What’s an advanced shipping notice and how do they help customer relationships?

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Whether you’re a seller or a buyer, if your business uses inventory, you’ll need accurate, up-to-the-minute information on where it is at all times. Knowing where your inventory is in the supply chain or the shipping and transfer cycle prevents problems and creates transparency between buyer and seller alike. In this arena, the concept of an advanced shipping notice helps.

In today’s world, creating this kind of detailed tracking is easier than ever thanks to advanced shipping notices. 

Join us today as we break down what an advanced shipping notice is and how it can impact your business for the better no matter which side of the buying and selling equation you land on. 

What is an advanced shipping notice?

If you’re not familiar with what an advanced shipping notice is, it’s a document that provides details about shipments so buyers will know when products will arrive, the size and weight of the items, and other important information.

The advanced shipping notice is generally sent as electronic data information (EDI) or in an extensible markup language (XML) format.

The advanced shipping notice is known by a number of different names, including the outboard shipping notice, an outboard shipping manifest, or the EDI 856. No matter which name you use, they all apply to the same basic document. For the purpose of this article, we’ll be calling them advanced shipping notices.

Here are the things commonly found on advanced shipping notice:

  • What is being shipped
  • Quantities shipped
  • Physical characteristics of the shipped items (number of boxes, weight, pertinent packing information)
  • Shipping company information

By having access to this information, the company waiting for goods can be better prepared for their arrival and both parties can spot potential order issues early in the process. 

How does an ASN work?

If you’ve ever purchased a product online and received a shipping notification email to let you know your order was on the way, you have a basic understanding of how the advanced shipping notification works. 

An “order shipped” email will generally inform you that an item has either left the seller’s facility or is about to depart, when it should arrive, what is included in the package, and generally will provide a tracking number for you to follow the order. 

The advanced shipping notice offers up a more detailed variation on this idea. The ASN will often include things like quantities and weights and other details so that the purchaser can check the ASN against their order to make sure that everything is being handled properly. 

What sets an advanced shipping notice apart from a shipping label is that the ASN should arrive well in advance of your delivery. The ASN will allow you to have a detailed understanding of when your order should arrive and how big the order will be in terms of boxes, weight, pallets, etc.

This information helps you better prepare to receive the shipment. The more you know about what to expect (particularly in a bulk order), the more likely you are to have everything ready to get it into your inventory and warehouse quickly. 

What does an advanced shipping notice document include?

There are no hard and fast rules or standards about what must be included on an advanced shipping notice. The same holds true for the format. Some companies may provide an XML document, while others will utilize PDFs to ensure formatting remains intact. 

We’ve talked a bit about things that an ASN might include. The following are things you should definitely expect to see on an ASN as a buyer. There may be other things included as well:

  • What order has shipped (with shipping and order numbers)
  • The date of dispatch
  • When the order is expected to arrive
  • The courier used to transport the shipment, and the tracking number
  • The items included in the order and the exact quantity of each

Other information may include:

  • Pallet codes
  • Product details
  • Location information
  • Physical details of the consignment (the type of packaging, weight, number of boxes, etc.)

If you’d like to actually see some ASN samples, a quick web search will show you many different examples. 

The key takeaway here is that one ASN will not look the same as another, but all will convey some very important information about your order.  

The advanced shipping notice process

Here’s a typical workflow for advanced shipping notices.

  1. The supplier receives a purchase order that requires the creation of a shipment authorization. This could also be a planning or shipping schedule depending on the parties involved. 
  2. When the order ships, the supplier sends the advanced shipping notice to the buyer. As mentioned earlier, the details and format of this document may differ from seller to seller.
  3. The ASN is verified, usually through a receiving open interface (a tool used to make receiving items into inventory more efficient). This is a critical step in the process. If no errors are found, the inventory is updated. If errors are discovered, the purchaser can notify the seller so that a corrected ASN can be generated. 
  4. Products arrive at your warehouse or facility. The ASN can be used to create receipts for the items received. 
  5. During the receiving process, the ASN will be used to reconcile ordered quantities against quantities delivered. If there’s a discrepancy, the seller will be notified so adjustments and corrections can be made. 

As you can see, the advanced shipping notice process benefits both buyers and sellers by providing multiple points wherein mistakes can be found. This makes resolving those issues much easier for both parties. 

Why are advanced shipping notifications important?

As we highlighted in the previous section, the ASN provides multiple opportunities for sellers and buyers to spot errors in orders before they’re actually entered or removed from inventory. 

This is one of the biggest benefits of utilizing ASNs for business. Inventory mistakes that aren’t caught cost companies money and tend to compound over time. The ASN provides multiple checkpoints during the process to help find and eliminate human error.

Beyond that, they’re invaluable for helping buyers and sellers be more informed. The information contained in an ASN will help if there are delivery issues, will allow buyers to properly prepare to receive shipments, and so on. The ASN provides confirmation that an order has been fulfilled or if there are delays or issues. This information can be vital when it comes to keeping your inventory updated, particularly if you use a system like “Just In Time” ordering.

Finally, one of the biggest advantages of the ASN system is that when both buyers and sellers are using EDIs for their orders, a great deal of the shipping and receiving process can be automated. 

This benefits both by significantly reducing the potential for human error, and allows companies to save money by spending less for employees to manage jobs machines are perfectly capable of doing. 

As you can see, advanced shipping notices are important for businesses, especially those that buy and sell in bulk. Keeping inventory in order is a challenge many companies struggle with. The ASN system can make tracking huge amounts of stock simpler while also reducing potentially costly errors. 

How do ASNs help build and maintain customer relationships?

Another key benefit of advanced shipping notices is that they are fantastic tools for building and maintaining relationships with your customers. 

With the ASN, your customer is involved and informed at all of the key stages of the order process, from the moment the order is placed until it arrives at their location. This kind of transparency is integral to building trust. 

Here are some of the key areas where using advanced shipping notices can maintain and even improve your customer relationships:

Order visibility

The advanced shipping notice serves a lot of different purposes for both buyers and sellers, but one of the most important duties it fulfills is providing order visibility. 

The ASN is part of the order process from the moment the order is shipped all the way until the product arrives at the final customer’s home. 

When the order is created, the ASN will allow you to see your order status and all of the information we highlighted in previous sections. 

When it arrives at your facility, it can make accepting the order easier for your warehouse and inventory teams by facilitating barcode scanning. This makes entering products into your inventory management system simpler. 

If the product is moving from the warehouse to another store or location, the ANS can help with that process as well, allowing your team to know at a glance where this new inventory is headed. 

If you utilize dropshipping, the ANS will provide all the pertinent shipping information for your customer and can even be used for collecting funds for the completion of the sale. 

What this all means is that you have an unprecedented level of product visibility when using an ASN. This will benefit your business in ways you might not have considered.

Communicates details of online orders

In the previous point, we talked about how ASNs can be extremely useful for dropshippers. This applies to all eCommerce sellers. 

An ASN will go to a buyer, but the retailer can then share that info with the customer to loop them in on the status of their order with minimal effort. If you’re a dropshipper, you’re essentially a middle man who doesn’t handle orders or shipping directly, but if there are issues, the customer will come to you. With an ASN, you’ll be able to share all relevant information with your customer if problems arise. 

This is particularly useful for eCommerce sellers during the holiday season. The ASN will provide buyers with all the shipping info they need to make sure their packages reach their destination on time. 

Confirms the final order

Hopefully, by this point, you realize an advanced shipping notice is not just a shipping confirmation document. It also serves as a confirmation of the order.

While it does show that an order has been or is being prepared for shipping, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. With the knowledge gleaned from the document, companies can set up barcoding for the incoming products, add the items to their inventory management systems, and revise their purchasing budgets. 

When the orders arrive, the ASN provides a quick and easy way to verify the accuracy of the order. Click some barcodes, check the document, and then send the inventory to its home in your warehouse or their next destination. 

With inventory management software integration, the advanced shipping notice will streamline your inventory management practices, and the automation will help you avoid many of the errors that can make tracking inventory a challenge. 

Builds trust

Finally, the advanced shipping notice is a great tool for building trust. Whether it’s between your business and your suppliers or you and your customers, the transparency and detail provided by the ASN ensure everyone is aware of how their order is being fulfilled, shipped, and when it will arrive. 

With this level of detail and visibility, customers will come to trust you and your business. 

Advanced shipping notice best practices

Every company will have its own rules and regulations for handling inventory receiving, but there are some standard best practices for working with advanced shipping notices. If you use these guidelines as a starting point and build your process on this foundation, you’ll see how the ANS can improve your operation. 

Don’t let your sales personnel deal with receiving products

Instead, have different people receive the shipment.

The benefit here is that fresh eyes see new problems. Having a dedicated team of inventory specialists handling the receiving of products not only means they’re 100% dedicated to the task at hand (something the sales personnel are not), but they’re more acutely aware of the process and problems that might occur. 

Take deliveries only through authorized doors

For instance, don’t use the same door your customers are using. Creating a routine eliminates problems in most instances. By moving deliveries through an authorized path, you’ll not only create a level of consistency for dealing with product arrivals, but you’ll keep customers (who can be a distraction) out of the process.

Don’t bring anything to the sales floor before it’s properly received and checkin-in

This is just good advice across the board. Items that wind up on the sales floor before they’re properly received and checked in are inventory issues waiting to happen. Prevent problems by ensuring that nothing is brought out of the stockroom or warehouse until it has been received and checked into inventory.

Set up policies in case of incomplete purchase orders (POs)

Sometimes orders will come in incomplete. Prevent inventory headaches by developing a system to deal with this before it happens, because it will eventually happen. 

Establish a policy for non-readable barcodes

If you’re using barcode scanners, what happens when you receive items with barcodes that are unreadable because they’re damaged or there’s some other issue? You’ll need to create a contingency plan for these situations in order to make sure the items are still properly received and added to inventory.

Establish a policy for receiving “closed” POs

Closed Purchase Orders are those POs that no longer need to be modified in any way. Not much to explain here. You’ll want to set up a policy for “closed” POs in order to prevent potential mistakes. The key here is consistency. Pick a policy and make sure everyone is following it when dealing with these kinds of purchase orders.

Set a time limit for receiving direct store deliveries into the inventory system

This shouldn’t exceed 24 hours from the time of delivery. Letting inventory sit for too long can lead to problems. By establishing a timeframe for receiving inventory, you’ll prevent not only mistakes but receiving backlogs. 

Final thoughts on advanced shipping notice practices

It’s easy to think of the advanced shipping notice as just another shipping confirmation. With the rise of eCommerce, we’ve all grown accustomed to receiving shipping emails when we order products, but the ASN is something significantly more detailed. 

The ASN provides transparency for both buyers and sellers. It offers up a wide range of details that will ensure buyers will not only know when their products have shipped, but when they’ll arrive, how many packages they’ll have, how big those pallets or boxes will be, and a variety of other details.

The big benefit of the advanced shipping notice is it makes receiving and inventory management easier. The documents are designed for use with inventory management systems, which means large portions of your receiving process can be automated. This eliminates the need for employees to fulfill these duties and also reduces the number of inventory errors caused by humans. 

The advanced shipping notice isn’t just another shipping document. It’s a multi-purpose document that can aid you in all facets of your inventory management. If you’re not taking advantage of these powerful documents, now may be the time to start. 

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