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Julia Wilkinson AuctionBytes Blog
Covering auctions, collectibles and marketplace selling.

Julia Wilkinson is Editor of the AuctionBytes Blog and is author of the "eBay Price Guide," "eBay Top 100 Simplified Tips and Tricks," "My Life at AOL" and numerous ebooks about selling online. You can also find her writing on Yard Salers.
Sun Aug 29 2010 20:46:06

Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label

By: Ina Steiner
Sponsored Link
Online sellers live and die by shipping, and the ability to print postage labels online has been a real benefit especially for small retailers and marketplace sellers. Often, however, sellers must choose between practices that can save them money with those that ensure their packages arrive safely in the hands of their customers.

One such issue came up recently in the comments section of the AuctionBytes Blog that I thought was worth exploring.

A seller wrote that she doesn't print labels from PayPal because her packages were too small for the label to fit. Another person said no problem, just reduce the size when printing. A third seller said shrinking postage labels was not recommended because the size of the bar codes were standardized.

I decided to get to the bottom of the question, Can You Reduce the Size of a USPS Shipping Label to Fit on a Small Package?

Dave Lewin, Public Relations Representative for the U.S. Postal Service, provided the official response:

"Customers generating shipping labels through PC Postage or other computer-generated sources are advised that attempting to reduce the size of shipping labels below the intended size when printing could make the mailpiece unreadable by automation equipment and Postal Service personnel.

"Placing a mailing label on smaller packaging that has been reduced below its intended size may create distortions resulting in processing errors, unreadable barcodes and other readability issues."

I also checked in with Rafael Zimberoff, ShipRush Product Manager, as he is one of the most well informed people I know when it comes to shipping questions for USPS and other carriers as well.

Rafael said there are two approaches that sellers use, but only one is recommended.

1) Put the small box in a larger box or envelope (or padded envelope) to accommodate the 4x6 label.

2) Print the shipping label using some kind of "scaling" to shrink the printed label so that it will fit on the 3" x 4" box.

But, he said, number two breaks the rules with ALL the shipping carriers. "You are asking for trouble. Don't do it. (And if you ever have a lost package, or get in trouble for doing it, I told you so!)"

Why?

"Because the bar code size is carefully designed to be the SMALLEST that the automated equipment can reliably scan. Note that even the text on the label is REQUIRED to be the size it is, as the Postal Service has automated scanning equipment that actually reads the text on the label."

According to Rafael, mess with those labels at your own risk - use solution number one, and never shrink the postage label.

Unfortunately, using a larger box or envelope incurs higher costs. Shipping costs have risen dramatically since the early days of ecommerce, while at the same time merchants face increasing pressure to offer free shipping (eBay just raised the stakes, as we reported last week). So some sellers will use old fashioned postage stamps for small packages, costing them time, while others may continue to shrink postage labels, risking non-delivery of their small packages.

Saving money on shipping is always a good topic of conversation - let us know if you have tips to share with your colleagues, or if you have questions you'd like to see answered.




Comments (32) | Permalink
Readers Comments

Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label   Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label
by: Elizabeth
       
Sun Aug 29 20:59:57 2010
My postoffice told me to print them fullsize and then wrap them around the package, making sure the barcode is on a flat spot and not wrinkled. So Far so Good (I mail 10-130 packages a week depending on my sales. )
Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label   Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label
This user has validated their user name. by: Al G
       
Sun Aug 29 21:02:41 2010
I've had no problems using PayPal's shipping labels reduce 20 to 30% to fit a standard business envelope.

I use a laser printer & have set up a properties template with the ''shrunk''ed label.

My PO scans in the package & has never had a problem. I know some PO's don't do acceptance scans, but that is probably another topic.

None of the packages have been lost at this time.

My two-cents worth.

Peace, love and Jerry Garcia - both varieties

Al G
Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label   Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label
by: Troglodyte
       
Sun Aug 29 21:28:45 2010
Some factors to consider:

1. Age, type, and sensitivity of USPS label scanners vary greatly not only from one Post Office to another but among individual counters within the same Post Office.

2. Using PayPal or any other pre paid USPS label service virtually assures your packages won't be scanned as accepted which can cause problems -- especially during the busy holiday season.

3. Packages that aren't scanned for acceptance at the Post Office will expose sellers to a higher risk of buyers making bogus INR claims even if the package is scanned at delivery.

4. Unrelated but relevant to shipping self preservation: every time you buy USPS insurance they stamp that insurance receipt you retain. This itself is proof of mailing, and it would be enormously helpful if insured packages could be tracked on the USPS website thus eliminating the need for delivery confirmation for items valued at $200 or less and delivery or signature confirmation on items $200.01 or more. But don't expect it anytime soon as confirmations are revenue generators for cash strapped USPS.

5. Finally and perhaps the most important contribution I have to this topic is that you can print out the shipping label at 100% size and cut out ONLY the rectangle containing the bar code and attach it to the package along with a small Avery type label or a hand addressed label. IT WORKS well on small packages.

Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label   Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label
by: Lynn
       
Sun Aug 29 21:34:45 2010
Trimming off as much as possible works for most of my packages.

If label is still a little big, I make sure to have the bar code portion and ship to address on the front while wrapping the rest around.

For the rare times that doesn't work, I insert into a vinyl mailer that so that label fits better.

In most cases, I believe the post office will still deliver if the address is clear, even when the bar code does not scan. But sometimes not worth the risk of an angry buyer or a package not showing it's been scanned when the postal employee won't input manually by typing the numbers at destination.
Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label   Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label
by: rkr
       
Sun Aug 29 21:40:11 2010
I use a reduced size label all the time and have never had a problem or complaint from the postal service.
Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label   Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label
by: PostalOne
       
Mon Aug 30 07:54:12 2010
I work for USPS; shrinking the label can adversely impact readability, the barcode bars must be at least 3/4'' in height. DO NOT wrap the label around a pkg; the barcode & address are both required to be on the largest surface of the pkg.
Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label   Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label
by: Letter Carrier
       
Mon Aug 30 08:25:23 2010
In our office,these lables require manual entries on arrival and on delivery.Some are almost too small to read.Our scanners simply will not read them.
Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label   Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label
This user has validated their user name. by: Nan
       Web Site
Mon Aug 30 09:27:08 2010
Ina THANK YOU! I have asked this exact question (what is the optimum size for postage labels, and is it OK to reduce the size) on at least three message boards and could never get a definite answer.

Like some have posted before me, I have one of those wonderful small rural PO's that does an acceptance scan when I bring it in. If the label gives them trouble (I do shrink some of them for small boxes) they keep trying, or they enter it by hand.

So I can see how those packages might be delayed in the bigger automated hubs and postal stations, because a hurried postal worker isn't going to have time to baby my package through.

Custom printing properties are duly reset :)
Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label   Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label
by: Steve
       
Mon Aug 30 11:10:14 2010
I've regularly reduced the print size on the USPS labels I print to 90% of the original size and sometimes more than that if the package size calls for it. To date I've had no problems with delivery of those packages. I discussed reducing the print size with my letter carrier and he told me that if the package can not be scanned that the letter carrier will enter the delivery scan information manually. He also scanned a 90% of full size label in front of me and it was read by the scanner with no problem. Even if a label is not scannable how would a small printed label be any more difficult to deal with than a hand written label? Some of the handwritten labels that I've received on mail are almost illegible.
Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label   Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label
by: buyalot!
       
Mon Aug 30 11:42:47 2010
Instead of shrinking the label, choose the Dymo #99019 label in PayPal or whatever PC Postage program (even if you don't have a Dymo printer it will still work). The labels are 2.4x7.5 and great for small packages like #000 bubble mailers. Doesn't work for international mail, though.
Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label   Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label
by: James
       
Mon Aug 30 12:14:38 2010
I reduce label sizes all the time and have never had a problem.
Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label   Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label
This user has validated their user name. by: permacrisis
       
Mon Aug 30 12:26:44 2010
''shrinking the label can adversely impact readability''

''I've had no problems using PayPal's shipping labels reduced 20 to 30% to fit a standard business envelope.''

What's funny is that PayPal has no problem with it either-- that's how they mail out their Security Key Card: in a regular envelope rolled up in a blank sheet of white paper. Buncha jerks- half of 'em show up busted.

On top of that they charge 5 bucks for shipping, envelope says 55¢- exactly the type of ripoff that would get you booted off ebay in the Media categories.

Do as I say, not as I Donahoe...
Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label   Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label
by: Northclerk
       
Mon Aug 30 13:17:23 2010
SOP is for Post Offices to scan click and ship packages accepted at request by the customer. If you don't ask, it will not be done. Some larger offices with very busy lines might say they don't have time. But small officves should do it at your request.
Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label   Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label
by: Patricia This user has validated their user name.
       
Mon Aug 30 13:49:30 2010
Just like the rigid USPS.  When I shop the clerk seems to be able to scan the smallest of bar codes off my purchases.  When I go to my gym, I scan in a tiny card that I carry on my keychain....but the USPS needs a whooping 4 X 6" label?  Come now....
Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label   Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label
by: Ken
       
Mon Aug 30 14:39:56 2010
The most important part of your article is SCALING, if you forget to set the print page up to use that, EVERYTHING will be out of place.

The other thing to keep in mind is the smaller the label the more important PRINT QUALITY becomes. IMHO size isn't what matters, readability is what matters. If you are using an inkjet / economy ink level, the print will be noticeably worse than if you are using high DPI B&W laser printer.

I pretty much always use paypal shipping [instead of click-n-ship] and send the vast majority of my items at 90% size on a 000 or 000 bubble mailer [so not flat either] with NO package loss in 3+ years of shipping. I used to use 85% [had no trouble, but figured that was pushing the size limit]. Oh I also am using a 600 DPI B&W laser printer at normal toner level.
Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label   Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label
by: Jan
       
Mon Aug 30 16:02:37 2010
We use some small bubble mailers 4" x 6" and some 4" x 4" light weight boxes, so the labels are too wide. We keep a paper cutter on the shipping table & slice off the excess sides. We do wrap the bottom portion below the barcode on the mailers & we do wrap the boxes so the address is on one surface & the bar code is on the next surface.
We do not have any problems with these methods.
I like that Dymo suggestion though. Never know when that might come in handy as we're always looking for mailing methods to shave off an ounce or 2.
Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label   Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label
by: Lawrence A Dickerson
       
Mon Aug 30 22:55:35 2010
I asked my mail carrier about scanning of labels.His reply was that for Priority Mail or any mail that has a tracking number,they are required to scan them if asked.

There is no way for the USPS to tell if a tracking number is required unless the shipper notifies them.He stated that customers who are refused their right of scanning those required,should report them to the Postal Authorities.The key words are,:"TRACKING NUMBER".

How do you sellers expect us buyers an yourselves to track a package if you haven't done your job of demanding  that scan?
Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label   Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label
by: Size Matters
       
Mon Aug 30 23:14:17 2010
    A couple of years ago, I found all of the technical shipping label bar code size requirements on the USPS website.  Minimum Bar Code Height, amount of white space required to left of first bar, and white space required after rightmost bar, etc.
To make a long story short, I experimented with many scaling reductions, and found
that a 90% setting got me to the absolute minimum label size that would meet postal
specifications for all of their bar code scanning requirements.  I have printed many thousands of labels that way (at 90%) since then, and never had a problem.  I print
most of my labels through PayPal.

    A caveat is in order, however.  The 90% size can vary among browser font and/or zoom settings (screen resolution?), depending on the browser used. . . . 90% may be good for me, but not good for someone else.  If I print from my Safari browser, I have to print at about 130%, to get the same size label that Firefox gives me at 90% . . . . it's all dependent on how each browser's viewing size defaults are set.

    I print labels from my Firefox browser, using browser font default of ''Times New Roman 16'' size, and reduce the shipping label to 90% under the manual scaling adjustment within the print ''properties'' in the print setup.  This gives me the absolute smallest label that will still conform to postal requirements.  A smaller size than that might work, but it would be technically below what the postal specs
state for a minimum bar code size.
Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label   Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label
by: another side of the coin
       
Mon Aug 30 23:22:55 2010
Delivery Confirmation is NOT the same as Tracking.

The United States Postal Service (USPS) has program referred to as, ''Delivery Confirmation'', which is different than the tracking that is provided by the other major carriers.  The USPS website indicates, ''Delivery Confirmation only provides you with a confirmation of the delivery date and time once the article has been delivered to the addressee's Post Office; it does not provide for any tracking through the mail stream.''  Delivery Confirmation literally verifies delivery by providing the date, ZIP Code™ and time your article was delivered.  If delivery was attempted, it will be updated on the site.  You can easily access this information at the USPS website.

So Lawrence ask your carrier about this one, do your due diligence and get off sellers backs. You are nothing but an instigator.
Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label   Online Sellers: Beware the Shrinking Postage Label
by: glassmelter
       
Mon Aug 30 23:49:34 2010
I use small mailing boxes, so the labels are shrunk to 2 1/4" x 2 3/4". The only box that's been lost was sent to France during a postal strike over there.
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