. Consider the other services that could benefit you, like the carrier collecting the package from your home/office. If this isn’t possible, then check where the local drop-off centre you can deposit the packages at is located. You don’t want to waste time having to take your packages far to hand them over to the carrier.
If you ship more than 10 packages a week: start considering Shipping Label Software or a Shipping Tool.
The Sendcloud Shipping Tool is free to use, with the ability to create shipping labels with pre-negotiated shipping rates. Easily integrate your store with Sendcloud, and even choose to enable multiple carrier options to help give your customers control of which service they want. Further benefits are access to Sendcloud’s branded tracking emails and personalised return portal.
As your store expands, explore our different packages that will grow alongside your store. Whether you ship just 1 package a week, or over 10,000, automating your shipping can help save you time and make your process less hassle.
There are two main options when it comes to printing your shipping labels: a standard inkjet/laser printer, or a thermal label printer that doesn’t require ink.
Inkjet Or Laser Printers:
It’s highly advised to avoid using inkjet printers, but they will generally do okay if you only print a handful of labels a month. However, be careful to ensure everything on the page is clear and sharp, and that the ink has not smudged.
As you begin to print more labels, take note that printer ink is expensive, and this option can be costly.
Top Tip: Your packages could be exposed to rain as well as handled with little care. This means normal printing paper could become damaged, making the label unreadable. Therefore, it is advisable to protect the label by making it waterproof and safely secured. Some tricks you could use to do this are securing your label with clear tape or attaching the label in a clear plastic envelope. However, note that this could compromise the readability of your label, particularly by barcode readers or other machines. Always make sure everything is still clear and readable by both people and machines. This is why we’d advise using high-quality adhesive labels with a proper label printer.
Laser printers will produce quality labels with higher precision than inkjet printers, especially using specialised parcel labels. But this can be a very costly option with expensive label sheets and toner cartridges that need replacing. Again, this isn’t a great option if you print a moderate amount of labels each month.
Thermal Label Printers:
Thermal label printers are designed for label printing and this makes them the best option. They don’t need any extra supplies like ink or toner, expect the rolls of labels. The printers work by creating shapes on the paper using heat, enabling accurate, long-lasting labels.
However, they are expensive devices. However, they are good to invest in when you begin to print a significant amount of labels and the cost of supplies for the above options is getting too much.
A shipping label is normally placed on the largest side of the package, ideally on the top. This is especially important if there is a “This Way Up” label on the package. The label should be the correct size so it fits entirely on the side where it’s placed. Ensure it is not folded over any edges; important information might not be seen or be able to be scanned.
Make sure the labels are firmly secured, with no corners sticking up, and no bumps that could damage the label and make it unreadable.
In certain cases, some people like to cover their labels in transparent tape to protect it. It’s also possible to use plastic wallets and attach them to the package to prevent any damage, particularly from water. This is most commonly used with international shipping for the enclosed customs documents. Whatever you choose, ensure the whole label is displayed and is clearly readable. Both humans and barcode scanners need to be able to read the barcode information properly.
Extra label information can have many uses, but it can sometimes be restricted or even prohibited by the carrier. Before you use any extra labelling, make sure to check your carrier’s guidelines. However, extra label information can help to inform the carrier of any special requirements and prepare for any issues with the contents. They also help the goods arrive in perfect condition, which is vital for your customers’ satisfaction, avoiding bad reviews or extra costs for replacements and redelivery.
Here are some examples of the extra information you could use with your package:
Sometimes, you will need to mark the package with what it contains, especially if you’re shipping internationally.
You can also choose to state whether the contents of the package are fragile, perishable, corrosive, or flammable etc. Also, if needed, you can label your parcel “This Way Up” to ensure it is transported correctly.
Let us know if you have any tips or advice regarding shipping labels or e-commerce logistics! And if you have any further questions, leave them in the comments below.
Learn more about how Sendcloud works.
Available in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria, France, and Spain. Coming soon to Italy.