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A Guide To Shipping Labels For Your Online Business

As your order volume increases, it’s likely that you’re looking for ways to increase your operational efficiency. One element worth spending some time on is your shipping labels.

That’s right: Shipping labels.

Not only are these essential to ensure the timely delivery of your items, but shipping labels are also an important part of order management for your business. You can easily track your orders and therefore improve your order fulfilment process and the customer experience.

But what exactly do you need to know when using shipping labels? What type of printer is needed? Are there any shipping label best practices to keep in mind?

In this guide, we discuss your shipping label options and weigh up the pros and cons of different printer types. We also talk through how to generate shipping labels and the benefits of using them to support your eCommerce business.

What are shipping labels?

If we strip back to basics, shipping labels are the sheet of paper (i.e. an identification label) attached to a package to describe and specify its contents.

While you may find that shipping labels vary depending on which carrier you use, all should include the following similar elements:

  • The origin or return address
  • Destination address (customer’s location)
  • Package weight and other dimensions
  • Shipping class (e.g. next-day air mail, first-class recorded, etc)
  • Electronic tracking number and barcode

If you’re just starting out in online retail or you don’t find yourself with more than a handful of customers each day, then you may be writing out your shipping labels by hand.

While this is a nice and sentimental touch for your customers, as you expand and your order volume increases, it quickly becomes an unsustainable and inefficient way of doing things.

What are the benefits of using shipping labels? 

There are many benefits to using shipping labels in an eCommerce business.

For example:

Merchant sellers can easily track sales and inventory and customers can track the status of their online purchase – improving both the customer experience and the efficiency of your business operations.

Barcodes on shipping labels can also be really useful when it comes to handling logistics and supply chains. What’s more, barcode scanners are more cost-effective and accurate when compared to key-entry.

In addition to these benefits, by utilising shipping labels on your packaged boxes you can brand your business in a much more efficient and professional way.

Shipping labels: Best practices

Generally speaking, there are two main options when using shipping labels:

  • Shipping labels on sheets
  • Shipping labels on rolls

But how exactly are you supposed to know which type to go for?

First off, the option that you choose will greatly depend on the type of printer that you have. Most people have standard desktop printers (also known as laser or inkjet varieties) which use sheet labels.

Simply put, all sheet labels are is a label version of printer paper.

On the other hand, most businesses are likely to have dedicated label printers (also known as direct thermal or thermal transfer) which make use of roll labels.

Roll labels spin a strip of adhesive labels around on a cardboard stool and are often seen as the more appropriate option for businesses that sell a large volume of products, despite being an added upfront cost.

Here are a few reasons why:

  • Roll label printers are faster on a per-label basis (seen as a big selling point)
  • Printing labels one at a time means that no reloading of sheets is necessary
  • It’s rare to experience alignment issues due to the way they are inserted

That said, the vast majority of shipping platforms offer downloadable shipping labels in both formats, so the one you select is likely to depend on your business needs.

How do your printer options affect your shipping labels? 

When it comes to sheet labels, you can use either laser or inkjet printers.

Laser printers tend to be preferred by carriers as the labels produced tend to be more durable with clearer lines that inkjet printers, which is vital for product barcodes.

What’s more, with a laser printer there’s no risk of wet ink as these printers use electronically charged lasers to fuse the toner on the paper.

As such, laser printers create waterproof shipping labels which is ideal for online businesses based in countries that experience a lot of rain, hail or snow.

Of course, there is the argument that inkjet printers are much more low cost, better for printing colour and they can also produce high quality prints.

But if an inkjet shipping label gets wet, it will smudge or run, which then risks being illegible to the shipping carrier. This may ultimately affect how long your customer has to wait for his or her order and create a negative customer experience.

In comparison, roll labels require direct thermal or thermal transfer printers.

Direct thermal printers have low operational costs. However, as these printers use heat to produce labels, your labels will be chemically treated to react to heat.

What this means is that if a parcel is put in hot or warm environments for too long, the entire label may darken and erase crucial details that are needed for delivery.

On the other hand, thermal transfer printers work by melting wax or resin onto a shipping label, making it strong enough to withstand extreme temperatures and any contact with chemicals.

What shipping label adhesive type is best for your business?

If you decide to use a shipping platform (which will increase in necessity as your business grows) then you should expect to find a wide variety of adhesive labels available to you.

So, what qualities should you look for when selecting an adhesive?

Most eCommerce retailers will want shipping labels with a strong and permanent backing that sticks to smooth surfaces easily. In other words, a heavy-duty label.

Keep in mind, however, that while heavy-duty labels have long staying power, they are often not able to hold up to strong weather conditions.

Therefore, it’s likely you’ll want to seek out weather-proof shipping labels.

Not only are these adhesives good for wet seasons, they are also ideal for heavy handling and won’t get ruined if they accidentally come into contact with liquids.

Do you need to consider shipping label facesheet properties?

In general, most facesheets are smooth and white – a typical standard for mail everywhere.

That said, you may come across some facesheets that have additional properties, such as:

  • Weather-proof labels

    Weather-proof facesheets have a waterproof top coating which is made of a synthetic material rather than paper. This is ideal for eCommerce businesses that operate in rain or snow seasons.

  • Blockout labels

    A blockout label uses a coating between the facesheet and adhesive layer, which prevents light from passing through. This is ideal if you’re reusing boxes and need to block out old shipping information or similar content.

Three ways to generate shipping labels

After you have decided upon your chosen label style and accompanying printer, you’ll need to figure out how you will generate your shipping labels.

For eCommerce sellers, there are three methods to choose from:

Directly through your shipping carrier 

After setting up an account with your shipping carrier, you’ll be able to use their online calculators to create and print shipping labels for each order.

This method is useful for new online retailers who process a low volume of orders. As you grow, however, it can become tedious and time-consuming to maintain.

Directly through platform 

You may find it easier to create and print shipping labels directly through the platform that a particular order is made through, such as a marketplace (e.g. eBay or Amazon), eCommerce platform (e.g. Shopify or BigCommerce) or order management software.

These selling channels can already identify the shipping location, customer’s address, product information and necessary dimensions so they can automatically fill in most of the information required on a shipping label.

On the other hand, if you sell on multiple channels then logging into each of them to pay, create and ship orders can become tedious much like printing directly through a carrier.

One solution to this is using an order management system to centralise all your orders in one location, so that you can take full control of your shipping labels.

Shipping software

Many shipping software providers integrate with a wide variety of shipping carriers, sales channels and other applications to enable you to manage orders across your entire business.

You may also find that certain shipping software companies offer other benefits, such as heavily discounted shipping rates and tools for inventory and order management.

Common shipping label mistakes

Despite shipping labels being known as a fairly simple to understand process, some online retailers still find themselves learning from their mistakes.

How your packages look is central to the unboxing experience – and therefore the total customer experience – encountered by your shoppers. It’s not uncommon to find sellers who forget the shipping label can play a big role in this.

Here are some common shipping label mistakes worth avoiding:

Scissors and tape

While scissors and tape are a fine choice for sending gifts to your friends and family, they don’t create the professional look that paying customers are likely to expect.

As such, you may find your customers start to question the quality and legitimacy of your business.

Milk

As wild as it sounds, some retailers used to send packages with labels applied with milk.

Why?

Well, some companies believe the protein in milk acts as a bonding agent.

However, this doesn’t mean it should be used as an adhesive. Ever.

Removable labels

In theory, removable labels sound like a good idea. Your customer can reuse the box for something else without worrying about removing labels or other content.

Keep in mind that you run the risk of the label coming off the package, resulting in lost packages.

Worn-out boxes 

Although it’s a great cost-saving idea to reuse boxes, you should only do so if your boxes are in good condition and not worn at the edges.

Not only are worn-out boxes messy in appearance (thus affecting the customer’s opinion of your brand) but if they contain multiple barcodes or labels it can confuse shipping carriers and may result in delivery delays.

Common shipping label questions from online sellers

Here are some common questions about shipping labels that online retailers frequently ask:

What shipping labels should I use for my eCommerce business?

As a general rule of thumb, most online sellers use a shipping label that is 4in x 6in.

In fact, these dimensions are often considered the industry standard and is supported by all major shipping carriers.

Should you sell on multiple marketplaces, keep in mind that you’ll want to double check their requirements for shipping labels and abide to any changes.

Can I print shipping labels from home? 

At the beginning of an eCommerce journey, it’s likely that a seller would conduct the entire order fulfilment from home, take packages to the post office and then wait in line to print shipping labels there and then.

However, this quickly becomes time-consuming and expensive. After all, buying labels at the post office means that you are purchasing at retail rates, the most expensive pricing tier.

You can, however, to this entire process from home.

Many websites and applications will allow you to print out shipping labels. In some cases, you may even be able to schedule a carrier pick-up, so you don’t need to waste any time standing in a queue at the post office (e.g. ShippingEasy).

Of course, as you scale it’s highly likely you’ll rent separate warehouse and office space.

Perfect your shipping labels to boost your business growth

Paying close attention to every aspect of your company’s operations – including shipping labels – is crucial in order for you to create a profitable and sustainable business.

Looking to increase your sales for your online retail business? Check out these 51 ways to grow your eCommerce business and start selling more now.

51 ecommerce growth tips

Topics: Delivery & Fulfilment