What is a Bill of Lading?

Learn about a bill of lading that is associated with sending and receiving freight shipments, and why small eCommerce businesses typically won't require them
what is a bill of lading
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By definition, a bill of lading is a comprehensive list of all the goods inside your shipment that you hand to the shipping carrier of your choice. These documents are typically associated with freight shipments and not standard eCommerce shipments that get sent from shippers to consumers. So, if your small eCommerce business is sending handheld packages directly to your customers, these aren’t documents you’ll need to worry about.

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A Bill of Lading is Different from Packing Slips

While both packing slips and bills of lading contain information about what’s inside a shipment, bills of lading serve more of an official purpose. These documents are more than just a list of what’s inside a freight shipment; bills of lading assign ownership of the shipment to whoever is on the receiving end and also serve as proof of pickup and delivery. The carrier signs them when the shipment is picked up, and the recipient signs them when it is delivered.

What Information Does a Bill of Lading Contain?

You’ll typically find the following information within a bill of lading:

  • Purchase order and/or account number
  • Date of shipment
  • Your name and address (if you are the shipper)
  • Your recipient’s name and address
  • Number of units the shipment contains
  • Description of the goods within the shipment
  • Declared value of goods within the shipment
  • The type of packaging (whether you’re using cartons, crates, pallets, etc.)
  • Notation of product if the shipment contains hazardous material; these have special shipping and transport requirements
  • The national motor freight classification (known as NMFC) for items being shipped
  • The exact weight of your total shipment
  • Pickup or delivery specifications

Do I Need a Bill of Lading to Send Regular Packages?

Since these documents typically only apply to freight shipments, you won’t need to worry about including them in regular handheld packages for eCommerce shipments. Carriers that handle eCommerce consumer packages—like USPS, UPS, FedEx, and others—don’t need to know what’s inside of boxes you tender over to them (unless you’re sending hazardous materials that require markings on the package or items that carriers require you to disclose). If you’re not in the freight shipping game, all you need to worry about is placing a shipping label on the outside of your package and you’re good to go!

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