How do prepaid return labels work?

Prepaid return labels are great for shippers who want to control expenses and other variables for returned items. With the right tools, it’s easy to print custom return address labels with prepaid postage for your customers.

When you’re shipping items that your recipient may need to return, you probably want to control spending and other factors that can cause problems on your end. If you include a prepaid shipping label with your shipment (plus instructions for correct usage), you’ll know exactly how much it’ll cost you, how long the return will take to reach you, and can even track the return as it’s in process. That’s a lot of benefit for very little cost.

What are prepaid return labels?

If you’ve ordered many products online, you’ve probably seen (and used) more than one prepaid return label in your delivery packages. They’re adhesive labels that come with clear instructions for use if you need to return one or more items to the seller. All the major carriers provide this option, and it’s useful for everyone involved:

  • Sellers can control which carrier and service is used for returns, which means that they know exactly how much it will cost them and how long it will take to come back.
  • Buyers don’t have to worry about returns costing them anything more than a trip to the carrier drop-off.
  • Carriers have fewer poorly labeled return packages to gum up the works.

So it’s win-win-win. Still, it requires a bit of effort on the part of the seller—but it’s much easier if you’re using a postage solution like PitneyShip.

How do they work?

Let’s start this section with a very important fact: “Prepaid” doesn’t mean you have to pay for every label—just the ones that get used. Of course, you’ll pay a tiny bit to print each one, but you’re saving so much time, money and heartache by funneling returns through channels you know and trust that it’s well worth it.

Otherwise, it’s pretty straightforward. Using whatever tools you prefer to print your shipping labels, you simply print out return labels with the addresses reversed, using codes from your carrier, who will charge you each time one is actually used. PitneyShip can help you create prepaid return address stickers quickly and easily.

Then your customers can just slap that label on the container holding their return and take it to a carrier or drop box. Once it’s in process, the carrier will charge you and you’ll get it back shortly.

What do I need to know about each carrier’s return labels?

Each carrier is a little different—though USPS has more stringent restrictions on prepaid labels’ use.


USPS Return labels can only be printed no more than 7 days after the initial shipping label was created and have expirations dates, which means that it’s generally not a good idea to just print them out and place it with your shipments.

But you can still create prepaid return labels! Give your buyers a simple way to contact you for returns and then you can email them a PDF they can print out at home. PitneyShip makes it easy to create these in just a few clicks.

FedEx and UPS

These carriers both use return labels that don’t expire, so there’s no special reason not to include them with every shipment. It is much easier to create them using software like PitneyShip, but each carrier offers detailed instructions if you’d rather make them on your own.

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