Packing slips may seem like a simple, even meaningless document. But for a warehouse manager interested in streamlining and optimizing their operations, the packing slip generator can present opportunities for time and cost savings.
Here’s what we’re covering in our packing slip guide to help you build a lean and profitable business:
- What Is a Packing Slip?
- What Is the Difference Between a Packing Slip And an Invoice?
- What Is the Difference Between a Packing Slip, Packing Checklist And a Shipping Label?
- What Does a Packing Slip Look Like and What Information Is Included?
- How Do Packing Slips Fit In Your Warehouse’s Shipping Process?
- How Do I Improve My Packing Slip Excel Template?
What Is a Packing Slip?
A packing slip is a document that lists the contents of a shipment. It includes item names, SKU numbers, weights, dimensions, and quantities.
When a buyer receives a shipment, they compare the package’s contents to the items listed on the packing slip.
If the contents of the box don’t match the packing slip / packing checklist (e.g., because an item is missing) the buyer contacts the seller and asks them to either ship the missing item or credit their account.
What Is the Difference Between a Packing Slip And an Invoice?
A packing slip or packing checklist sounds almost exactly like an invoice, but these two documents serve two different purposes.
A packing slip is meant to document the physical items within a shipment, while an invoice is meant to document the financial information associated with the shipment. (Some shippers include pricing information on the packing slip / packing checklist, but it isn’t necessary.) In other words, the packing slip is for the receiving team in the warehouse while the invoice is for the accounting team in the finance department.
The other difference between a packing slip and an invoice is that they may not carry the same items.
For instance, let’s assume your company bills monthly. In January, you send out two separate shipments to a customer. Each shipment contains 3 items for a total of 6 items shipped to the customer in January.
This means that in January, your company will have two packing slips and one invoice for that customer.
- Packing slip 1 contains the products and other physical information for the first 3 items
- Packing slip 2 contains the products and other physical information for the remaining 3 items
- The January invoice contains pricing information for all 6 items
Since the documents serve different purposes, every packing slip packing checklist will have its own packing slip number and every invoice will have its own invoice number.
The packing slip also helps the seller organize its packing and shipping teams, who use the packing slip or packing checklist to ensure every item is in the correct package and shipped to the right buyer.
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What Is the Difference Between a Packing Slip, Packing Checklist And a Shipping Label?
Your shipping label helps your package move through the supply chain. It contains transportation information about your package, including its origin address, destination address, shipping class (e.g., priority mail), and tracking barcode.
Some shippers use the packing slip as their shipping label by encasing the packing slip in a clear envelope and sticking it to the box. Packing slip and packing checklist are the same documents.
You can do this, but your carrier will eventually need to create a shipping label to produce a barcode.
FREE DOWNLOAD: Ready to get started? Download our Packing Slip Excel Template and start printing your packing lists today.
While it may be easier in the short run, letting the carrier create a shipping label isn’t always in your company’s best interests because they will charge you based on the weight and dimensions. On the other hand, you could save money by shipping small but heavy items using flat rate boxes purchased in advance.
What Does a Packing Slip / Packing Checklist Look Like and What Information Is Included?
Businesses may design their packing slips differently, but they all start from a basic packing slip template/packing list template excel, which can be easily created in Excel. Most packing slips include:
- Company name and logo
- Shipment/Order Number
- Order date
- Name of the shipper (the company sending the products, not the carrier)
- Address of the shipper
- Name of the recipient
- Address of the recipient
- Name of the company being billed (may be the same as the recipient)
- Billing address
- Carrier method (e.g., UPS Ground)
- Terms (e.g., prepaid)
- Total quantity of items
- Item number
- Item name
- Item description
- Unit of measurement (UOM)
- Quantity of each item
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How Do Packing Slips Fit In Your Warehouse’s Shipping Process?
Your warehouse’s shipping process ensures products arrive to your customers accurately and on time. Getting the right products to the right customers at the right time has always been important, but today it’s critical, whether you’re a 3PL managing fulfillment for other businesses or a brand fulfilling your own orders.
- If you’re a 3PL, your unique value proposition is the fact that you have a streamlined shipping process with best practices hardwired into it. If you can’t successfully fulfill orders, you risk losing business.
- If you’re a brand fulfilling your own orders, you’re competing with other brands as well as e-commerce giants like Amazon. Consumers have almost infinite options, and brands can’t afford to disappoint them.
With this in mind, it’s important that warehouse managers address any bottlenecks in their warehouse, particularly at the shipping stage. Warehouse managers tend to spend significant time improving warehouse processes like directed putaway and picking - and for good reason considering these are labor-intensive processes. But when these are the only areas of continuous improvement, issues with other important activities like packing and shipping are overlooked.
The Packing Process
The packing process includes activities like kitting and bundling, selecting the right size box and appropriate packaging materials, and boxing up items.
In theory, this sounds like a straightforward process. In reality, it consists of a lot of searching and decision-making between different stages, which adds time to the process. Notably, packing slips turn up at several points in the packing process.
Kitting and Bundling
Kitting and bundling is the process of putting multiple items together, and it can be the source of a bottleneck in your operations. For example, beauty products like shampoo and conditioner may be sold in a set. Kitting and bundling may happen before or after an order comes in.
This has a few implications to the overall picking process. It forces warehouse workers to decide whether or not to assign a product, which this isn’t always straightforward. When an item is always sold in a kit, the workers would assign a SKU to the aggregated product. When an item is not usually sold in a kit – perhaps the items are only bundled for a limited time promotion – a parent product isn’t assigned.
The SKU assignment impacts the creation of the packing slip. If the kit has its own SKU, the individual products don’t need to be listed on the packing slip. If there’s no parent SKU, then all the items in the bundle must be listed on the packing slip or packing checklist.
A warehouse management system (WMS) with kitting and bundling capabilities can help organize the process. Using automation tools, warehouse managers can set rules for when kitted products receive a parent SKU or individual SKUs. That way, workers don’t need to decide whether to assign a SKU.
Of course, this only applies if the kitting and bundling happens after the picking process. If it happens before picking, at the putaway stage, then the workers using the inventory management software to determine stock keeping unit assignments would be the receiving team, not the shipping team.
Once orders come in, the picking team grabs them from the warehouse using a pick list. The items are then sent to the packing team. If the warehouse does not have a sophisticated order fulfillment software, warehouse workers must sort picked items based on customer orders and manually create packing lists using packing list templates, extending the overall process and introducing opportunities for errors.
With warehouse management software, packing lists are automatically generated using information from the pick lists. Warehouse workers can simply refer to the complete pick lists to prepare their boxes and add the auto-generated packing list.
Even with the pick-list-to-packing-slip problem solved, there’s yet another inefficiency in the packing process. Selecting boxes, packing the products in, and choosing the right packaging materials.
In an effort to work quickly, warehouse workers grab the nearest box. This is a short-term solution that introduces greater long-term costs since lightweight, large boxes are charged using dimensional weight pricing to account for the space they take up in the carrier’s truck.It also means the use of higher-priced boxes and more materials to fill in the space.
Finally, when managing multi-item orders, they spend time trying to fit items in - rotating, removing, and replacing items in an effort to get them all to fit.
Warehouses can solve the box selection problem by improving their warehouse layouts and organization. By placing all boxes nearby and organizing them by size, workers can easily identify the box they need.
Warehouse operators can also use 3D software to direct workers exactly how to package items into boxes.
The Shipping Process
Like the packing process, the shipping process can also be filled with inefficiencies from decision-making delays and manual processes.
Warehouse workers have to create customer tags (e.g., a customer is a VIP who qualifies for free shipping), split orders by SKU for items that need to be shipped separately, create return labels, and, of course, complete packing lists.
On top of these shipping activities, workers also have to make a number of business decisions like whether to purchase insurance for a shipment.
With an advanced WMS with integrated shipment automation rules, warehouse managers can eliminate many of these pain points and reduce the time and costs associated with shipping activities .
Shipping automation software uses “if/then” rules to automate standard tasks and decision-making. Warehouse managers can program shipping automation software to:
- Automatically create a scan-based return label
- Buy insurance for shipments worth more than $200, as determined by the information in the packing list generator.
- Print packing lists and shipping labels based on predetermined rules. Depending on the circumstances, you may want your team to print only the packing list; print the packing list and shipping label on the same page; or print both the packing list and the shipping label but on separate pages.
As you can see, your packing list does more than inform your customers. It also tells your warehouse workers and your warehouse management system which items should be in each of your packages and how they should be packed.
How Do I Improve My Packing Slip Template?
Some companies view packing slips as a purely functional document. Others consider both its function and its form. Since most companies entrust a large part of the customer experience to their carriers, they have little control over how the last mile of delivery (the journey from the distribution center to the destination) goes.
To compensate, retailers create an incredible unboxing experience that includes promotional flyers and fun packing materials. Companies with savvy marketing teams use the packing slip as a branding experience and create well-designed packing documents.
Your excel packing slip template doesn’t have to be a boring document - Packing list template excel can be an additional opportunity to further engage with your customers. If you’ve streamlined your packing and shipping process and want to take your business a step further, considering implementing these packing list tips:
- Incorporate your branding: Liven up your packing list. This can include anything from adding your logo to designing the entire paper. You could add a watermark, change up the copy based on the season (e.g., summer season, Christmas), or pictures of your products.
- Take the opportunity to connect: Include your social media handles and encourage customers to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
- Upsell and cross-sell: Do you think your customers would enjoy some of your other items? Include a coupon or promotional code in the free whitespace of your packing slip or packing checklist.
- Show your appreciation: Use the packing slip or packing checklist to thank your customers for their business.
Packing Lists Fill An Underappreciated Role In The Shipping Process
The packing list is not a throwaway document. It serves an important role for both the seller and the buyer. The packing list helps the seller’s warehouse workers keep track of which items should be packed in each shipment, ensuring the right products arrive to customers on time.
It also helps buyers verify the accuracy of their shipments upon receipt.
Finally, packing lists present an additional opportunity for companies to enhance the customer experience with effective branding and copy.
Written by Ruthie Bowles
Ruthie is a content marketing consultant for Logiwa. Her specialties include small business development and inventory management.