Mastering Return Labels: A Comprehensive Guide for E-Commerce Success

What are Return Labels

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In the ever-evolving landscape of e-commerce, managing product returns is an inevitable challenge for modern retailers. The implementation of return policies is not merely a convenience but a necessity. 

A study by Retail Insight Network highlights this, revealing that over 80% of consumers review a retailer’s return policy before making a purchase, and 55% have abandoned their carts when faced with an inconvenient return policy. This underscores the critical importance of implementing effective return policies.

Invesp’s research further illustrates the scale of online returns, showing that 30% of online purchases are returned, a stark contrast to the 8.89% return rate in brick-and-mortar stores. 

Moreover, Statista reports that the total value of online shopping returns in 2022 reached an estimated $212 billion in the United States alone, illustrating the significant economic impact of returns in the e-commerce sector. This data, corroborated by their Global Consumer Survey, further reveals a high incidence of online returns, particularly in countries like India, China, and Germany, where over 50% of Internet users have returned an online purchase in 2022.

These insights clearly demonstrate that return labels are more than just a logistical requirement; they are a strategic instrument crucial for enhancing customer satisfaction and navigating the complexities of online retail. Understanding the nuances of return labels is, therefore, essential.

This article will delve deeply into the world of return labels, exploring their pivotal role in the digital shopping experience. We’ll cover various aspects, including the different types of return labels, their structure, and how they function in the e-commerce ecosystem. Additionally, we will address some frequently asked questions towards the end of this piece. 

So, without further delay, let’s begin our journey into understanding what return labels are. 

What is a Return Label?

Meaning of return label

Return shipping labels are a special type of shipping label, mostly pre-printed by the retailer or manufacturer, to facilitate the return of purchased items. These labels are an essential tool in the e-commerce sector, serving as a pre-arranged method for customers to send back products that did not meet their expectations or requirements.

Unlike standard shipping labels, return labels come with pre-filled information, including the return address and postage details. This design eliminates the need for customers to manually fill out shipping forms or (sometimes) pay for postage, thereby simplifying the return process. Retailers often include these labels in the original shipment package or provide them through digital means, such as via email notification or a link on their website, where customers can easily download and print them.

Check out our dedicated guide on What are Shipping Labels to learn the nitty gritty of shipping labels. 

The strategic implementation of return labels is a testament to a retailer’s commitment to customer service. These labels enhance customer satisfaction and streamline the retailer’s logistics by facilitating an easy and efficient return process. 

Return labels also ensure that returns are handled uniformly, reducing the likelihood of errors in shipping and processing. This efficiency is crucial for maintaining a smooth operational flow, particularly in handling the high volume of returns in the online shopping environment. 

Check out our article on what is labelling to learn about labelling in general.  

Why Should Businesses Include Return Labels in Packages - Benefits of Using Return Labels

Seven advantages of using return labels

Incorporating package return labels is a strategic move for businesses, particularly in the e-commerce industry. The advantages of using return labels are numerous, directly impacting customer satisfaction, operational efficiency, and sales. 

Let’s explore the advantages of return labels, each articulated with a fresh perspective.

Assured Safe Return of the Package

Including return labels ensures that packages are returned correctly and safely. This assurance is crucial for both the customer and the business, as it minimises the risks of lost or incorrectly shipped returns, thereby safeguarding the integrity of the returned products.

Enhanced Customer Convenience

Return labels in outbound packages greatly simplify the return process, saving customers time and effort.

Customers are spared the hassle of requesting and printing a label or standing in line at a postal service, making it more likely for them to complete a return. Customers highly value this convenience, which can significantly enhance their shopping experience.

Cost-Effective Shipping Management

Businesses control shipping costs by providing their own return labels and choosing economical options over potentially expensive customer reimbursements. It’s a smart way to manage expenses while maintaining high customer service.  

No Upfront Costs for Unused Labels

A key advantage of return labels is that they incur costs only when used. This usage-based pricing model is financially efficient for businesses, as it eliminates upfront costs for return shipping, only incurring expenses when a return actually occurs. 

In cases where a customer doesn’t use the return label, it doesn’t incur any additional cost apart from the minimal cost of label printing. This makes it a low-risk strategy with potentially high rewards in terms of customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Increased Sales

The inclusion of return labels can directly influence sales. As highlighted in the introduction, studies show that a clear and convenient return policy, exemplified by the provision of return labels, can encourage purchase decisions and reduce cart abandonment, thereby boosting sales.

Streamlined Returns Management

Including a return label streamlines the returns management process. It allows for better tracking and handling of returned items, leading to more efficient inventory management and quicker processing of refunds or exchanges. This efficiency is crucial for maintaining a smooth operational flow in the e-commerce environment.

Data Collection for Quality Improvement

Used return labels provide valuable data on why customers are returning items. This information is crucial for businesses to improve product quality, adjust inventory levels, and enhance the overall customer experience, leading to better customer retention and brand loyalty.

Anatomy of Return Labels

Detailed anatomy of return labels

Let’s dissect the key components that make up a return label. 

Return Address

The return address is perhaps the most critical element on a return label. It ensures that the returned item reaches the correct destination. This address is usually pre-printed and corresponds to the retailer’s warehouse or a third-party logistics provider.

Tracking Number

A tracking number is an alphanumeric code that allows both parties (the customer and the business) to monitor the progress of the return shipment. This code is crucial for managing returns efficiently and provides transparency in the return process.

Postage and Carrier Information

The label includes details about the postage paid and the carrier service used for the return. This information is important for logistics management and ensures that the package is handled by the appropriate postal or courier service.


Barcodes on return labels are scanned at various points during the shipping process. They are used to automate the tracking and sorting of return packages, making the process faster and more efficient.

Generally, a PDF417 barcode is used on a return label. 

We invite you to delve into our informative guides for a comprehensive exploration of barcoding technology.


Our Barcode Learning Centre will also come in handy.   

RMA Number (Return Merchandise Authorisation)

If applicable, a return label might include an RMA number. This number is used to authorise and track the return, ensuring it is processed correctly and efficiently.

Instructions or QR Code

Some return labels include instructions or a QR code that customers can scan to access detailed return procedures or to initiate the return process online. This addition can enhance the customer experience by making the process more user-friendly. 

Check out our guide on What is a QR Code to learn about QR code technology. 

Special Instructions (Optional)

Return labels may also include a section for special instructions. These instructions can guide customers on how to prepare the item for return, such as repackaging requirements or specific handling instructions to ensure the item’s safety during transit. This section is particularly important for items that are fragile, require assembly, or have specific return conditions.

Types of Return Labels

Seven types of return labels

Incorporating various types of return labels is a strategic approach in e-commerce, offering flexibility and convenience to both customers and businesses. Each type serves a specific purpose and caters to different scenarios. 

Let’s delve into the type of return label. 

Prepaid Return Label

Prepaid return labels are a customer-friendly option where the retailer covers the return shipping cost upfront. These labels are typically included in the original shipment or made available for download. Their convenience lies in eliminating the need for customers to pay for postage, simplifying the returns process and enhancing customer satisfaction.

Postpaid Return Label / Customer Paid Return Labels

In contrast to prepaid labels, postpaid or customer-paid return labels require the customer to bear the return shipping costs. This option is typically used for returns based on personal preference rather than product issues or by retailers not offering free returns. 

While it is less convenient for customers, postpaid labels offer a cost-effective solution for retailers, especially for items with lower return rates or higher margins.

Exchange Labels

Exchange labels facilitate the exchange of purchased items, providing detailed specific instructions or a streamlined process for a timely exchange. 

Upon receiving the returned item, the retailer promptly dispatches the new product.

In some cases, retailers adopt a more immediate approach: they send out the replacement item first. This new item is delivered to the customer, who then hands over the original item to the delivery partner. The delivery partner verifies the returned item on the spot, facilitating a seamless and efficient exchange process. This method enhances customer convenience by reducing wait times and ensuring immediate receipt of the desired item.

Gift Return Labels

Gift return labels are designed for the return of received gifts. These prepaid labels ensure that the gift giver is not notified of the return, maintaining discretion and a positive experience for both parties. This type of label is particularly considerate for situations where the gift is unsuitable or unwanted, offering a thoughtful solution for gift recipients.

Smart Return Labels / QR Code Return Label

Smart return labels, particularly those with QR codes, represent a technological advancement in the return process. Customers can simply scan the QR code to initiate the return, access detailed instructions, or even print the return label. This modern approach streamlines the return process, making it more efficient and user-friendly.

However, it may pose a challenge for customers in remote areas.

If you’re considering integrating QR codes into your return labels, our assortment of guides can provide valuable insights:

Return Labels With Integrated Feedback

These labels include a section for customers to provide feedback on their return reasons. This valuable data helps businesses improve product quality, customer service, and the overall shopping experience. It’s a proactive approach to understanding customer needs and enhancing satisfaction.

Logistics Company-Based Return Label

Logistics company-based return labels are tailored to a partnered logistics provider’s specific requirements and systems. These labels are often used by retailers who have established relationships with certain shipping companies, ensuring seamless integration with the logistics provider’s tracking and processing systems.

Each return label type serves a specific purpose and offers distinct advantages, depending on the retailer’s policies and the customer’s needs. By understanding these different types, businesses can optimise their return processes and enhance overall customer experience.

How Do Return Labels Work?

Seven steps on how do return labels work

Understanding the functionality of return labels is key to appreciating their role in the e-commerce ecosystem. While seemingly straightforward, this process involves several steps and considerations to ensure a smooth and efficient return experience for both customers and retailers.

Here’s a breakdown of how return labels typically work. 

Step 1: Initiation of the Return Process

The return process typically begins when a customer decides to return a product. Depending on the retailer’s policy, the customer may need to log into their account on the retailer’s website or the platform, select the item they wish to return, and indicate the reason for the return. This step often involves interacting with a customer service representative or using an automated online system.

The retailer reviews the request and, upon approval, activates the return process. 

Step 2: Issuance of the Return Label

Once the return is initiated, the retailer gives the customer a return label. This can be done in various ways:

  • Pre-Included in Original Package: Some retailers include a return label in the original shipment.
  • QR Code: In some cases, a QR code is provided on the package, which, when scanned, gives access to the return label.
  • Downloadable from Website: Customers can download and print the label from the retailer’s website.
  • Email: The label is sent to the customer’s email, from where they can print it.

Step 3: Preparing the Return Package

Once the return label is obtained, the customer prepares the item for return. This step requires repackaging the item securely and attaching the return label to the outside of the package, ensuring it’s clearly visible and that all previous shipping labels or barcodes are obscured or removed. 

Step 4: Shipping the Return (First-Mile Delivery)

Once the package is ready, the customer drops it off at a designated shipping location or schedules a pickup, depending on the return method specified by the retailer. This part of the process, known as first-mile delivery, is crucial as it marks the beginning of the item’s journey back to the retailer or a designated return centre. 

The return label contains all the necessary information for the carrier to process and route the package back to the retailer or a designated return centre.

Step 5: Tracking and Processing

Both the retailer and the customer can track the return package using the tracking number on the return label. This tracking facility provides transparency and reassurance throughout the return process.

Step 6: Receiving and Processing the Return (Last-Mile Delivery)

Upon arrival at the retailer’s warehouse or return centre, a process known as last-mile delivery, the package undergoes inspection to confirm the item’s condition and compliance with return criteria. The retailer then processes the return, which may involve a refund, store credit, or an exchange, as per their policy and the customer’s preference.

Step 7: Feedback and Data Collection (Optional)

In addition to the physical return, customers often provide feedback and reasons for the return on the retailer’s platform. This step is increasingly common in modern e-commerce practices. 

Retailers may also gather data from the return labels if they include a feedback option. This information is invaluable for understanding customer preferences, improving product quality, and enhancing the overall shopping experience.

By streamlining the return process, return labels enhance customer satisfaction and aid retailers in managing returns efficiently. They are a crucial component in the cycle of online shopping, balancing the need for customer convenience with the operational demands of e-commerce businesses.

How to Create Return Labels

How to create return labels

Creating return labels is an essential function in e-commerce logistics. Several methods are available for businesses to efficiently generate return labels, each catering to different needs and operational scales. 

Let’s explore these methods:

Dedicated Shipping and Label Printing Software

Dedicated shipping and label printing software, like BarTender, offers a comprehensive solution for businesses with high shipping volumes. These systems provide features such as bulk label printing, customisation options, and integration with shipping carriers and inventory systems. 

BarTender is particularly notable for its advanced design and printing capabilities, making it suitable for various business sizes. Its ability to streamline the label creation process offers a blend of efficiency and customisation.

At Triton Store, we offer a range of BarTender software editions, each tailored to meet varying requirements. 

The Starter Edition is perfect for smaller teams, while the Professional Edition caters to more intricate labelling demands. For businesses looking for advanced automation and integration capabilities, the Automation Edition is the ideal choice. For large-scale enterprises, we provide the comprehensive Enterprise Edition. Additionally, for cutting-edge remote label printing and design management, BarTender Cloud is available.

To discover how BarTender Software can revolutionise your label printing and for an in-depth comparison between BarTender Cloud and traditional on-premise BarTender software, please visit our website for these informative guides:


For further information or to delve deeper into what BarTender can offer, we invite you to contact us via our live chat or by completing a form on our website. We’re here to assist you in optimising your labelling strategy.

E-Commerce Platforms

E-commerce platforms often include built-in tools or plugins for creating and managing return labels. This integration is convenient as it aligns directly with the sales platform, offering a seamless experience for both the business and the customer. These platforms typically allow for direct integration with major shipping carriers and automate parts of the return process, adhering to the business’s return policy.

Popular platforms like Shopify and WooCommerce, for instance, offer user-friendly return label solutions that can be easily integrated with a variety of shipping carriers.

Read our article How to Make Shipping Label to learn how to create shipping labels for e-commerce platforms.  

Carrier's Platforms

Carrier’s platforms, such as those offered by USPS, UPS, FedEx, and DHL, provide their own online tools for creating return labels. These platforms are straightforward and tailored to each carrier’s specific services and pricing. They may offer features like discounted rates for businesses or additional tracking options, making them a suitable choice for businesses looking for carrier-specific solutions.

Third-Party Return Service

Third-party return services offer a comprehensive, outsourced solution for businesses seeking a full-service approach to returns. These services manage the entire return process, including label creation, tracking, and physical handling of returns. They provide a complete return management system that can be customised to match a brand’s identity and easily integrated with existing e-commerce and shipping systems.

Each of these methods offers distinct advantages and can be chosen based on the business size, volume of returns, and specific operational needs. By carefully evaluating these options, businesses can ensure a smooth and effective return experience for their customers.

How to Provide Return Labels?

Providing return labels efficiently is a key aspect of customer service in e-commerce. There are two main methods to offer this convenience, each tailored to different business needs and customer preferences.

Include the Return Label in the Shipped Package

One of the most customer-friendly approaches is to include the return label directly in the shipped package. This method ensures that customers have immediate access to everything they need for a potential return right from the moment they receive their order. It’s a proactive strategy that simplifies the return process and enhances the shopping experience.

In this approach, the return label is placed inside the package or in a designated pouch on the outside. This method is particularly beneficial for businesses anticipating a higher rate of returns or those aiming to provide a hassle-free return experience.

Providing Return Label Later and Letting Customers Print Their Own Label

Another effective method is to provide return labels later, allowing customers to print them at home. This process is typically initiated when a customer requests a return through your platform. Upon approval, the retailer sends the return label via email or makes it available for download through an online customer portal.   

Customers can then print the label using their own printer. While this method adds an extra step for the customer, it is more efficient for businesses, especially those with lower return rates or those looking to manage return costs more effectively. This method offers flexibility and is more cost-effective, as it avoids the expense of including a return label with every shipment.

How to Print Return Labels?

Four printers to print return labels

Thermal printing technology is highly recommended for printing return labels due to its efficiency, durability, and cost-effectiveness. Thermal printers work by using heat to transfer ink onto the label, creating a sharp and clear image. This technology is perfect for businesses that require a large volume of labels, as thermal printers can produce labels quickly and with consistent quality. Check out our article on How do Thermal Printers Work for the science behind thermal printer workings. 

At Triton, we recognise the importance of quality printing in logistics and shipping. That’s why we offer an extensive selection of thermal printers from leading brands like Epson, Element, Senor, Honeywell, Zebra, and TSC, as well as coloured label printers from OKI.  

Our range includes robust industrial printers for high-volume needs, compact desktop printer models for smaller operations, and specialised printers like direct thermal printers, thermal transfer printers, barcode label printers, mobile printers and receipt printers. This variety ensures that you can find the perfect printer to match your business’s specific requirements.

We also provide a comprehensive array of accessories and consumables to complement our printers. This includes spare printer parts and accessories, waterproof printer enclosures, cables and cleaning wipes, and high-quality thermal print heads from brands like Zebra, Honeywell, TSC, Intermec, Datamax, SATO, and Bizerba, ensuring consistent, top-notch printing performance.

Furthermore, Triton specialises in high-quality thermal printer consumables suitable for a wide range of shipping and labelling needs. Our product line includes thermal transfer ribbons, thermal labels, thermal carton labels, thermal carcase tags, food-compliant thermal inserts, receipt rolls and shipping & freight labels, all designed to meet the diverse requirements of both small and large businesses.

At Triton, we go beyond merely supplying products; we deliver comprehensive solutions tailored to your unique business needs. Our dedicated team of experts is committed to guiding you through every step of your journey, from selecting the ideal printer that aligns with your operational requirements to offering ongoing support for your equipment. 

Embrace the Triton difference – explore our wide-ranging collection, engage with our professionals through our live chat service, and take your business’s printing and labelling efficiency to the next level. 

Leading Logistics Companies Providing Return Label Services

Six leading logistics companies providing return label services

Efficient return processes are crucial in e-commerce, and several top logistics companies offer comprehensive return label services. These services simplify returns for both businesses and customers. Here’s an overview of four leading providers:

Australia Post

Australia Post offers a convenient return label service, particularly favoured in the Australian market. Their service includes over 20,000 drop-off locations across Australia, including Post Offices and free 24/7 Parcel Lockers. 

Customers can prepare their parcel for return by either using a prepaid return label provided by the retailer or purchasing one online or at a local Post Office. The service is designed for ease of use, focusing on accessibility and customer convenience.

NZ Post

NZ Post offers a hassle-free return service, designed to make the return process smooth and simple for both businesses and their customers in the New Zealand market. They provide a national network of drop-off and collection locations, making returns convenient for customers across New Zealand.

NZ Post’s return service includes options for generating labels with eShip or APIs, allowing businesses to automatically create a return label with their shipment or create stand-alone return labels.

NZ Post’s nationwide returns services include. 

  • Courier Returns: Offering next-day delivery to New Zealand destinations, with options for customers to drop off returns at an NZ Post store or have them collected. Parcels are delivered directly to an NZ address or consolidated at their Returns Centre.
  • Economy Returns: Providing up to 3 working days for delivery to New Zealand destinations, where customers drop their returns at an NZ Post store for consolidation and forwarding.


NZ Post’s return services are available for NZ Post business on-account customers, focusing on enhancing customer experience through transparent, hassle-free returns. They also offer solutions for shipping returns out of NZ, including end-to-end management of reverse logistics and an NZ-based Returns Centre for processing and dispatching returns.


DHL offers a globally streamlined return label service, ideal for businesses with an international customer base. Their process is designed for simplicity and speed, with options for customers to drop off packages at ServicePoints or schedule courier pickups. This flexibility, combined with DHL’s fast and secure shipping, makes their service a reliable choice for efficient international returns.


FedEx is known for its adaptable return label service, catering to diverse business needs. They excel in creating and managing return labels efficiently, ensuring a smooth customer experience. FedEx’s extensive global network facilitates quick return processing, which is crucial for maintaining customer trust and satisfaction in a competitive e-commerce landscape.


United Parcel Service (UPS) provides a user-friendly return label service, enabling businesses to generate return labels easily. These labels can be included in shipments or sent digitally, supported by UPS’s reliable tracking system. Their widespread network ensures an efficient return process, making UPS a preferred choice for businesses prioritising seamless logistics.


The United States Postal Service (USPS) offers various return services, including Priority Mail Express Return, Priority Mail Return, and USPS Ground Advantage Return. They provide flexible ways to provide return labels, such as through their Click-N-Ship service, cloud platform, or allowing customers to print their own. USPS’s return services are designed with affordability and convenience in mind, catering to a wide range of customer needs.

Each of these logistics companies brings unique strengths to the table. Their return label services are integral to facilitating smooth and customer-friendly return processes. Businesses can choose the service that best fits their operational needs and customer base, ensuring a positive post-purchase experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Make My Own Return Shipping Label?

Yes, you can make your own return shipping label. This can be done using shipping software or carrier websites where you input the necessary details and print the label. Some e-commerce platforms also offer integrated tools to create a return label easily.

What is the Return Address on a Return Label?

The return address on a return label is the address where the returned item needs to be sent. This is usually the retailer’s warehouse or a designated return centre. It’s important that this address is accurate to ensure the smooth processing of returns.

How Much Does a Prepaid Return Label Cost?

The cost of a prepaid return label varies depending on the carrier, package size, weight, and shipping distance. Some retailers may absorb this cost as part of their return policy, while others may deduct it from the customer’s refund.

Who Pays for a Return Label?

Who pays for the return label depends on the retailer’s return policy. In some cases, the retailer covers the cost, making it free for customers. In other scenarios, the customer may be responsible for the cost, either paying upfront or having it deducted from their refund.

Is a Return Label the Same as a Shipping Label?

A return label is not the same as a shipping label. A shipping label is used to send the item from the retailer to the customer, while a return label is used to send the item back from the customer to the retailer or return centre. Refer to our article What is Shipping Label to learn more. 

What is a QR Code Return Label?

A QR code return label is a modern type of return postage label that includes a QR code. Customers can scan this code with their smartphone to access return instructions, print label, or even initiate the return process digitally.

Should I Put the Return Label Over the Original Label?

It’s generally advisable to attach the return label to a clear area on the package rather than directly over the original label. This helps to avoid any confusion during the shipping process. 

If space constraints require placing the return label over the original, ensure that it completely covers the original label’s barcodes and shipping information. This is important to prevent any scanning errors or misrouting during the return process.

Should I Tape the Return Label on the Box?

Yes, it would be best if you securely taped the return label on the box. Ensure it’s fully visible and that the barcode or QR code is not obscured by tape, as this is necessary for tracking and processing the return.

Does the Shipper or Original Online Store Need to Coordinate Pickups for Returns?

Whether the original online store or shipper needs to coordinate pickups for returns depends on their policy to accept returns and the shipping method used. Some retailers may arrange for a courier to pick up the return, while others require customers to drop off the return parcel at a designated location or shipping centre.

The Bottom Line

In the fast-paced world of e-commerce, the efficiency and clarity of the return process are as crucial as the initial purchase experience. Return labels play a pivotal role in this ecosystem, offering a bridge between customer satisfaction and operational efficiency. 

Whether it’s through including return labels in the original package, leveraging advanced technologies like QR codes, or providing flexible options for customers to print their own labels, businesses have a variety of methods to streamline this process. 

By partnering with leading logistics companies and utilising the right tools and strategies, businesses can ensure a smooth return experience that enhances customer loyalty and maintains operational effectiveness. 

Ultimately, mastering the art of return labels is a key step in building a resilient and customer-centric e-commerce business.

We hope this article was useful. 

Thanks for reading! 🙂

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