Batch Processing

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Batch shipping or “ship from a file” is a common phrase used in order management and fulfillment today to describe a time-saving method of processing large quantities of shipments in minimal time. It is highly effective in instances where the shipment item, weight and packaging are the same across every customer order.

Batch shipping is a computer-related term that has evolved from a historical phrase – shipping from a list. Up until the mid-1970s, workers prepared parcel shipments by working from a printed list of orders, which they “shipped” by writing them into shipping book provided by a carrier such as UPS. For each shipment, the staff wrote in the name, address, package weight and delivery zone based on a destination zip code.

For a company shipping more than 10 or 15 packages a day, this process would quickly become time-consuming and at risk for shipping errors due to incorrect addresses, etc.

From Handwritten to Computerized Shipping Manifests

As computers became more prevalent in the warehouse, shippers replaced the handwritten shipping process with a computerized shipping manifest. The original computer manifest was simply a report generated from the computer listing the details for all the packages being tendered to the carrier that day:

  • Name and address
  • Weight
  • Zone
  • Declared value
  • COD amounts, etc.
Today: Batch or Automated Shipping from a File

Today, the computerized manifest process has evolved even further into to “batch shipping” for even greater speed and efficiency. This is commonly used by companies that are shipping hundreds or thousands of orders of the same item to hundreds or thousands of customers, in which the shipping characteristics are the same for every order. Think of a media company selling a new CD or jewelry company offering a promotional pearl necklace via its online store.

Batch shipping automates the process of matching the items to the customer distribution list and printing shipping labels in bulk, for rapid application to the box and faster shipment processing.

Since all the orders are made up of one or more of all the same item, it’s not necessary to match each shipping label to a specific box – since they are all the same. Here is how it works:

  • This process usually starts with a file being transferred to the multi-carrier shipping system.
  • The file is next loaded into a program to be reviewed and processed.
  • Once it’s released for print, hundreds or thousands of shipping labels are printed in a sequence from a number of thermal or laser printers, or simultaneously released to many printers.

This eliminates the need to have each shipment go through the shipping workstation to weigh the package, select the carrier and produce the label. Since the shipping details are determined upstream in the fulfillment process, the only remaining step is to apply the labels to the boxes so they’re ready for carrier pickup. Processing “like” shipments in this way can dramatically reduce the number of touches on a shipment and increase warehouse productivity.

Batch shipping is offered by numerous parcel shipping software providers, although the process and capabilities will vary, and it may be described in different terms by different carriers. UPS, for example, defines it as batch file shipping.

If you’re planning to introduce batch shipping into your operations, it is important to ensure that your parcel shipping software system will produce carrier compliant labels. Check with your shipping system provider and your carriers for compliance questions and answers.

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