Product or shipment packages are seen as simple boxes, container, or cartons that holds the products as they are moved from one point to another or as they are being consumed. However, in the world of commerce, specifically in supply chain management (SCM), packaging plays an important role in moving physical goods from the point of origin to the point of consumption. A package cannot survive on its own and it requires to be identified to ensure that the correct goods, correct quantity, correct packaging reaches its intended destination.

To identify packages and its content as it travels through the whole supply chain, packaging labels plays a key role to provide an efficient and cost-effective way to solve the challenge of identification. Packaging labels can be printed directly on the packaging material, or stuck on the packaging as sticker label with barcode symbol or human readable marks or simply a handwritten box marker to quickly identify it during shipment processing.

What are the types of packaging labels?

Classifying labels can be quite a challenge as there are a multitude of these types that may differ in physical form, in content, and the purpose that it serves. Typically, the main driver why various labels are built is based on its application. Here’s various packaging labels that supports identification of packages as it’s processed in whole supply chain.

[table id=1 /]

What are shipping labels and its content?

Now that we have an overview of various packaging labels, we’ll uncover in the next articles one of the key types of labels used to identify and move physical goods efficiently as goods are traded globally – the shipping labels. Shipping labels are key in transmitting information from source to next stage or leg of transportation so effective communication between sending and receiving party is a must.

Shipping labels contain vital information such as shipment type, sender and receiver information, package content, quantity and these are stored in the barcode. These barcodes are scanned by parties involved in transporting the goods from its source to its destination

Multiple parties are involved in moving the physical goods and they have different processes and systems used. There is a need to standardize the guidelines on labelling format and content to allow efficient flow of information and easy identification of items. Global Standards (GS1) is an organization that sets these guidelines for proper logistics labelling. These guidelines are a result of collaboration between GS1 Member organizations and Transport & Logistics member Organisation interest groups working closely with local communities on Transport & Logistics process efficiencies.

Sample carrier shipping label on a package

Key Elements of GS1 Standards on logistics labelling

There are a couple of standard identification numbers and terminologies according to the GS1 guidelines. GS1 labels and its contents enables the visibility of the packages within the supply chain.

Global Trade Identification Number (GTIN)

Trade items such as items that are ordered or invoiced use cartons and outer cases will often have a GTIN number or Global Trade Identification number. It is used to identify that an item can be sold, purchased or put into inventory. It is a family GS1 global data structure that typically use 14 digits. It is important to note that data structure does not refer to barcode symbologies. The data structure can be stored in different barcode symbologies that can store them.

To illustrate this. Here’s a list of common GS1 structures used and applicable symbologies for each structure.

[table id=2 /]

Serial Shipping Container Code (SSSC)

This code can be used by companies to identify a logistics unit which can be a combination of packages for transport purposes. Some examples of logistic unit can be pallets, containers, cases, cartons, etc. With SSSC, it provides visibility and easy identification of logistic units. It is a unique number in a delivery that can support Advance Ship Notice (ASN) process.

When the ASN is transmitted to the receiving party, scanning the SSSC code can be used to look-up the ASN transmitted to validate physical goods received against ASN. SSSC code contains a lot of details about the shipment that helps reducing the time to encode the details on the label into the system used. It can be encoded in a GS1-128 barcode or EPC enabled RFID tag.

Sample GS1-128 barcode containing SSSC code is shown below. With the GS1 company prefix that is issued by GS1, it allows identification of the company sending the goods.

How does a GS1 shipping label layout look like?

GS1 generally classify 2 forms of information that may exist in its label format:

  1. Information that can be read by humans: Human Readable Interpretation (HRI) and Non-HRI Text and graphics. HRI are typically the information under the barcode that can be read which represents the same information encoded in the barcode. While Non-HRI are just any other text in the label.
  2. Information that can be read by machines: Barcodes

The label format depends on what information needs to be displayed. In general, the minimum the contents of shipping labels include trade information

  • Package Content
  • Quantity
  • Expiry
  • Lot or Batch Number
  • SSSC Code (For GS1 labels)

GS1 only requires SSSC code in its label format. Each carrier has versions of these labels and may not exactly follow the GS1-128 label.

Additional information such as ship from, ship-to, product weight and carrier service code can also be included in the label. On the upper side, it has a free format block, then next is some text information. At the lower end is the barcode with HRI underneath. Each carrier has versions of these labels and may not exactly follow the GS1-128 label.


How are shipping labels generated?

Shipping labels can be formatted manually by the senders, printed and then stuck on the packages. Since carriers require a standard content and format, senders must follow such format to ensure that it can be processed easily by the carrier and its partners. Generating such format can be tedious for merchants and senders so carriers often provide a service to create shipment records in their systems directly.

In image below, shows a sample of create shipment form in UPS site that allows a sender to enter shipment details which allows UPS to calculate the cost of the shipment and schedule a pick-up from the source.

After shipment has been created and pre-paid, a label can be generated and the carrier staff will come over to pick-up the goods for delivery.

For high-volume shipments, carriers provide an API interface that allows the sender to send the shipment details to the carrier electronically, make payment, and then carrier sends a copy of the label that the sender can print directly from his side.

In e-commerce, shipping labels are heavily used as well and the speed to fulfil orders is crucial to ensure continuous customer loyalty. E-commerce platforms provides an easier way to integrate with the carriers with its inhouse or third-party application services. This way of generating labels will be discussed in detail in next articles.


What is the typical hardware used to generate shipping labels?

There are a few things to consider when choosing the printer device which is covered in another article but here’s the common printers that are widely used to print shipping labels.

[table id=3 /]

In summary, packaging labels usage have evolved over the years and one of the its main applications is for labelling shipments. And global organizations involved in transportation and logistics industry have collaborated to set guiding principles in properly labelling packages and products. In the following articles, we’ll cover how shipping labels can be generated directly from e-commerce sites or third-party shipping service providers.