Secrets of the Advanced Shipping Notice or EDI 856

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In the modern retail environment, it’s essential for retailers and distributors alike to have accurate, up-to-the-minute information about where their orders are. They need visibility about orders so that they can maintain oversight at all times, ensuring maximum accountability and transparency. 

This also means that, where applicable, they need ways to keep consumers and clients up to date about where their packages are at any given time – whether that’s at a distribution center or on a pallet on the way to their house – thus helping to drive up standards of customer service.

Maintaining visibility of orders requires the exchange of various documents between buyers and sellers, including via electronic data interchange (EDI). But there’s one kind of document that’s more important than any other in this regard – the advanced shipping notice (ASN). An advanced shipment notice is sent by a vendor to a retailer or buyer in order to notify them that a particular delivery has been sent out, and is on its way to its intended destination.

Needless to say, this is very important when it comes to keeping people updated about the progress of orders. As it informs them a when something is pending delivery and as soon as a shipment has been dispatched, it allows them to keep their own records in order, as well as improving the overall efficiency of the supply chain and helping firms to meet customers’ needs more effectively. This is, for everyone concerned, the ultimate be-all and end-all.

But if you’re a lay person, an ordinary consumer as it were, you might still be a little puzzled about what an advance shipping notice actually means. Certainly, for most people, the jargon will be unfamiliar – though more or less all online retailers provide dispatch notices once an order has been shipped to a customer. ASN logistics notifications work on more or less the same principle. 

Let’s take a closer look at what the ASN is and what it does.

What is an Advanced Shipping Notice?

So, as we’ve already outlined, an advanced shipment notification (yes, there are a few variants on the exact terms!) is a logistical tool which notifies retailers or individual buyers whenever an order has been shipped. This is the simple ASN definition. There are various terms by which the ASN is known – whether as an outboard shipping notice, or manifest, or EDI 856 – but the principle is fundamentally the same. Like a bill of lading, it includes a range of important details about the order, which we’ll come on to discuss later.

You might assume that shipping products is simple (it’s not always obvious just how much work goes into doing it, and how many people are involved throughout the process). Even with the best trading partners there are a lot of things that can go wrong. 

It’s not just a case of items going missing in transit; something all of us have no doubt experienced at some point. Fragile or perishable items, for example, have to be marked as such so that they’re stored and shipped properly.

This is another reason why the humble advanced shipping notice plays such an important role in international logistics. Were it not for these simple notices, keeping us informed about where our orders are at key points along the supply chain, the whole apparatus of global commerce would be much more dysfunctional than it actually is.

How Does an ASN Work?

As we’ve established, an ASN is issued to a buyer or retailer by a vendor to let them know that a shipment is on its way to their chosen delivery point. Ordinary consumers, generally speaking, probably haven’t heard the official term ‘advanced shipping notice’ before. They will, however, be familiar with the general idea. Shipment notification emails, for example, are more or less considered obligatory in e-commerce, whenever an order is sent out.

However, an advance ship notice will generally include more information than a simple statement that an item has been dispatched to a customer or client. Warehouse management systems (WMS) allow companies to include specific details of when the item was shipped (date and time) and perhaps the location from where it was sent.

It is also likely to include information on the nature of the item and the quantity of items which are included in the shipment (as well as their weight). This allows customers to check that the ASN against their original purchase order and make sure everything is present and correct once the items arrive Given the number of orders retailers and other businesses make every day, this is a very useful reminder to have.

Unlike a shipping label, an ASN should arrive in advance of the delivery. This means it can provide an estimated time of arrival so that the recipient knows roughly when to expect delivery. Again, this is can help businesses with their order management, especially if they’re constantly making and receiving bulk orders!

What Does an ASN Document Include?

The exact contents of an ASN will vary depending on the firm which sent it, as will the file. Some companies will send it as a PDF to ensure the formatting is retained, while others might send it as an XML file to make it easier to add to a database.

Like sales orders, ASNs aren’t necessarily standardized but there are a few things we should expect each one to cover. Here’s the kind of information you can expect to find in a typical advanced shipping notice:

  • Which order has been shipped (including the order reference number)
  • The date of dispatch
  • When the order can be expected to arrive
  • The items included in the order and the exact quantity of each
  • The courier used to transport the shipment, and its tracking number

Once the ASN/advanced shipping notice has been issued, the recipient knows that their order is on its way and can update their supply chain management system accordingly. Of course, as we’ve already observed, lots of things can go wrong with shipments, and delays – which could have all sorts of potential causes – are a common occurrence. 

However, having an ASN EDI makes it easier to highlight any discrepancies and to confirm delivery of each item as it arrives (through the easy use of barcode scan receiving), thereby minimizing the risks involved.

Why are Advanced Shipping Notifications so Important?

ASN logistics documents are hugely important for a number of reasons. For a start, they provide easy visibility of the progress of a particular order. It notifies customers or retailers of when they can expect their order to reach them, and barcode scanning allows for quick receipt and sorting of items. This can facilitate easier start-to-finish flow-through and ultimately store allocation, thus enhancing overall efficiency.

Those retailers which make use of just-in-time (JIT) inventory methods find ASN documents particularly important, because they order products as they’re required and just at the time they’re needed (hence the name). Having an ASN to hand means that they can easily keep track of items as and when they’re being shipped, and they can be notified of any delays.

An ASN also provides final confirmation that an order has been fulfilled. This means that open-to-buy budgets and inventory systems can be updated so as to reflect the current order situation. The ASN can also be used, once items arrive, to check that everything that should have been included in the order is present. All it takes is for each item to be scanned as it’s loaded off pallets, and checked against the shipping notice.

Order management can be a very complex business, especially when there are regular orders involving large quantities of items being made. This affects retailers and consumers alike: take the Christmas shopping rush, for example. With both shops and shoppers ordering items often at short notice, they need to be sure that those items will reach them at the right time. ASNs help to provide an additional level of confidence.

Another point worth noting here is that where buyers and sellers are both using EDI systems, the exchange of ASNs can take be done entirely through automation. There’s no need for faxes, manual data entry, or even emailing. An ASN without EDI, however, may not be as effective, because the information may be more prone to inaccuracies and human error.


Definition of Shipping Terms

Here are a few definitions of commonly-used shipping terms to help you, if you’re not already familiar, to understand the process better:

  • Aggregate shipment: Multiple shipments from different sellers to a single recipient condensed into a single shipment.
  • Advanced shipping notice: A notice issued when a vendor or seller dispatches items to a recipient (whether a retailer or an individual consumer).
  • Claim: A demand made by a client or customer on a transportation company, demanding recompense for the loss of goods, or damage sustained while in transit.
  • Delivery receipt: A receipt signed by a recipient to confirm that a shipment has been delivered, and also confirming the condition of the goods upon delivery.
  • Freight: The term applied to any goods being transported, regardless of the methods involved.
  • Just-in-time: A type of inventory control which aims to eliminate or at least minimize the need for warehousing, thus making it all the more essential for goods to reach their recipients on time.
  • Logistics: The management of shipments as they make their way from their point of dispatch to their point of final delivery.
  • Origin: The location from where the shipment begins its journey or from where the goods involved were originally manufactured or sourced.


Hopefully this guide has provided you with a better idea of what purposes the advanced shipping notice serves. Were it not for these simple documents, it would be much harder for retailers and ordinary consumers to keep track of the things they buy.

They make it easy for vendors and recipients to keep tabs on shipments as they’re in progress. Because of ASNs and the information contained in them, then, it’s far easier than it used to be to make sure that people get what they want, when they need it.