What Is Proof of Delivery? Understanding the What and Why

February 21, 2020
What Is Proof of Delivery? Understanding the What and Why

Either as a customer or sender, chances are you've dealt with proof of delivery at some point. Most of you probably have a decent idea of the process.

So, in this post, I'll begin by briefly mentioning what proof of delivery is, but I'll focus more on why proof of delivery is important and where it's going. If you're not using electronic proof of delivery, for example because your forms are hard to digitize, this post might sell you on the benefits. Meanwhile, Vector can help with the digitization.

Let's start by defining proof of delivery.

The What

Picture the scene of your last online purchase.

After a delivery driver gives you your parcel, you're consumed with questions. Did it arrive early? Late? Is it the one you wanted? Does it look like the picture?

And then, suddenly there's a piece of paper on a clipboard flapping in the wind before your eyes. You search through your pockets for a pen, not noticing that the driver is holding one out and struggling to wrangle the piece of paper for long enough for you to scratch what passes for a signature.

But really, you don't care about that. It's not long before you're thanking the driver, barreling back inside, and ripping into the packaging before the door has even closed.

If you're lucky, that signature would have been on a clunky device with a semi-working touch screen. Or if you were really lucky, you signed on a modern cell phone. You hope that next time you'll get that driver again.

This simple, but often frustrating, step is the proof of delivery. And while the recipient is more concerned with receiving their package than signing the proof of delivery, it's a vital piece of information for the whole supply chain. In this post, I'll talk through what it is in more detail and why it's so important.

Proof of Delivery Defined

At its simplest, think of proof of delivery as a specific type of receipt. It confirms that the consignee has received the expected goods from the sender. In signing the proof of delivery, the consignee is acknowledging both that all items are present and that they have arrived without any visible damage.

Typically a proof of delivery receipt contains a range of information about the delivery. This includes, but is not limited to, the date and time the package was delivered and the name of the recipient. The recipient here is the person who physically took possession of the goods. This can be a different person than the consignee, but generally they must fit within defined rules, such as residing or working at the same premises.

Legally speaking, proof of delivery serves a few roles that encapsulate the above. It states that the delivery was made in good condition as well as specifies which goods were delivered. It defines the recipient and the consignee, who is the new owner of the goods. Finally, it's a contract that binds the parties into an agreement that the goods were transferred as agreed.

A Brief History of Proof of Delivery

Proof of delivery has a long history of being used by postal services around the world. Rising to popularity in the late 1800s, important documents, such as legal and financial records, were signed for upon receipt. This was called an avis de réception, or acknowledgment of receipt. In this case, the recipient signed a card that was then returned to the sender.

Since those days, the process has become much more widely used. Freight companies and couriers also make use of proof of delivery, as well as postal services. It's become an integral and expected part of any delivery.

Broadly speaking, proof of delivery is completed via one of two methods. The first is the paper-based method, like the original avis de réception. Here, the paper forms the legal document. The driver returns this document to the sender at the end of their shift.

Alternately, there's electronic proof of delivery. In this case, the recipient signs on an electronic device, such as a smartphone. This allows for the proof of delivery to be automatically integrated into a transport management system, with the legal documentation being immediately returned to head office.

The Why

Now that we know what proof of delivery is, let's look at why it's important for both the sender and the receiver.

For both, proof of delivery

  • Ensures the initial delivery agreement is upheld.
  • Is something that both parties can rely upon legally, if required.

For the sender, proof of delivery

  • Shifts the legal responsibility for the item from the sender (and the freighting company, if that is not the sender) to the consignee.
  • Introduces a check that can uncover poor delivery practices or tampering.

For the receiver, proof of delivery

  • Allows them to refuse delivery on the grounds of poor condition or missing items.
  • Allows them to note damage on a delivery they accept. The recipient can use this as grounds for return if the product does end up being damaged upon further inspection and testing.

Electronic Proof of Delivery

As mentioned above, there are two primary methods of proof of delivery: paper and electronic. Paper proof of delivery, with its long history, is well known and established.

However, there are a few drawbacks to both the sender, receiver, and driver. The main problem with paper is that it's slow. The driver doesn't return the proof of delivery to the office until the end of the shift. It then needs to undergo processing before it's in records and systems. Even if the driver progressively reports it as deliveries are made in an electronic system, using paper  still delays the process, with more potential for human error.

In addition, the forms themselves are cumbersome to fill out and it may be difficult to read the handwriting. They're often on a big clipboard and need details like the time of day and a list of the freight. On top of this, the paper is easy to damage or lose, and it is difficult to recover it in either of these cases.

Similarly, the information on them can be imprecise. Maybe the driver tried to speed the process up by writing a delivery time in advance, only to find that the recipient was not there. Finally, there's a limit to the amount of information that can be included on the forms. The proof of delivery details are always cookie cutter and can't be tailored to the freight or recipient when required.

Enter electronic proof of delivery!

In an electronic system, the proof of delivery process can be streamlined. Drivers just need one device, which is smaller than a clipboard. The device can make use of electronic recording systems like barcodes and GPS. And the results can be instantly transmitted back to a transport management system and can't be lost, damaged, or misunderstood.

Pros

In slightly more concrete terms, the three key benefits of electronic proof of delivery are:

  1. Speed.
  2. Accuracy.
  3. Streamlined process.

Speed

With electronic delivery, not only is the actually delivery step faster due to more scanning and less manual entry, but the whole process is faster. Instant proof of delivery streamlines and automates invoicing. Drivers spend less time at each stop, so they can perform more deliveries in a day. This also means that drivers will miss fewer appointment windows as a result of delays.

Back in the office, there's less data entry and checking. This means staff can spend more time on their jobs, rather than on manual checks. This improves productivity and speed in the whole delivery process. You also have the ability to submit reports and analyze the data real time. This allows staff to notice problems or improve methods and better manage the fleet.

Accuracy

In addition, electronic proofs of delivery improves the accuracy of the data in the system. Traditionally, accuracy and speed were polar opposites. When people rushed, they made mistakes. But in an electronic system, it's not the people who are rushing. It's the electronic systems that are streamlining the process. You don't get handwriting that's hard to read. You reduce human error because the system records details such as time, location, and barcodes.

Similarly, more data is available. For example, an electronic device can record the route and GPS coordinates. This improves traceability and therefore accuracy across the whole delivery process.

Streamlined Process

I hinted at this in the last two benefits. But in more detail, electronic proofs of delivery reduce paperwork, data entry, and steps in the process. This means the delivery process can run more efficiently. People can focus on their jobs rather than keeping things in line. By integrating electronic proof of delivery with other systems, you can make the entire process paper free.

Conclusion

I'm sure most of you already had a decent idea of what proof of delivery was before you started reading this post. It's a well-known step in the delivery process that has a long history. The process has always been a handy informative and legal tool in a freight company's arsenal. This is even more true for the case of electronic proof of delivery. In addition to the importance to both the sender and the receiver, this has the advantages of speed, accuracy, and a streamlined process. If you want to go paperless, but you're not sure how, talk to Vector!

This post was written by Michael de Ridder. Michael has worked in software development, data visualization, data science, research, consulting, and business analysis across healthcare, telecommunications, radio and finance. He enjoys the challenge of combining and utilizing the relationships between different domains and technology. A big fan of travel, Michael is a proponent for the benefits of work-life balance, believing that time away from a subject allows creativity to flourish.

Accelerate your fleet operations.
See how Vector can streamline your mobile and back office workflows.
Get in touch