The Definitive Guide To Small Business Shipping [Carriers, Labels, & More]
Getting your product out the door can be the most challenging part of fulfillment for ecommerce businesses. It's critical to the success of your business and can take precious time to implement and execute correctly. From selecting a carrier to finding the right shipping label, it all affects customer service results and ultimately your bottom line.
This is no doubt difficult to work through on your own, especially without spending an arm and a leg along the way. To make this process easier, we compiled a comprehensive guide about shipping for product-based small businesses.
Breakdown of Popular Shipping Carriers
You have a bunch of options when it comes to shipping your handmade goods. Cost is the core component, but how do other factors weigh on your decision?
We're here to help. Read our reviews below to get a better understanding of each carrier and find out what's available to you.
United States Postal Service (USPS)
The United States Postal Service is the only public delivery carrier. Because of this, its prices are considerably lower than its private shipping counterparts.
If you're shipping products under 13 ounces, there is not a more affordable option. Even if your package is heavy, if it fits in a priority mail flat rate box, this will be the best deal.
You can also get USPS boxes for free and schedule pickups. You'll even find the carrier discounts online services so it's cheaper for you to avoid the post office and ship from home.
On top of that, USPS is the only carrier that can place deliveries in mailboxes and PO boxes – which means less worrying about doorstep package thieves.
However, USPS handles 47% of the world's mail volume so package tracking is less-than-desirable and dealing with its customer service team can be difficult.
USPS Small Business Benefits
- Click-N-Ship: Pay postage and print labels online. You can even schedule your packages to be picked up right from your front door.
- Every Door Direct Mail Advertising: Market to your audience with direct mail. Fill out a form about your current advertising efforts and request your free kit.
- PO Box: Keep business and personal mail separate. USPS can help you rent a PO box for your business.
UPS is revered for its speedy delivery. The shipping-giant has approximately 119,000 vehicles on the road and more than 550 planes in the air fulfilling your orders. Its tracking is comprehensive, bulk discounts are available, and they offer generous benefits for business owners – but all of its benefits come at a cost.
UPS shipping costs include extra fees for services other carriers provide standard. This includes surcharges for residential addresses, heavily weighted packages, and more.
UPS Small Business Benefits
- Business Discounts: Gain access to business-related discounts including accounting, marketing, IT help, and more.
- Per-Week Discounts: Based on how many packages you ship out per week, you get additional discounts. The more your business grows, the more you save on shipping.
- Grow Your Business: Free small business brainstorming sessions regarding your business plan and shipping needs.
- Manage Finances: Manage and allocate costs of shipping with UPS financial and payment services.
FedEx offers many of the same benefits as UPS including an extensive tracking system, quick delivery, and discounts for high-volume customers.
You'll also find FedEx doesn't require you to enter package dimensions or weight during the checkout process – likely due to the fact that it moves more than 15 million packages across the United States and throughout the world every business day.
Cost is often a detractor for entrepreneurs looking to ship with FedEx. Having said that, it does win out over the other options for anyone shipping heavy packages that don't fit within USPS' flat rate boxes.
FedEx Small Business Benefits
- Reward System: The My FedEx Rewards program enables you to gain rewards the more you ship with them. The program is free, and you can earn gift cards or merchandise just for shipping with FedEx.
- E-Commerce Solutions: Reach more customers, optimize order fulfillment, and more. FedEx offers e-commerce solutions to help scale your small business.
- Printing: FedEx Office offers a plethora of printing options from postcards to hanging storefront banners.
- Temperature Control: Shipping food, candles, or flowers? FedEx Temp-Assure offers temperature-controlled shipping packages with cooling and heating solutions.
USPS, UPS, FedEx Comparison
|Shipping Situation||Best Carrier|
|Your package is less than 2 lbs||USPS|
|Your product is small but heavy||USPS|
|You want to deliver to a mailbox or PO box||USPS|
|You want packages picked up from your door, for free||USPS|
|Your package is heavy and large||UPS|
|You want to get your package to the customer fast||FedEx|
|You want your packages insured (up to $100), for free||USPS, UPS, or FedEx|
|You're shipping a large number of packages per month||USPS, UPS, or FedEx|
|Your customer lives in a remote location||UPS or FedEx|
|You want accurate tracking||UPS or FedEx|
|You're willing to pay for packages to be picked up from your door||UPS or FedEx|
You don't have to choose just one! One of the best ways to save money on shipping is to keep your carrier options open. Switch between them regularly based on each product, destination, order size, and more.
Labels for Shipping Carriers
Once you know which carrier (or carriers) you'll be using to ship your handmade goods, check out our shipping label recommendations. This will make printing and alignment a breeze and help you create the best looking label.
If oyu use a thermal label printer to print your shipping labels, note that each shipping carier, fulfillment platform, and online marketplace-specific page we have also contains the recommended label sizes in both the roll label format and fanfold label format.
Shipping Labels for USPS®
The following variations are compatible with the Click-N-Ship services offered on the USPS website. Be sure to update your receipt label printing preferences depending on your final label configuration!
Recommended USPS shipping labels:
Shop all USPS shipping label sizes
Shipping Labels for UPS®
During our testing process, we found that the "standard" UPS shipping label was different when purchased from UPS Internet Shipping versus through the UPS Worldship desktop software. The variations were substantial enough to warrant different recommendations. Those can be found below.
Recommended UPS Internet Shipping shipping labels:
Recommended UPS WorldShip shipping labels:
Shop all UPS shipping label sizes
Shipping Labels for FedEx®
During our testing process, we found that the "standard" FedEx shipping label was different when purchased from FedEx Ship Manager Lite versus through the FedEx Ship Manager desktop software. The variations were substantial enough to warrant different recommendations. Those can be found below.
Recommended FedEx Ship Manager Lite shipping labels:
Recommended FedEx Ship Manager shipping labels:
Shop all FedEx shipping label sizes
Labels for Fulfillment Platforms
If you don't want to go through a mail carrier, another way to get the most out of shipping for your small business is through a shipping solutions platform. These third-party services often connect to your ecommerce platform and you can manage all of your shipping needs right from your account.
Shipping Labels for ShipStation®
ShipStation is a paid platform to help ecommerce businesses manage order processing, fulfillment, and shipping. It features an extensive list of store partners which makes connecting your business to Shipstation simple. Once connected, everything is automatically pulled into Shipstation so you can view order details, see customer information, pay postage, print labels, and customize delivery emails.
Recommended ShipStation shipping labels:
Shop all shipping label sizes
Shipping Labels for ShippingEasy®
Save time shipping with ShippingEasy. If you're shipping less than 50 packages a month, the platform is free and helps with processing orders, printing labels, and order tracking. It provides discounts on USPS postage but still allows you to choose the best carrier/prices for your orders.
Recommended ShippingEasy shipping labels:
Shop all shipping label sizes
Shipping Labels for Shippo®
Shippo is another software ecommerce shipping system that helps business owners manage shipping with multiple carriers. Connect your Shippo account with your order management software and you're in business. And with the Pay As You Go option, it's free to sign-up and there's no monthly fee. You only pay for the shipping labels and carrier fees.
Recommended Shippo shipping labels:
Shop all shipping label sizes
Shipping Labels for Stamps.com®
You can purchase your postage directly through companies like Stamps.com. It integrates with a wide range of ecommerce shopping carts so you can calculate the different costs, create shipping labels, and more. The paid platform also offers features for standardizing domestic addresses, tracking shipments, and customizing delivery emails.
Recommended Stamps.com shipping labels:
Shop all shipping label sizes
PayPal® Shipping Labels
PayPal is a popular platform for payment processing, but it offers more robust functionality for ecommerce companies. Through PayPal Shipping, you can manage all your shipments at once, order and print shipping labels, track packages, and more. And unlike many of its competitors, PayPal has no subscription costs or monthly fees.
Recommended PayPal shipping labels:
Shop all PayPal shipping label sizes
Read through our quick guide for printing PayPal shipping labels.
Labels for Online Marketplaces
If you're selling your goods on an online marketplace, you may not need to purchase shipping on your own. To ship to the billions of people shopping across third-party marketplaces, here's what you need to know.
Not yet selling on a marketplace? Get ideas on where to sell your product online.
Shipping Labels for Amazon® FBA
With FBA, you only have to worry about shipping to the warehouse, not customers. With these infrequent shipments and standardized destinations, you'll always be using UPS – this means you don't have to worry about different carriers and label sizes.
Recommended Amazon FBA shipping labels:
Shop all Amazon FBA shipping label sizes
Don't forget to label the contents inside your FBA box, too! Check out our FBA product labeling guide.
Shipping Labels for Etsy®
You get to choose your preferred carrier for each Etsy order, ensuring you get the best price every time.
Recommended Etsy shipping labels:
Shop all Etsy shipping label sizes
Once you have your sheets in-hand, find out how to print your Etsy shipping labels.
Shipping Labels for eBay®
For shipping via eBay, you're likely using PayPal until the transition to Adyen in 2020. With both programs, you'll be able to print in the same format each time so you can use the same labels time and time again.
Recommended eBay shipping labels:
Shop all eBay shipping label sizes
Discover how to print your eBay shipping labels.
Shipping Label Quick Guide
You're likely switching between carriers or platforms – which could mean a lot of wasted time changing the label sheets in your printer tray. Below is a summary of compatible shipping labels so you can find the best all-in-one option for your needs.
Shipping Label Best Practices
Your specialty lies in creating great products, you don't have time to figure out all the secrets to shipping on your own. The information below should help you through the printing and packaging process so you can get back to what you do best.
Decide Between Shipping Labels on Sheets or Rolls
The information in this guide is largely focused on sheet label users as most people already have a standard desktop printer (laser or inkjet desktop printer). The decision to switch to a roll printer is largely based on your intended use.
Dedicated label printers (most commonly direct thermal or thermal transfer) take roll labels, where a strip of adhesive labels is spun around a cardboard spool. Additionally, most thermal label printers take fanfold labels, which are a stack of zig-zag folded labels that are fed through the back of the printer. Label printers are ideal for high-volume printing and are usually an investment once a business has outgrown a standard desktop printer.
They're perfect for large-quantity shippers because they're faster on a per-label basis. They also can save you hundreds of dollars on ink and toner costs based on how they work – they use ribbons or heat to generate your image.
Additionally, because they print the labels out one at a time, you don't have to reload sheets. And finally, there are rarely alignment issues with roll labels because of the way they're inserted and fed through the printer.
For thermal transfer printers specifically, your print is even strong enough to withstand extreme temperatures and contact with chemicals.
Drawbacks: While not expensive, purchasing a dedicated label printer can be an added upfront cost for your business. Direct thermal labels in particular are also prone to darkening with exposure to hot environments.
Pick A Label Adhesive Type
We offer four types of adhesive labels for customers, but recommend only three for the purposes of shipping.
Our standard label adhesive offers a strong, permanent backing that sticks to most smooth surfaces. Our heavy-duty adhesive is great for longer staying power, but it won't hold up to wet conditions. Which is why we recommend our weatherproof permanent labels for shipping. The adhesive of our weatherproof label line is ideal for heavy handling, contact with liquids, and more.
Select the Facesheet Properties
All of our label materials feature of smooth, bright white facesheet. It's their facesheet characteristics that determine what uses they're rated for.
Our weatherproof labels are made of a synthetic material and feature a waterproof top-coating for added durability. This material is great for people shipping during rainy or snowy seasons, or anyone who wants that added layer of protection.
Blockout labels are another popular option, ideal if you're reusing boxes and want to hide old shipping information or writing. This material includes an opaque coating between the facesheet and adhesive that prevents light from passing through.
Stock Up On Shipping Labels
It's a wonderful thing when orders start rolling in, but not if you don't have the supplies to fulfill them! Having a stockpile of labels, boxes, void fill, and other essentials could save you a lot of headaches in the long run.
You'll pay less in rush fees/shipping charges and can wait for coupons to justify bulk orders.
Find out how to set up your shipping station.
Shipping Label Mistakes
How your package looks when it arrives speaks volumes to your customers. Here are few things we've noticed over the years and would recommend against:
- Crafting with scissors and tape. Printing your shipping labels on standard printer paper may seem easier and cheaper, but it produces a less-than-professional look and can make your customers second-guess the quality and legitimacy of your business.
- Applying your shipping label with milk. We've heard of people dipping their printed label in milk before sticking it to the box. The protein in milk can act as a powerful bonding agent, but that doesn't mean you should use it as your adhesive!
- Using removable labels. Our removable materials are made to remove easily which can result in lost packages – a headache for both you and your customers.
- Placing your labels over seams or corners. Your package gets scanned at every checkpoint in its journey. If your barcodes aren't easily scannable, this can slow things down or even make delivery impossible. Make sure your label is on flap or side without interruption (see example).
OnlineLabels.com is a resource for all things shipping. We have the tools and supplies you need to build a better business. No matter the platform or carrier you end up with, we aim to make small business shipping easy.
Shop our recommendations above or view our full collection of shipping labels to finish the job!
Looking for more shipping support? Consider investing in shipping insurance or read our guide on packaging shipments for safe delivery.
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