The delivery bill: Why it is so important for logistics

Accompanying documents are of great importance in logistics so that suppliers and customers are clear about which goods are involved in an incoming delivery. In most cases, the most important information can be found on a classic delivery bill. But is a delivery bill mandatory at all? And what distinguishes it from an invoice? We clarify these questions and also show what advantages an electronic delivery note can have.

Central functions of the delivery bill

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The delivery bill is an important commercial document that accompanies transported goods and is therefore sometimes also referred to as a goods receipt/issue slip. It provides a lot of central information about the delivery and enables logistics to track the shipment of goods. At the same time, it serves as a practical document for the recipient of the goods, because checking the delivery based on the information on the delivery bill is done quickly.

When the goods are handed over, forwarders and suppliers usually have the completeness and integrity confirmed with a signature on the delivery bill. This transfers responsibility for the delivery to the person who signed it. For this reason, the delivery bill also plays an important role in clarifying liability issues.

What distinguishes the goods receipt/issue slip from the invoice

It is not uncommon for the delivery bill to be mistaken for the invoice and vice versa. However, there are some differences, which are not only purely formal, but also legal. The purpose of a delivery bill is to confirm the delivery of goods and provide important information about which items were delivered and in what quantity, while the invoice is a request for payment for the goods or services delivered.

Thus, both documents are always necessary, since the invoice cannot replace the delivery bill. There are also precise specifications as to what information an invoice must contain. Although the delivery bill has become a matter of course in logistics, there is no obligation to issue such an accompanying document. The invoice, on the other hand, is indispensable in any case.

What information is needed

While there are clear rules for invoicing, the exact content of a delivery bill is not binding. However, there are recommendations on certain details to ensure that the consignment bill fulfills its function. The delivery bill is often issued in triplicate – for the sender, the forwarder and the consignee. A delivery bill should therefore have the following information and features:

  1. Sender and recipient: The name and address of the recipient of the goods and also of the sender should be noted in letterhead format. In addition, contact details (telephone number, e-mail address, etc.) are also common.
  2. Date and numbering: Each delivery bill needs a unique numbering and a date of issue. This is the only way to track and manage the shipment.
  3. Item information and condition of the goods: A detailed listing of the items included in the shipment, including number of pieces, description and weight.
  4. Transport and shipping information: Additional information about transportation and shipping methods is recommended. This also includes the delivery date and the amount of shipping costs.
  5. Signatures: The delivery bill is usually signed by the recipient of the delivery to confirm the handover of the goods. By signing the delivery bill, the supplier can prove that he has fulfilled his delivery obligation.

Specifications for the obligation to retain data

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In Germany, companies must archive all commercial documents such as delivery bills, invoices and business correspondence. In the case of delivery bills, the duration is at least 6 years in accordance with the time limits under commercial law (§ 257 HGB). The reason for this is that in the case of company audits, it must be possible to trace incoming and outgoing goods without any gaps. If the delivery bill is electronic, it may of course also be stored in digital form.

Advantages of the electronic delivery bill

In the course of the digital transformation, the conventional delivery bill has faced increasing competition from its electronic relative. Some sectors, such as the construction industry, are even pushing ahead with efforts that call for the introduction of a standardized digital goods receipt/issue slip. Surveys on the administrative burden have shown that important information is often missing. A standardized digital delivery bill would solve this problem and, in fact, the switch to the electronic document brings other benefits as well.

Reduced paper consumption

The digital delivery bill is simply sent by e-mail or can be accessed via a cloud service, which saves the shipper having to print it out. Thanks to the reduced paper consumption, resources can be saved, which is also good for the environment. When you consider how many thousands of delivery bills a single company creates each year, the dimension of the sustainability aspect quickly becomes clear.

Time and cost saving creation

Since manual printing and subsequent dispatch with the goods is no longer necessary, the sender saves both time and printing costs. The archiving aspect is also important. Storing delivery bills in paper format for several years means a not inconsiderable administrative burden in the long run. Storing electronic goods accompanying documents, on the other hand, can be done with just a few clicks.

More transparency and security

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Compared to paper documents, electronic delivery bills are more secure because they cannot be lost or damaged in the delivery process. In addition, the information can be retrieved at any time, making the process much more transparent for the recipient of the goods. Digital encryption and authentication measures protect the information stored in the delivery note from unauthorized access.

The future of the delivery bill is digital

It is already clear that in the long term, the digital delivery bill will become the new standard. Through the use of AI-based systems, the creation and also the management of documents can probably be largely automated in the future. Until then, however, printed shipping documents will still have their place. But whether physical or digital, shippers should make sure to include the most important information on the delivery bill so that both the carrier and the recipient can track the delivery.


Daniel Mahnken
Daniel Mahnken is a Head of Corporate Communications at Saloodo!. As a qualified journalist, writing is practically in his blood. After studying sports journalism, he wanted to become Germany’s Next Sports Commentator, but then he discovered logistics and has been stuck with it ever since.

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