A Bill of Lading is a document issued by a consignor (or shipper, such as an order fulfillment center) and signed by a carrier at the time of pick up, acknowledging that specified products have been received on board as cargo for delivery to a named consignee, or destination. It serves as a contract between the shipper and/ or owners of the goods and the carrier for a number of purposes:
• It is evidence of a valid contract of carriage, and may incorporate the complete terms of the contract between the shipper (such as a startup ecommerce order fulfillment servce) and the carrier which may include payment terms, rates, description of product classification, as well as other duties and obligations.
• It is a receipt signed by the carrier confirming whether goods matching the contract description have been received in good condition (see SLC below). The information could include pallet and/ or piece count, weight, product description and classification.
• Once signed by the consignee, it is a receipt of goods received providing final confirmation of the quantity and condition of the product received. A signature by the consignee is acknowledgement the goods are received as described on the BOL unless discrepancies are otherwise noted at the time the BOL is signed.
• The signed BOL may also often serve as a Proof of Delivery (POD) document as well as back up for the Freight Invoice.
The Bill of Lading will typically at minimum contain the following information: Shipper’s Name and Address, Consignee’s Name and Address, Description of Goods including pieces and weight, NMFC Classification, Bill to Party (or Payment Terms), relevant load ID numbers, and Carrier’s Name.
As a matter of process, the driver from the carrier will sign the BOL at the time of pick up when the goods are loaded onto the carrier’s equipment. At this point the carrier is responsible for inspecting the goods to ensure the quantity and condition of the product is as noted on the BOL. Depending on the shipper’s rules, the BOL can be signed “Shipper Load and Count”, or “SLC”, which means the carrier has not been given the opportunity to inspect the goods prior to loading when it is not practical or permissible. A copy of the signed BOL will often be kept be the consignor.
The original copy of the BOL will physically accompany the shipment from pick up through delivery.
Upon delivery of the shipment to the consignee, the receiving location will inspect the product as it is unloaded – prior to signing the BOL acknowledging receipt. Any damages or shortages will be noted by the consignee on the BOL at that time. Generally speaking, if a consignee notices damages at a later time and nothing was noted on the BOL at the time of delivery the shipper and carrier will not be held accountable for the issues. An executed, final signed copy of the BOL will be retained by the consignee as a receipt of the shipment delivered. The carrier will retain a final copy of the Bill of Lading as well.
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Ken Kowal is Director of New Business Development for order fulfillment service company Landis Logistics.