Shipping Labels 101: What Are They?

Let’s talk about shipping labels.

Something as simple as a sticker may seem trivial in the grand scheme of things, but consider this — shipping labels play a key role in the success of your business operations. Package labels contain all of the vital information your carrier needs to get packages to their final destinations. Even one mistake on the label could completely derail a shipment and the customer’s experience as a result. Avoidable mistakes like these are costly, create inefficiencies and are just undesirable all around. With the right tools and knowledge, however, ecommerce businesses can avoid these outcomes. 

With that, let’s dig deeper into shipping labels and answer some common queries, including: 

  • What are shipping labels? 
  • What do these labels look like, and what information do they include? 
  • How do you get a shipping label? 

Continue reading to find out everything you need to know about shipping labels for your parcels! 

What is a Shipping Label?

A shipping label, otherwise known as a package label, is a sticker affixed to every shipped parcel that leaves your facility. Shipping labels work to identify many different aspects of a package, such as: 

  • Point of origin
  • Final destination
  • Weight
  • Carrier receiving and delivering the package
  • Type of service used to ship the package

This information allows the system to maintain a record of where a package came from, where it has stopped and where it’s going. Warehousing staff, delivery personnel and customers all benefit from this: 

  • Labels help packages get sorted and routed accurately and efficiently
  • Delivery workers know when and where to deliver a package
  • The customer gets a record of where their package has been and when they can expect it 

Plus, if anything goes wrong, your team can easily find out what happened and where it happened. This can help them quickly remedy the situation and get things back on track. 

Why Are Shipping Labels Important? 

Shipping labels serve more than one purpose. Packages can experience a delay or get lost without a clear, legible and accurate shipping label. You can already guess some of the things that are most likely to happen next: 

1. You’ll absorb the associated costs: Firstly, if you don’t have shipping insurance, you’ll pay out of pocket for any of the damages or losses due to shipping label issues. Some major carriers will cover losses up to $100 in value. 

2. The incident will be communicated to the customer: Next, your customer will be informed that their package is delayed, damaged or no longer showing up. Customers end up disappointed. . This can reflect poorly on your company overall, even if your team did everything right. 

Customer expectations regarding their shipments have never been higher, due in part to the rising popularity of next-day and same-day shipping. At the same time, with rising ecommerce activity comes an increased emphasis on customer reviews that influence consumer purchases. For these reasons, online retailers can’t afford to make avoidable mistakes that contribute to dissatisfied customers and negative reviews. 

3. Your internal teams will spring into action: Once a customer is informed about a delivery problem, your team will try their best to remedy the situation. They’ll get in contact with the customer and work to get the package into their hands. 

Overall, this is a costly and timely process — even more so if you run a business by yourself or with a small team. Proper package labelling that is detailed, correct and scannable can help you avoid these preventable delivery setbacks.

What Do Shipping Labels Look Like? 

Shipping labels are important because they contain all the necessary information for fulfillment and delivery. But what does this “information” consist of? Let’s break down what you need to include. 

1. The sender’s name and address/the return address: This identifies where the package originated from and where it can be sent back to in the event of non-delivery due to a delivery exception. 

2. The recipient’s name and address: This identifies who will be receiving the package and where it will be delivered. Having the correct name is especially important for some deliveries where the recipient must sign for the package. 

3. The package weight: The package weight influences how much it will cost to ship. It’s also a key piece of information that you need to correctly load a delivery vehicle. Delivery personnel also rely on this information to determine whether they will need a dolly or extra assistance to hand off the package. 

4. The shipping class: The type of service purchased by the customer (e.g. Standard, Priority, Express, etc.) is also affixed. This helps delivery personnel understand when the package is expected. 

5. The recipient’s postal barcode: This is a scannable zip/postal code or an IMpb (Intelligent Mail® Package Barcode) code developed by USPS. This allows automated machinery to sort and track packages. It can also help enhance customer tracking. 

6. Machine-readable symbol: Either a QR code, unidirectional code or MaxiCode designed to be read by a machine. These symbols contain a digital copy of information found on the rest of the shipping label. 

7. Routing number: Different from the tracking number, this routing number helps sorters get the package from the shipping warehouse to its correct route.

8. Tracking number: This is the number most customers are familiar with that helps them track where their package is during the delivery process.

They are generally about 4” x 6” in size. You want to place labels smoothly on each parcel without bubbles or folds. Remember that every label is unique — old ones cannot be reused.

Additional Information You Can Add to A Shipping Label 

Shipping labels can get much more personalized depending on your business’s needs. Additional shipping information can include the following: 

  • “This side up”
  • “Fragile”
  • “Perishable”
  • “Flammable”

These extra labels can be beneficial in ensuring that a parcel arrives safely and undamaged. Before including these extra labels, it’s important to check with your carrier if there are restrictions around extra labelling.

How Do You Get Shipping Labels? 

When it comes to sourcing shipping labels, ecommerce operators have options: 

Purchase From Your Carrier’s Local Office

Sourcing shipping labels from the post office can be a convenient option if you’re shipping out parcels sporadically. You’ll have to manually enter most of the information before the carrier generates the necessary barcode. You can also download and fill out shipping labels from some carrier’s websites:

This method is a time-consuming process. Smaller retailers with a low volume of orders thrive with this method.

Make Your Own Shipping Labels

Making your own is free, but you’ll have to pay for postage and tracking once you’re ready to send them. There are free online services to generate shipping labels, such as: 

Some paid software services help you produce multiple labels at once. These often follow a pay-as-you-go method or a monthly payment method. Just remember that when you make your own shipping labels, you’ll also have to print them yourself and properly affix them to your packages. 

Find Eco-Friendly Package Labels

If sustainability is something that matters to you and your customers, eco-friendly shipping labels are available through providers like Noissue, who offer shipping labels made of recyclable materials. 

Partner With a 3PL 

When you partner with a third-party fulfillment and logistics company such as GoBolt, you won’t have to worry about making your own any longer! They’ll generate these for you as part of the end-to-end fulfillment, logistics and shipping process. 

FAQs

1. Can I handwrite a shipping label instead of generating and printing one?

Yes, you can handwrite a shipping label as long as it is legible. You will still need barcodes which are generated by your carrier of choice. 

2. Do shipping labels expire?

Yes. Some include a ship-by date that you should try to stick to as much as possible. 

3. How much do shipping labels cost?

You can generate your own shipping labels for free, but you’ll have to pay to ship and track each parcel. The cost of shipping a package varies widely depending on a whole host of factors including how far you’re shipping, the size and weight of the shipped parcel and more. 

4. How do I properly affix a shipping label on a package? 

It’s easy! Place your shipping label on one side of the package with a large surface. Don’t place it near the corners. Avoid bends and folds, as they can make the label harder to read and scan. You can either tape the label onto the package if you’ve printed on normal paper, or stick it on if you printed on self-adhesive paper. 

Final Thoughts

Shipping labels are an essential part of the shipping process and contain highly important information. By understanding the nuances of these labels and by using the information from this guide, you can avoid common shipping mistakes and deliver your packages with excellence!