This article series on how to ship a package is entirely dedicated to the magical world of shipping labels. It’s a following to my popular article on how to package a product.
Shipping is a major pain point for most hardware entrepreneurs. Packages blocked at the customs, delays and mistakes, extra fees… A way to limit issues is to properly take care of your shipping labels. These little sticky papers are one of your keys to better logistics.
Most shipping failures come from a lack of information.
In this article, you will learn how to:
- Part 1: Understand shipping labels
- Part 2: Print your shipping labels (coming up)
- Part 3: Prepare your shipment (coming up)
Time for a bit of label geeking:
What is a Shipping Label
Shipping labels provide key information to each actor of your supply chain to move your package from one hand to an other, from the warehouse to your customer’s doorstep.
Each carrier (UPS, DHL, FedEx, Amazon…) uses a specific template for its shipping labels. You need to follow the templates provided by your carrier to ensure good delivery.
Each carrier designed their label so that they are optimized with their own process, at the routing center and at the storage warehouse. Shipping labels are designed to be read by both machines and humans. Being clear and easy to read is a top priority.
On a shipping label, you’ll see barcodes, numbers and letters. Each area is being used along the way to inform specific partners of the supply chain.
If you look at this sample from a UPS label, here is what you see:
A/ The name and address of the sender (you)
B/ The name and address of the recipient (your customer)
C/ A MaxiCode: it’s a code that can be read in any direction by the machine.
It contains all information needed for the delivery: postal code, country code, service class, tracking number, date, package quantity and weight, address validation, and ship street, city and state.
D/ The Routing Code: it tells how to route the package within the UPS building.
E/ The Postal Barcode: it shows the zipcode of the destination
F/ 1Z Tracking Number: that’s the number you give to your customer so that he can track his package
G/ Level of Service: it describes your chosen level of service provided by the carrier
Don’t worry. Most of these information are automatically generated by your carrier.
The main information you need in order to fill a label are:
- your name and address
- the name and address of your customer
- the level of service (priority, by air…)
Templates can vary but overall shipping labels follow international standards. It’s good to know that:
- the standard size in the industry for shipping labels is: 4×6 inches. If your package doesn’t fit this label, other standard formats are: 6×3 inch and 4×4 inch.
- You can’t reuse old labels. A new label has to be created for each package since each of them contain unique coded information.
“You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.” says Albert Einstein.
How to Fill Out a Shipping Label
You have 3 major options.
Option 1 – Use Online Carrier’s Label Templates
For small orders (average of 3 a day), you can use free printable labels provided on your carrier’s website.
It’s the best way to do things right, but not the best one to go fast and automate since you have to go on the website for every order.
Every carriers offer online tools to help you create shipping labels that fit their specific requirements.
You’re expected to connect on their website, fill out the label template and download the file that you will then have to print at home.
Here is where you can find each online tool (they usually requires to sign up first):
- FedEx, Create Shipment
- UPS, Create a Shipment
- DHL,Online Shipping
- Amazon instructions here
- eBay, eBay labels, instructions here
Option 2 – Use a Shipping Label Software
This option is a good one if you work mostly offline and don’t want to rely on your carrier’s website. You’ll also have more freedom in the customization and automation of your labels. Choose this option if you have many labels to fill every day, don’t have easy access to the Internet or use multiple carriers.
The “problem” with using carrier online label tools is that they require you to go on their website every time, login and follow the whole process. It’s time consuming and not efficient if you have more than 5 labels to create per day.
A good way to go around this problem is to use a tool to automatically import template from your carrier and fill the label locally in your computer.
Let’s look at the different label software available:
|Avery||Free||Leading company for label sheets ready to print at home or at the office.|
|Microsoft Word||$100 per year||Word has a built-in feature for creating and printing labels.|
|OpenOffice||Free||OpenOffice offers many shipping labels templates to work from.|
|GLabels||free||Free software to design labels. It populates Avery label page for easy home prints. No text formatting.|
|Scribus||free||Scribus is an open source software to create layouts from texts and images. It can be used to create labels.|
GLabels and OpenOffice are great options. They are open source and easy to use. Avery makes sense only if you use a home printer and Avery label sheets (we’ll see in Part 2 what are your other options).
Option 3 – Automated Shipping Tool
A third option is to sign up to an online service that automatically aggregates order information from multiple platforms and carriers and fill forms accordingly. Most of the time, you’ll have to pay a monthly fee.
It’s the neat option if you have a serious amount of orders every day (more than 20) and are ready to pay.
4 big shipping services are Stamps.com, Endicia, ShipStation and ShippingEasy. Let’s see how they compare.
|Service Name||Basic cost per month||Description|
|Stamps.com||$15.99||Stamps.com lets you create shipping labels and import orders from multiple selling platforms (see the full list here) letting you choose the most efficient shipping method. Discounted rates with USPS are offered thanks to a strong partnership.|
|Endicia||$15.95||Endicia is an all-in-one service taking care of fulfillment and creating shipping labels. Focus is given on international shipping. Discounts are available. Compatible DYMO LabelWriter 4XL|
|ShipStation||$25||ShipStation is a popular option that integrates with an impressive number of selling platforms (see the list here). Discounted shipping rates available. Fulfillment and shipping labels creation. Return label included|
|Shipping Easy||$0-$29||ShippingEasy offers the same services (list of integrated selling platforms here)|
To pick the right service for you, main criteria to take in consideration are:
- which selling platforms do you need to integrate: ShipStation is a good fully integrated solution.
- how many shipments do you make per month: If less than 50, ShippingEasy is a good affordable choice.
- where do you ship to: Stamps is a good choice for domestic US shipping. Endicia is better for international.
To conclude and just in case you were wondering, don’t try to fill out shipping labels by hand. Don’t try to create a template from scratch. In the shipping world, the game is to follow carriers’ instructions as closely as possible.
Your choice between online generators, label software or shipping service mostly depends on how much time you want to spend filling out labels.
- 0 to 5 orders per week: use your carrier online tool
- 5 to 10 orders per week: use a label software
- 10 to much more per week: subscribe to a shipping service
See you soon for Part 2 of this article series on how to ship a package: “Print shipping labels”. And by then, share your experience in the comments below!