A shipping rate is essentially how much you will pay for a ticket that sends your order on its way, and that ticket is what’s called a shipping label — a barcode-ridden slip stuck onto packages that contains all the delivery information needed for a shipping carrier to get an order to the customer’s door.

Generating Shipping Labels

Before the days of the Internet, shipping an order meant heading to a post office location that would weigh shipments, take address information, and handle shipping labels. That’s not the case anymore — you have a few options that do the work for you online, spitting out rates automatically and providing the means to print a label. They come in three flavors.

Directly Through Carrier

After creating an account through them, a shipping carrier will allow you to create and print a shipping label through its own online calculator. Take a look at these carriers’ tools:

While the tools are useful, especially for low-volume, just-starting-out e-retailers, the process of plugging in shipping information like addresses and weight can become tedious and time-consuming.

Directly Through Platform

Sometimes it’s easier to create and print shipping labels directly through the platform they’re made on. Whether it’s a marketplace or a cart, many leading sales channels provide the means to process and print shipping labels.

Because your sales channel already knows your ship-from location, the customer’s address, and product information like weight, they’re able to automatically populate such information into the label. Plus, they’re typically integrated with a variety of shipping carriers, helping calculate the rate for you to begin with.

However, if you’re selling on multiple channels, logging into each just to pay for, create, and ship orders can be just as tedious as printing directly through a carrier.

Shipping Software

This is where software providers like Ordoro come into play. To keep it brief, shipping software providers integrate with shipping carriers, sales channels, and other apps, allowing you to you manage orders across your entire business, all in one place.

They offer additional benefits like heavily-discounted shipping rates, tools for inventory management, and other features as well. But feel free to check out the very website you’re on for all of that!

What’s in a Label?

From USPS to DHL, every shipping carrier out there has a unique template for their labels that must be followed to the tee to ensure successful delivery. Each barcode, number, and address scattered on a label is a touch point in the delivery process, and every odd-looking mark serves a purpose

Whether it’s via the post office, your sales channel, or a shipping solution, whatever service you use to generate and print shipping labels will fill out all of the required information for you. But it doesn’t hurt to know what each part of a label means during the delivery process.

Let’s look at USPS as an example:

Anatomy of a shipping label

  1. Service Icon Block
    This box at the upper left designates the shipping method of the label. In this situation, it’s a P for Priority Mail, one of USPS’ services. Other shipping labels operate similarly, listing the service used somewhere on the label for reference.
  2. Service Banner
    Plopped under the icon block is the service banner, which specifies the exact type of service. Here, it’s Priority Mail 1-Day, a subclass of Priority Mail.
  3. Postage Payment Area
    Stamp, online postage, or metered postage, USPS shipping labels include evidence of postage payment. Some carriers include this, some don’t.
  4. Return Address Section
    Pretty important in ecommerce, the address of a merchant or third-party logistics provider (someone that ships orders for a merchant) is listed here in case an order must be returned. All carriers, whether they call it a return address or not, will include the sender’s address.
  5. Endorsement Section
    This area lists out any additional service requested, like returns, carrier release, or specific delivery instructions made by the e-retailer. Other carriers either highlight a section similar to this or use numbers and icons to represent additional services.
  6. Delivery Address Section
    The most important part of the label, the customer’s delivery address is centered here. All shipping carriers list it, and it’s usually presented in a large font size because of its importance.
  7. Intelligent Mail Package Barcode Segment
    Barcodes abound in all shipping labels because they contain critical information for delivery. In USPS’ labels, the barcode includes shipping information like the order’s tracking number. Other carriers goes as far as using a MaxiCode that includes a ton of info, from service and package weight to address and tracking number.
  8. Additional Information and User Segment
    Any information that’s not pertinent to the endorsement section or any other section of the shipping label can be included at the bottom. Usually, merchants will decide to include some branding here like a message or their company logo. Most carriers offer a section similar to this somewhere on the label.

Tracking Information

Inherent in a shipping label is tracking information. Shipping carriers track every single package they send off, and customers — now more than ever — want to know when their order is delivered. Two parts of shipping, tracking numbers and delivery confirmation, are important steps in every shipping workflow.

Do note that it doesn’t matter if you’re creating shipping labels through a shipping solution, sales channel, or directly through the carrier — every order you ship will have some sort of tracking and delivery confirmation. But the service you use will impact how that information gets to the customer.

Directly Through Carrier

If you create labels through a carrier’s own tool, you’ll pull tracking info and delivery confirmation through it. The main issue with creating orders directly through a carrier is the fact that you must manually email that information back to your customer for them to track it on their own end. The same goes for delivery confirmation.

Directly Through Platform

Sales channels make this a bit easier. Since the platform an order is made on already knows the customer’s email address, it’s able to automatically store a processed order’s tracking information that the customer can see on their own.

Either the customer can log onto their account and view the status and tracking number of their orders there (think Amazon), or an e-retailer can make it so that order tracking and confirmation is emailed directly to the customer automatically when an order is processed on the channel.

Shipping Software

Shipping software adds just one step to how it works on sales channels. Whenever an order is processed, the shipping software will take tracking information and relay it back to the sales channel that the order was made on. The same goes for delivery confirmation.

The service you use to calculate rates and create labels will most likely be the service you use to collect and relay tracking information and delivery confirmation to the customer. However you manage it is up to you, but it’s an important part of both the label and your shipping workflow — you need to keep the customer in the loop.

The Final Leg

Once generated, some e-retailers print shipping labels on adhesive tape to easily stick them on an order, while others go arts-and-crafts style, printing them on regular paper and taping them to packages.

But the packaging you place those labels on is worth a look as well.