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A Fast, Cheap and Secure Method
for Labeling Your Packages

Shipping Solutions for Booksellers

by Craig Stark

#114, 28 February 2008

A few questions for you about labeling your packages - and a labeling solution you might not have considered.

First, how long does it take you to apply a label to one of your packages?

If you're using adhesive-backed labels, probably not long at all. You peel it off its backing, slap it on the package and - if you're not doing this, you should be - tape over yours and the buyer's addresses. (See note on thermal-printed labels at end of article.) Maybe 10 or 15 seconds? Not bad, but I bet you're paying through the nose for those labels.

Or, if you're printing your labels on plain paper and taping them to your packages, you're spending significantly less on supplies, but how long does it take you to get the thing on? Four strips of tape to seal the edges and two more to cover the addresses - six in all? - and I bet it takes you a good 30 seconds to get it done. Even if you're only selling, say, 150 books a month, that's 15 hours of your time - almost two full work days in a year.

How would you like to get this done in six or eight seconds instead?

Read on.

How much does each label cost you to print and apply?

If you're using Avery shipping labels, you're probably paying about $.15 or so apiece for them, in addition to some ink. At 150 books a month, that's $270 a year. Cheaper labels can be had, surely, but the cost remains significant.

Or, if you're using a good quality plain paper, figure about $.01 per sheet and, assuming you're using a similarly good quality tape, another $.07 or so in clear tape - $144 a year.

How would you like to spend $.05 per label in tape (or $108 a year) and still get things done in six to eight seconds?

Read on.

How secure are your labels?

It's extremely important, in my opinion, to protect your labels - to at least tape over the addresses no matter what. Too much can go wrong en route. No doubt it's occurred to you that 5" clear tape can be purchased, it's cheaper to use than adhesive-backed labels, and it would enable you to tape over the entire label in one pass. But there's a problem: It's shiny - glare is a potential effect -and there's no guarantee that USPS scanners will perform an accurate scan through this type of tape.

So - how would you like to be able to avoid this problem and still spend $.06 per label in tape and still get this done in six to eight seconds?

I have the answer for you.

This is a bench-top (in this case wall-mounted) tape dispenser loaded with 5" wide low-glare tape, which, by the way, meets postal regulations. Since the adhesive side of the tape faces outward in this setup, it's the work of a moment to lay a standard-sized plain paper label face down onto the platform (with the top edge just under the spring), tear off the tape about half an inch beyond the top of the label, and slap it on the package. The addresses are totally protected, and bar codes can be accurately scanned. Zip, zip.

It's possible, of course, to mount this dispenser on a table top, but keep in mind that, since the adhesive side of the tape is face up, it's likely that dust, etc., will accumulate on it between uses. Not good. Also, it's easier, I think, to line the label up between the edges of the tape when it's on the wall right in front of you - and besides, it's better to have it out of the way.

Here's the resulting labeled package:

Note that this photograph was taken with a flash. If the label had been attached with ordinary tape, the reflection would likely have made it unreadable. Note also that the appearance of the package is much cleaner than it would've been with six strips of clear tape applied. The first encounter the book will make with your buyer, therefore, will be more professional.

If there's a negative to this system, it's the start-up cost.

To date, the cheapest tape I've found is here.

The minimum selling unit is a case of eight rolls - $136.18 plus $18.67 shipping. However, this is enough tape to cover 2,962 labels - or, at our 150 books per month example, a 19-month plus supply. It works out to about $.05 a label. If it's too much up front, it shouldn't be difficult to find one or two other booksellers to split a case with.

I purchased my dispenser at Uline - Model No. H-158. $35, extra blades @ $5, plus shipping.

A final word: Likely some of you use a thermal printing system, and you may be happy with it. Costs per label are typically low, but there are some significant issues associated with this system, including (but not limited to) an inability to tape over addresses - i.e., they will often disappear or blacken out in short order, depending on the composition of the adhesive, and there have been numerous reports of postal employees taping over them en route, creating the same problem. More about this in a future article.

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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