What You Need to Know About Packing Slips
The packing slip is a seemingly negligible item, at least from the household consumer’s perspective. In many ways, this is a good thing; a packing slip usually becomes important to the customer only once something has gone wrong (damaged or missing goods, etc.). Distinct from the invoice, which contains a shipment’s financial information, the packing slip merely records a shipment’s contents, which--again from the consumer’s perspective--should be obvious, given the products in front of them.
What a packing slip means for a shipper:
But from the shipper’s perspective, that slip is anything but a mere record. If the invoice tracks the flow of goods from the consumer to the business (money), the packing slip works in reverse, tracking the business’ outward flow of goods. In other words, the packing slip functions as the guide for a company’s fulfillment arm, instructing what needs to be packed, how many, and with what else. And as anyone in the world of fulfillment knows, these are, in fact, instructions with many implications.
Along with the business’ name and address (as opposed to the shipper’s, if the business is using a 3PL), a general packing slip template also includes items like:
- The receiver's name and address
- Item name
- Short descriptions of the item
- SKU numbers
- A unique number or barcode associated with the order itself
For the shipper, the packing slip reflects how orders are fulfilled. Take, for example, an order that includes a needle and thread. Though these products can be sold separately, our hypothetical company’s fulfillment arm finds that they are just as often purchased together. To that end, the pick team--in an effort to save valuable pick time--has pre-bundled the duo, and created a “parent SKU” for the two. This parent SKU then needs to have relevant size and weight information for the pack team, who are now dealing with a single object of different spatial requirements than either of the “baby SKUs” on their own.
At the same time, the customer’s packing slip needs to have separate entries for these items, as he or she purchased them separately and as a result, needs to be able to identify issues with individual items, should problems arise. You can quickly see how much work and thought that forgettable packing slip represents, as well as the importance of a WMS (warehouse management system) for larger operations!
At the same time, as customers are becoming increasingly environmentally conscious, the packing slip, important from the fulfillment perspective, seems to be just one more piece of waste. To that end, some shippers have begun digitizing their packing slips and sending out electronic copies instead. Others have found ways to combine the packing slip with less-expendable documents, such as on the other half of a return label, or on the shipping label itself. Whatever you decide, the “unboxing” experience is often the most direct interaction a customer has with online brands, so it’s worth considering the little packing slip, even if--hopefully!--the customer never has use for it.
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