Custom Shipping Labels – Are They Worth It?

In order to keep them happy, shippers are constantly trying new ways to meet their ever changing demands and create unique shopping experiences.

Justin Cramer

Customer satisfaction is everything. In order to keep them happy, shippers are constantly trying new ways to meet their ever changing demands and create unique shopping experiences. Some are even completely customizing shipping labels to showcase their brand and create better warehouse efficiencies. While customized labels may seem like a small change, shippers are learning they have downsides. Customizing labels in the wrong way can lead to non-compliance with carriers, resulting in shipping delays, unsatisfied customers and potential fees.

With customer experience, repeat purchasing, brand loyalty and profitability constantly on a shipper’s mind, non-compliance can break the supply chain. Not to mention, creating completely custom labels can cost thousands of dollars per year to maintain. Most carriers also require an extensive one-off certification process where the shipper must show labels from every printer with examples of every possible service. This can be thousands of labels along with their corresponding electronic data interchange (EDI) manifests, which are manually created by the shipper and the professional services team. In the end, all this time and cost can be a complete waste if a carrier’s specifications change, causing major non-compliance issues and the customization process to start over again.

What if custom labels are necessary for your warehouse and required by customers? Many shippers use custom shipping labels internally to optimize the order fulfillment process. These shippers use conveyor routing identification to create specific codes for every shipping container so it can be scanned by material handling equipment. This allows the warehouse control software (WCS) to route the parcel to the appropriate shipping trailer, increasing efficiency. Shippers can also use custom shipping labels to meet their customers’ needs. For example, when shipping to Walmart, Target and Bed Bath & Beyond, they require particular data to be on a shipping label so they can stock the items on their shelves faster, expediting the receiving process. You might know these as UCC-128, GS1, or MH-10 requirements.

As you can see, shipping labels can be rather confusing.  It may be difficult to understand what customization is and what it is not.  It is best to break down shipping label modifications into three areas:

1.      Mapping

2.       Customer Area Additions – also known as the “Doc Tab”

3.       Complete Custom Labels

Mapping is directing information to go into pre-existing areas of the label. Most carriers have three to five fields that will print on their label and be included in all the EDI feeds (manifest, billing and tracking).  The act of mapping this data from the data source into the shipping system is not considered making a custom label.

Often customers need to add the GS1 barcodes mentioned above.  If this is done outside of the area the carriers need for their label information, like mapping, this is not considered creating a custom label.  This means if you have a carrier that needs 4” x 6” for their data and you have 4” x 8” label stock, your company can add any text, logo and barcode in the extra two inches.

Finally, if you need to encroach on the carrier’s area by adding more data, resizing text, adding barcodes within their 4”x 6” area, then a custom label is needed.  All of the risks stated before are only applicable to this kind of label customization.

No matter how a warehouse uses custom shipping labels, it is important to understand the best practices to ensure compliance.

  • Learn about mapping. One of the biggest mistakes shippers make is customizing a label when they meant to simply map data to the appropriate parts of the label. Shippers must understand that basic reference field mapping does not create a custom label. By learning more about mapping, shippers can save time and money, and avoid non-compliance.
  • Use a larger label. Increase the size of a shipping label from a 4” x 6” to a 4” x 8” to add space that is now completely open for customization. Shippers can add logos, receiving barcodes, internal barcodes and anything else that might be necessary or beneficial in this new space.
  • Add shipping software. Many multi-carrier shipping software platforms offer pre-certified carrier labels that update when carriers change their specifications, providing complete peace of mind. The programs also allow shippers to create business rules so they can remain compliant with customers as well.

As shipping needs and customer demands continue to change, it is important to keep your shipping labels up to date and carrier compliant. By following shipping label best practices, shippers can meet customer expectations and create a better fulfillment process. You may even have the ability to extend your brand for marketing purposes. All of this will ensure carrier-compliant custom shipping labels that are worthwhile for your business and customers.