The Death of the Packing Slip

By December 10, 2013 Articles of Interest

Internet Retailers are Eliminating Packing Slips from Orders

Are we witnessing the slow death of the packing slip?  Once a standard in an e-commerce order, more and more Internet retailers are eliminating this step of the fulfillment process and not including a packing slip inside the box of an order.

History

Death of the Packing SlipThe packing slip, also called a packing list or an invoice, has traditionally accompanied an Internet order, either inside the package itself or in a pouch on the outside of the package.  At its origin, the packing slip served multiple purposes.  First, retailers used the packing slip to confirm with the consumer what was ordered and what should be in the box.  It also conveyed important information regarding returns, contacts and help numbers. Packing slips also sometimes served as an invoice, providing payment data to the e-commerce customer.

From an operations standpoint, the e-commerce fulfillment center used the packing slip as a ‘pick ticket.’  This guided the order picker to the items in the order. It also included address information so the warehouse could process and apply a shipping label. Rather than throwing it away when done preparing the order, they simply folded it up and included it in the package.  In essence, it served as a work order for the warehouse picker.

Modern Fulfillment Process Eliminates the Need

With improved technology from Warehouse Management Systems, the modern, e-commerce fulfillment provider no longer needs a paper work order.  Fulfillment centers work off handheld computers or scanners and often use voice or light activated picking techniques. The scanner tells the order picker where to go in the warehouse, what to pick and where to send it, totally eliminating the need for a paper work order.  Therefore, for most high-volume e-fulfillment centers, a packing slip no longer serves any operational purpose and is simply a cost burden.

What about telling the e-commerce customer what is in the box, providing contact information and/or invoice information?  Current e-commerce retailing best practices involve significantly more customer communication than in the past.  Most e-commerce orders are followed immediately by a confirmation e-mail that provides complete invoice information.  Once the order has been processed by the fulfillment center and shipped, that order confirmation e-mail is then followed-up by a shipping confirmation e-mail. This provides the customers with information on what is in the box and shippment tracking.  It also often provides product instructions, contact information and return instructions.  Finally, we are seeing more and more Internet retailers send an e-mail after delivery, confirming the customer’s experience and once again, providing information on the order and return options.

Pros and Cons

With the opportunity for paperless communication through direct customer e-mails, high volume e-commerce sites are increasingly skipping the packing slip.  In fact, if you have ordered from Amazon lately, you more than likely get a box with just exactly what you ordered and no piece of paper that you will throw away.  From Amazon’s point of view, it is very logical.  Besides the obvious cost savings of eliminating paper and ink, it is environmentally conscious and further, any information on the packing slip is redundant to what has already been communicated to the customer via e-mail or their online account.

Some e-commerce clients are taking the opportunity to replace the packing slip with better developed marketing collateral. Packing slips are typically very limited in terms of what you can put on them, and they are also very limited in terms of marketing aesthetics – typically just a black and white piece of paper folded with very limited images. It is not surprising that many Internet retailers are taking the opportunity to include a well developed marketing piece as an insert instead of the packing slip. Collateral items such as coupons, customer announcements and product information can be prepared by graphics designers, printed in bulk and slipped into the package as a replacement of the packing slip. This provides the retailers with yet another ‘touch’ of the consumer. Further, by trading it with the packing slip, it does not increase the clutter in the box with more paper.

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 10.29.01 AMOf course, as with most change, there are consumers that still prefer to have a tangible list of what they ordered included in the shipment. There are also certain retailers who include return labels/postage with their shipment. While this information can also be generated on-line, many e-retailers still like to include this as part of the shopping experience.

As with anything, time brings change.  It will be a slow death, as more and more e-commerce sites and fulfillment centers develop the technology to replace the packing slip, but eventually it will die.  This Holiday Season, maybe you should keep a collection of the packing slips you get to save for prosperity….or just throw them away as usual and embrace the change!

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