Shipping labels may seem like a tiny piece of the ecommerce puzzle, but they are critical to both inbound and outbound logistics and are vital to your online store’s success and customer satisfaction. Shipping labels share important information with your supply chain, helping technology and people alike understand the origins and destination of your package.
Without clear shipping labels, your customers’ orders could be lost or mishandled, creating a bad customer experience, damaging brand loyalty, and ultimately losing sales.
This article will cover the information included on a shipping label, how to create shipping labels for self-fulfilled orders, and how a third-party logistics (3PL) provider can help take the hassle out of the shipping process.
What is a shipping label?
Shipping labels are a type of identification label that helps describe and specify what’s inside a package. Shipping labels differ depending on the carrier you use, but they all consist of things like addresses, names, weight, and a tracking barcode.
Understanding shipping labels
Most UPS and USPS shipping labels look like this:
Note: These are not ShipBob-specific shipping labels.
As seen above, shipping labels generally include the following information:
- Origin/return address
- Destination address
- Package weight
- Shipping class (Next Day Air and Priority Mail, respectively, in the examples above)
- Electronic tracking number and shipping barcode (automatically generated by the carrier)
The above information is critical for getting your customers’ orders where they need to go as quickly as they’re supposed to get there. This is especially important if your online store offers more than one shipping option, such as expedited shipping which is significantly more expensive; you want to make sure that customers get what they pay for and expect.
That said, the main information you or your shipping provider will need to provide is the customer’s address and return address — a good shipping software or ecommerce fulfillment provider will automatically generate the rest.
The shipping label will also show whether or not postage has been paid; if you are pre-paying and printing shipping labels online, or if you work with an order fulfillment provider, the shipping label will be marked as paid, such as the “US Postage and Fees Paid” note at the top of the sample USPS label above.
[Related Article: Fulfillment Basics: What is a SKU?]
How to create a shipping label
Now that you know the “what” of shipping labels, it’s time to learn the “how.” If you’re already working with a 3PL, you can go ahead and skip to the next section.
If you are self-fulfilling orders for your ecommerce store, there are a variety of websites and apps that can help you purchase and create shipping labels for your orders. These options range from paying for and printing labels on USPS and UPS’s websites to more robust shipping automation platforms like ShipStation. Your ecommerce platform and/or marketplace may offer shipping label generation as well.
Your first step in creating a shipping label is choosing your carrier. Our page on USPS vs UPS vs FedEx will provide helpful information in carrying out this step. Each carrier then has its own procedure for creating a shipping label, but be prepared to create an account and be prepared to have the information you need. This information includes where you are shipping from, where you’re shipping to, and other information that is conditional to your specific shipping needs.
Shipping label best practices
When creating a shipping label, there are a few tips that can come in handy.
Understanding your shipping needs
First, understand your shipping must-haves as a business or an individual. How often do you ship products? How far do you ship products? What kind of products? These questions need to be answered in order to fully understand your needs.
Double-checking the shipping information
Double-checking the information you need on the shipping label is also important to avoid a hassle down the road. We recommend checking and rechecking not only that you have the right information but that you have transcribed the information accurately.
Have the shipping capital ready
Shipping costs money, and depending on package size, volume, and destination it can be expensive, so make sure you have the funds available.
Partner with a shipping carrier
For newbies and experienced ecommerce owners, shipping carriers have made the shipping process very user-friendly. Finding a carrier near you can help you along this process, especially for self-fulfillment enterprises.
Partner with a 3PL
One last bit of advice is to partner with a 3PL like ShipBob. ShipBob can help take care of your fulfillment process, which can give you more time to grow your business.
Shipping label FAQs
Where do you get a shipping label?
If you’re self-fulfilling orders, there are several options for generating shipping labels. You can simply print and pay for labels directly from carrier websites, or if you’re looking for a more robust solution, ShipStation makes it easy to generate shipping labels online and connects with all major shipping carriers.
If you partner with a 3PL like ShipBob, all you’d have to do is pay for shipping and your 3PL will purchase and generate shipping labels on your behalf. Your online store platform may also offer a service to generate labels as well.
Are shipping labels free?
Generating a shipping label is free, but you won’t be able to ship the package until postage has been paid for.
Can I print out a shipping label at home?
Yes. Major shipping carriers offer online services that make it easy to generate shipping labels from home. Here are some of the online tools major shipping carriers offer online:
You can easily insert package weight, dimensions, destination address, and shipping class, and the carrier will automatically generate a barcode.
Can I handwrite a shipping label?
You can handwrite the shipping address (as long as it’s eligible), but you will still need a carrier barcode, which needs to be generated by the carrier. Depending on the volume of orders you’re fulfilling, handwriting shipping addresses can become time-consuming. You’re better off using the variety of online tools that make the process easy and more time efficient.
Where can I print USPS shipping labels?
You can easily generate and print a USPS shipping label by using the Click-N-Ship online tool.
How much are UPS shipping labels?
Generating a shipping label through UPS is free, but you will still need to pay for postage, and any additional services, like tracking and shipping insurance options.
Can you tape over a shipping label?
Yes, as long as it’s clear tape, and the shipping address and barcode are 100% visible.
Shipping with a 3PL
Outsourcing to a third-party logistics company that purchases and generates shipping labels for you can take the hassle and stress out of label creation. All you need to do is pay for shipping, and then the 3PL will make sure your customers’ orders are labeled and shipped properly.
Many 3PLs, including ShipBob, have also negotiated volume discounts with major carriers such as DHL, USPS, and UPS, meaning that the lowest shipping prices possible are passed on to you and your customers.
If you’re looking to partner with a 3PL, request pricing below to get in touch with a retail fulfillment expert.
Utilize 2-day shipping for your brand using ShipBob’s 2-Day Express program. Download this guide to learn more and get started.