Packing Slip: Definition, Benefits, and What to Include

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 1, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

In an increasingly digital age, more information is available to customers who purchase items online, yet hard copy information can still be useful. Packing slips are one of the primary ways businesses keep track of orders, from the second a customer buys an item to the moment it arrives at their door. If you work for an e-commerce business, knowing and understanding how a slip works may help you better organize your work and provide customers with important information.

In this article, we define what a packing slip is, discuss its benefits during the purchasing process, and discover the most important information to include in it.

What is a packing slip?

A packing slip, also called a waybill, shipping list, or packing list, is a paper document that lists all items included within a package. Packing slips are important because they list important information like stock keeping units (SKUs), dimensions of the items, weights, and the number of units purchased. This information is integral to the shipping process and provides important data for businesses to track sales and inventory. Shipping departments rely on information in a packing list to track and maintain orders, and most e-commerce websites provide a paper copy in the package for buyers to examine.

As customers can review the packing list, it needs to be easy to understand and scan for information. Packing lists aren't solely for industry professionals, they also provide information that the customer can use. If the customer needs more information on the product, it may be useful to include a separate document that can help explain any technical information. For example, you may wish to include an owner's manual alongside the packing list, which may help to differentiate the information you're providing to the customer.

What is the difference between a packing list, purchase order, and invoice?

The three most important documents that a business can use to track shipments are packing lists, purchase orders, and invoices, and each of these serves a different role within the purchasing process. By mastering each separate document, you can learn ways to optimize business operations by better communicating sales to customers while also collecting more data to track sales. Here are the definitions and the differences between slips, purchase orders, and invoices:

  • Purchase orders: Businesses primarily use this document to keep track of inventory and payment, which means they're more business-focused. Businesses can track purchase orders through the use of electronic software, and this allows them to find customers who have yet to pay for their orders.

  • Invoices: Invoices are a contract between a business and its customer, stating the goods that the business sells and the price of each item. As a non-negotiable document, sellers mitigate the risk of shipping because an invoice clearly shows the number of purchased items, prices, payment terms, and even delivery times.

  • Packing lists: Unlike invoices, only businesses that ship physical items use packing lists. With a packing list, it's important to consider if the person who is receiving the package is the same person responsible for paying for the shipment.

All three of these documents are important to allow a business to be fully transparent when selling items to its customers. Although each document has a different role, they all help to provide information that can allow both the seller and buyer to understand the technical aspects of the shipping process. In fact, businesses can optimize their operations by using all three. Starting with purchase orders from their distributors, they can assess any changes in the supply chain. They can then send invoices to their clients and include a packing list in each order when they ship a product.

Related: What Are Accounting Transactions? (Definition and Examples)

What are the benefits of a packing list?

Packing lists are important elements of the shipping process because they provide a check and balance for both the business selling the products and the customer buying them. For example, businesses can use packing lists to check the number of items they have in stock, providing them with the information to track buying trends throughout the year. Here are the major benefits of using packing lists:

Shipment integrity

Packing lists can help reduce misunderstandings during the shipping process, allowing businesses to catch any discrepancies in packages for dispatch, shipping dates, and prices. This allows different departments, from sales to shipping, to check products and conduct quality control before the products go out to clients. Packing lists are an important component of pursuing excellence for a business.

Ability to divide orders

Packing lists may be helpful if a business needs to divide a customer's order into multiple packages or shipments. This is because packing lists can document the quantity and location of items. By using a packing list, a seller can organize and monitor which items are in each package and record the time of each shipment to the customer. This allows businesses to ensure they send out the correct items in each package so customers receive their entire order.

Customer satisfaction

For new businesses, packing lists can also help solidify their reputation with clients. New businesses can strengthen their reputation of being reliable and trustworthy simply by including all relevant information on a packing list. In addition, if any items are missing, the client can use the packing list to identify the missing products and allow the seller to resolve the issue.

Related: What Is the Consumer Decision-Making Process? (A Guide)

Things to include on a packing list

Unlike any other document, packing lists can promote a business's dedication to quality control. A packing list provides all information on a customer order, helping businesses to check and double-check the items they're sending out. Below are some important details to include on a packing list:

List of items

On a packing list, it's important to include an itemized list of what you're shipping so the customer can check they've received all their items. You can also include other helpful details like item numbers and the package's weight. The list of items is usually easy to read, which can allow you to divide the order between multiple boxes.

Before you seal the boxes, include a printed copy of the packing list within the box. This may be the only information that you provide for your customer. Although they may have received an invoice online, receiving a hard copy of the packing list can help to build trust between a business and its customers and potentially lead to a long-term relationship.

Shipping information

Shipping information includes the recipient's contact information, the shipping address, the return address, and the shipment days. Including this information on the packing list can be helpful if there are any issues during transit. This can also help sellers ensure they're shipping a package to the correct customer address.

Related: Where and How to Get Pay Stubs if You Need a Replacement

Missing items

Some items that a customer purchases may be unavailable for shipment because of a delay in receiving items from the manufacturer, so you may choose to ship an item at a later date. Including information on why you cannot ship an item and the future date of shipment can help customers to understand why they haven't received an item and when they may receive it. You can also provide information to show clients when an item may be back in stock, allowing them to know when they can purchase an item later.

Inventory number

You can also include an inventory number on a packing list. An inventory number is a unique number a business uses to identify a product within its internal inventory system. Two common types of inventory numbers you can use include the SKU and the universal product code.

When trying to locate an item within a storage facility, a shipper may often use the inventory number within their inventory management software to define its exact location. If a customer has an issue with their package, they can also use the inventory number from the packing list to help the seller quickly identify the missing or damaged item.

Slip number

When there are multiple packages for a single order, it can be helpful for businesses to list the slip number on each packing list. The slip number helps the shipper identify which packages are part of the same order. For example, a business may assign a unique slip number to a customer's order and then divide that order into three packages. Here, the business would use a packing list for each package and include the slip number on each packing list to show that these packages are part of the same order.

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