UPS unveils paperless invoice for international shipping
UPS is offering an electronic way for shippers to streamline the cumbersome, paper-intensive process of filing international shipment invoices with customs authorities and manage cross-border returns of goods.
The services, available beginning Jan. 1, are designed to encourage small and medium-size business to expand into export markets by reducing costs, complexity and delays associated with international shipments.
The Atlanta-based parcel carrier and logistics company transports about 750,000 packages across international borders each day. But many small companies avoid trade with foreign customers because they don’t have the time, manpower or expertise to prepare the extensive documentation and make sure applicable tariff codes and other constantly changing types of information are correct.
UPS Paperless Invoice allows small package shippers to fill out a commercial invoice online that UPS will route or submit to foreign customs authorities to help clear a shipment across the border. Customs authorities require commercial invoices for all small packages besides letters and flat documents. The data on the form — origin, destination, quantity, description and value — is used to verify or supplement information on the customs entry documentation.
UPS said the move to an electronic document will help cut down on mistakes and omissions because automatic edits will prompt the customer to fill in missing or inaccurate information before the document can be submitted and customer information is electronically stored for data search or to populate forms without manual entry each time.
Paperless Invoice will be integrated into existing UPS online shipping tools.
Incomplete documentation is one of the primary reasons shipments are held up at international shipping hubs, and the new system will eliminate those type of delays.
UPS estimates that roughly 86 million pieces of paper per year are created by the carrier or customers and attached to shipments for commercial and regulatory reasons.
Kurt Kuehn, senior vice president worldwide sales and marketing, said in a conference call with reporters that UPS worked closely with customs officials around the world to encourage them to accept more electronic information. The company partnered with governments to show them that higher accuracy levels could be achieved for imported goods and to deliver the data in the formats they need.
In third world countries with limited technical means UPS may print out and submit the paper invoice to customs authorities. Either way, UPS will take care of document compliance.
“By hook or by crook we have created a system whereby the customer doesn’t have to differentiate between electronic or paper documentation” when filling out the form, Kuehn said.
UPS said it is the only carrier that offers customers a completely paperless invoice capability. But many transportation intermediaries provide paperless invoices to transmit data to U.S. and other customs authorities. The company, however, appears to have created a user interface that allows customers to directly input their shipment data, which in turn flows to customs through its existing electronic transmission systems. The extent of automation benefits to UPS remain unclear considering that even U.S. Customs and Border Protection accepts electronic customs entries, but frequently seeks additional information such as invoices in hard copy form.
Meanwhile, UPS said it expects to help companies increase Internet sales by making it easier for buyers to return unwanted goods that are shipped overseas, and thus generate repeat business. Faster return of goods can improve cash flow and reduce support costs such as phone centers and help desks. UPS Return will be available in 98 countries.
UPS Return takes the reverse logistics process that UPS provides large companies on a contract basis and broadens the service for the average shipper. The new service should help retailers, manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies and financial services firms with returns.
The service will “help online retailers purchase goods from around the globe,” Kuehn said.
Shippers have the option of printing a return label and including it with their outbound shipment, sending the label to the recipient via e-mail or post office, or having the UPS driver drop off the document at time of pick up, he said.
UPS Paperless is available at no charge while fees for UPS Return include transportation, a shipping label and applicable duties and taxes.