What Is A Shipping Label & How Do You Create One?
Your package is ready to go! You wrapped your products with care, sealed them up, arranged for pickup or dropoff, and let the customer know when she can expect to receive it. There’s just one more thing to take care of, and it’s a big one: the shipping label.
A shipping label is a crucial component of the process of getting packages from here to there, safely and on time, but it’s such a small part of the sales and delivery process that it’s easy to overlook how important it is. Not any more! Get ready to dial down to the basics of this important shipping component and make sure you’re doing it right — for your business, for your products, and for your customers.
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What Is A Shipping Label?
You know what a shipping label looks like. It has a “to” field and a “from” field, and it’s the key to getting your shipment from here to there. The days of writing out addresses and shipping instructions by hand, either on an adhesive label or on the box itself, are long gone. That method is not only inefficient in a business context, but also dangerous, since it creates a real risk of your shipments being delayed, misdirected, or lost. This is the age of automation, and like it or not, you need to use automated labels to ship products to your customers, whether you ship one box once a month or dozens of packages each week.
Today’s shipping labels still contain the same basic information any shipping carrier will need to transport the package safely to its destination. But these days, a shipping label needs more than a “to” and “from” address. The reason? Automation.
How Do Shipping Labels Work?
A modern shipping label contains a unique bar code, a pattern of parallel lines and spaces. This code can be scanned at various points in the delivery process, such as when you send out the package, when it arrives at and leaves the shipping facility, and when it reaches its final destination. The bar code allows you, the carrier, and the customer to track the package and hopefully will keep it from going astray on its journey.
Let’s take a look at a basic shipping label. This is a generic example. The carrier you choose to ship your packages with may have some additional fields on its preferred labels. However, this example shows the most important common elements. Use the key below to identify these five elements.
- Information About The Shipper: List your company name and physical address.
- Information About The Recipient: Write out the physical address to which you want the package to go. Include a company name, if applicable, and always include a person’s name if possible.
- Your Internal Shipping Information: You can include information about what’s inside the package, if you use automation to pick and pull orders.
- Routing Bar Code: The shipping carrier will read this code to determine the package’s destination, enabling more efficient sorting and tracking of the package, and resulting in faster and more secure delivery.
- Special Instructions: You may or may not have anything to include here. You might write that a signature is required, for example. Or you might want to make notes about proper handling or storing of the package.
What About Prepaid Shipping Labels?
In addition to labels, you need to add one more very important thing to the packages you want to ship: payment to the shipping carrier who delivers them! If you use the USPS, you could pay shipping costs by affixing stamps. If you use a shipping service like FedEx or UPS, you might have an account and be billed regularly for the shipments you send. But there is a better way.
You can use the technology you already have in your office to print shipping labels that have all the key elements like bar codes, your shipping information, and the recipients’ information. And you can do it all from your desktop, using a regular printer.
What’s the benefit of using prepaid shipping labels? If you regularly ship with the same carrier or carriers, you can use their systems to create their preferred style of shipping label and pay for shipping costs in one smooth process. You’ll save time and likely even some money, as you take advantage of rewards programs and discounts with your shippers.
How To Create A Shipping Label
No matter who you use as your shipping carrier, you’ll find the process of creating a shipping label is pretty similar across the board. You may use a major carrier, like the USPS, UPS, or FedEx, or you may use shipping software to get the job done. The first step is logging in to the computer system and entering basic information about the package you want to ship. Let’s look at some of the details for each shipping provider if you:
Use A Shipping Carrier
You can choose among multiple major shipping carriers, or even use small local carriers if the majority of your packages stay close to their place of origin. No matter who you use, you should check to see if they have label printing software you can use. Read on — we will show you how to print prepaid labels with three of the biggest carriers. Wondering which is best overall? Check out our in-depth comparison of the USPS, FedEx, and UPS.
USPS Shipping Labels
If you ship regularly through USPS, you can save a lot of time by preprinting labels and paying shipping costs online. To get started, sign up for a free Click-N-Ship account through the USPS website. In addition to letting you print labels with prepaid postage from your own computer, Click-N-Ship benefits include free priority mail supplies you can order online, free insurance up to $50 on each package, and a loyalty program that lets you earn credits you can apply toward future shipping costs.
When you log in to your Click-N-Ship account, you’ll be able to build an address book to store customers’ shipping information, saving you time in the long run and reducing the possibility of errors when you make repeat shipments to the same address. You can also batch orders and print labels for up to 20 different addresses at the same time. Tracking services are included at no additional charge, and you can even schedule free pickup at your regularly scheduled mail delivery time.
To print a shipping label using USPS Click-N-Ship, you’ll need to enter the recipient’s name and mailing address and choose a shipping date. Then, you’ll enter details about the package, including its weight (if you know it) and basic dimensions. Choose your delivery service type — Priority Mail, Priority Mail Express, and first-class package service are the options — and add any additional services, such as signature confirmation or extra insurance. Add the item to your shopping cart, and you’re ready to pay and ship. You can enter a credit card or use PayPal, then print your label and wait for pickup.
FedEx Shipping Labels
FedEx is one of the biggest shipping carriers, and you can take advantage of the company’s network and access the best rates by creating a FedEx account. Enter your ship-from address and then credit card information to create your account. Once you sign up for a business account, you’ll qualify for discounts that reduce your costs, and you’re also eligible for the FedEx rewards program.
Even without an account, you can print labels and schedule shipments online. The process is the same either way. You’ll need to enter ZIP Codes for the package’s origin and destination, the number of packages you’re sending at this time, what type of packaging you’re using, the dimensions of your packages, and how much they weigh. You must also enter a phone number for the recipient.
You’ll be able to see the rates for a variety of shipping times and choose from Overnight, Ground Service, 2-day delivery, or Express Saver. The rates, delivery date, and time for each delivery type will be displayed to help you choose. You can schedule a pickup, for a fee, or opt to drop off packages. You can either use your account, with its stored payment information, or enter a credit card number to pay for shipping.
UPS Shipping Labels
Known for its reliability and excellent package tracking system, UPS is also an affordable option for heavy or oversize shipments. Start your shipment on its way by loading the UPS shipping calculator online. There, you’ll enter the to and from ZIP Codes and the destination street address. The system will validate that address and let you know of any discrepancies that could affect delivery. You’ll be able to see delivery options including Next Day Air, 2nd Day Air, UPS Ground, and UPS 3 Day Select. And you can opt to receive status updates on your shipment via the email address you provide.
Enter information about your shipment, including what type of packaging you’re using, its weight, and its value, and then add optional fee-based delivery requirements including confirmation, signature, or C.O.D. You can schedule a pickup or drop your packages off. Enter information about the contents, which will appear on the label, then pay via credit card or PayPal. Print and affix your label, and the hard work of shipping is almost done.
Use Shipping Software
Calculating shipping costs can be complicated. What you pay depends not only on what carrier you use but also on each package’s weight, dimensions, and destination. You can save money on shipments by comparing costs among major carriers, but that can be time-consuming — unless you use shipping software to make it easy on yourself.
When you use a software solution, you can receive real-time shipping rate calculations and receive a variety of different shipping options from different carriers at different speeds and rates. Many times, you’ll also receive discounts on shipping costs, thanks to special arrangements with carriers.
No matter if you use one or two carriers regularly, or if you use shipping software to help you get the best rate for each package you send, you’ll need to use some strategies to ensure the labels you print for packages do their part in delivering packages safely to their destinations.
- Use a high-quality printer. If the information on the label is not easy to read, your shipment could be delayed.
- Use self-adhesive labels when possible. You can order self-adhesive label paper online at a reasonable cost.
- Cover the label with clear tape. That makes the label waterproof.
- Leave the barcode uncovered, if possible. Shiny tape can interfere with scanning and may slow your shipment down.
- Make sure the package is clean and dry. If the box or envelope has dust or moisture on its surface, your label may not adhere properly.
- Don’t wrap the label over a corner. If the package is too small for the label, consider using a larger container.
- Use packaging provided by your carrier when possible. Packaging often is provided at no charge, and you’ll see exactly where the label should be affixed for most efficient handling.
- Put the label on a flat surface. If your package is lumpy or uneven, consider repackaging it.
- Remove old labels. If you’re reusing boxes or envelopes, avoid confusion by making sure to remove any old labels and barcodes.
Create, Print, Label, & Go!
Shipping is an important part of the sales process. Yet it’s something so familiar that many people may overlook its potential impact. The more you know about printing and affixing labels, choosing the right carrier, and using the right packaging, the more efficiently you can operate.
If you’re ready to look for more ways to turn shipping into a business advantage, go back to basics and look for improvements that can save you money and satisfy customers. And if you’re looking for ways to get shipping costs under control, you can learn how to evaluate carriers and choose the right one for your needs. Even after you choose a preferred carrier, you can always find ways to save money on shipping costs. So keep investigating, keep adjusting, and most important — keep selling and shipping!