The Essential Guide to Shipping Manifests for Ecommerce (and How ShipBob Can Help)

By Last updated on August 21, 2023

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Operating an ecommerce business means you’re juggling a lot of moving parts. And the last thing you want to do is be weighed down by paperwork. But, the fact of the matter is, if you’re transporting products overseas then you need to know how to properly fill out a shipping manifest.

Failing to do so can lead to headaches such as shipment delays, penalties, and lost goods. The risk of errors and subsequent complications isn’t something you want to be dealing with when you’re trying to grow your business. 

Understanding the ins and outs of shipping manifests, and getting them right the first time, can save you a lot of time and stress down the line. We’ll share more about what a shipping manifest is, the various types, and other details you need to know in this post.

What is a shipping manifest?

A shipping manifest is a detailed, legally required document that accompanies goods transported by ship (although one may also be required for other modes of transportation such as air, ground, etc). It includes critical information such as a comprehensive inventory of the shipment’s contents, the shipping and receiving parties, and the destination. 

Shipping manifests have been around for hundreds of years and have played an integral role in facilitating international commerce. In today’s day in age, shipping manifests serve multiple purposes, such as:

  • Helping provide a comprehensive overview of the ship’s cargo
  • Assisting customs officials at ports of entry to enforce import regulations, calculate import duties and taxes, and prevent illicit transportation of goods
  • Streamlining the carrier’s billing process to create invoices for importers and exporters
  • Providing pick-up and delivery instructions
  • Serving as a tool for risk management and insurance purposes in the event of lost or damaged goods
  • Enhancing the traceability and transparency of shipments

The importance of shipping manifests

When you’re ordering products in bulk you’re tying up a lot of capital. It’s important for ecommerce businesses to receive products as quickly as possible so they can be sold and therefore generate revenue. So in order to ensure goods move quickly and efficiently, brands need to ensure their shipping manifest is prepared correctly.

If an important detail on their shipping manifest is missing (e.g. special care instructions or specific handling requirements), shippers will treat the parcel like any other — leaving it susceptible to potential damage or spoilage.

You might think, “Well, I’ll just return the damaged goods.” Well, if you don’t provide specific details in your Bills of Lading (BoL) then this information won’t be transferred to the shipping manifest. The result? The importer (aka: your business) has to bear the financial responsibility, not the shipper.

But, that’s not all. If your shipment contains items that are regulated or restricted, failing to declare these goods properly in your shipping manifest can result in even more serious consequences. Depending on the nature of the oversight, you could be looking at severe penalties, confiscation of the goods, or even legal action.

Plus, without shipping manifests, the sorting of goods would get convoluted and messy. No one would really know what was on any cargo ship until they opened each individual package. This would severely slow down the shipping and distribution process, increase the risk of damage or loss, and compromise the stability of an entire supply chain.

“When I was shipping orders myself, what I paid per order is the same price now to pick, pack, and ship orders through ShipBob. It’s even much cheaper to ship to certain countries, which used to take ages and often got lost with localised post here.

Now, I have very transparent pricing, and I can easily run and plan my business.”

Leonie Lynch, Founder & CEO of Juspy

Types of shipping manifests

Shipping manifests come in many forms, each tailored to different types of goods. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common types and why they’re important.

Cargo

A cargo shipping manifest is a detailed document that itemizes all the goods being shipped on a container or cargo ship. It’s a comprehensive list that includes details like the nature of the goods, the number of packages, the weight and volume of each, and the names of both the shipper and the receiver.

Freight

The term “freight manifest” is often used interchangeably with “cargo manifest,” as they serve similar purposes.

However, on top of containing details about goods being transported and contact information of both the consignor and consignee, a freight manifest also shows the freight charges for each consignment

This is particularly important in scenarios where different consignments are on the same transport vehicle. In these cases, each consignment will have different freight charges due to differences in delivery location, weight, volume, or the specific agreement between the shipper and receiver.

Hazardous materials

A hazardous materials manifest, also known as a HAZMAT manifest, is a document that details the specifics of hazardous materials being transported. It includes the nature of the hazardous material (classification, identification number, packing group, and proper shipping name), quantity and type of packaging, consignment information such as sender and receiver details, and emergency response instructions.

Out-of-gauge

An “Out-of-Gauge” (OOG) manifest provides details on the transportation of cargo which exceeds the standard dimensions of a transportation container in length, width, or height. OOG cargo may include items such as heavy machinery, industrial equipment, oversized vehicles, etc.

Reefer

A “Reefer” manifest relates to the transportation of goods in a refrigerated container, also known as a reefer. Reefer containers transport perishable goods or goods that require specific temperature settings, such as certain types of food, pharmaceuticals, and biological materials.

Here’s what goes on a shipping manifest

A shipping manifest is fairly simple in nature, however, you want to be as precise as possible when filling it out. Each type of manifest requires specific information and getting it right the first time will help you avoid problems down the line.

Here are the basics of what needs to be included in each type of manifest. 

General shipping manifest

  • Description of goods: Details about the items being transported, such as their type, quantity, and value (if necessary)
  • Weight and dimensions: The weight and size of the goods
  • Consignor and consignee information: Names, addresses, and contact details for both the sender (consignor) and receiver (consignee)
  • Origin and destination: Where the goods are being shipped from and to
  • Freight charges: The cost of shipping the goods, if applicable
  • Carrier information: Information about the transportation company and the vehicle being used
  • Document or BOL number: A unique identifier for the shipment that can be used to track it and verify its contents

Hazardous materials manifest

All the general information, plus:

  • Nature of hazardous material: The class, identification number, packing group, and proper shipping name of the hazardous material
  • Emergency response information: Details on the necessary actions in case of an accident or emergency
  • Certification: A signed declaration by the shipper confirming that the materials are prepared according to applicable regulations

Out-of-Gauge manifest

All the general information, plus:

  • OOG details: Specific details about how the cargo exceeds standard container dimensions
  • Special handling instructions: Any specific instructions for handling, loading, and unloading the OOG cargo
  • Center of gravity images: Visual indicators or diagrams that show the center of gravity of the OOG cargo

Reefer manifest

All the general information, plus:

  • Temperature requirements: The required temperature and ventilation settings to maintain the quality of the goods
  • Special handling instructions: Any specific instructions for maintaining the temperature-controlled environment of the reefer

Failure to provide the necessary information or providing incorrect details on a shipping manifest will likely lead to further inspection being required. This will lead to delays and possibly fines for the seller.

Shipping manifest vs. similar documents

Shipping manifests aren’t the only piece of paperwork you’ll need to fill out if you’re importing and exporting goods. Here are the differences between shipping manifests and similar shipping documents.

Shipping manifest vs. bill of lading

A shipping manifest is a detailed list of all the cargo on a particular transport vehicle or vessel, whereas a Bill of Lading (BOL) serves as a legal contract between the shipper and the carrier.

The BOL outlines the type, quantity, and destination of the goods being shipped and serves as a receipt when the carrier delivers the goods. While a manifest includes all the cargo on a vehicle or vessel, a BOL is issued for each separate shipment within that vehicle or vessel.

Shipping manifest vs. commercial invoice

A commercial invoice is a bill for the goods from the seller to the buyer. It acts as a request for payment and includes specifics about the goods, their price, terms of sale, and delivery and payment methods.

Shipping manifest vs. packing list

A packing list details what’s inside each individual shipment or package. It helps both the sender and receiver ensure all goods are correctly accounted for and can help customs authorities check the contents of a shipment. 

Shipping manifest vs. certificate of origin

A certificate of origin is a document used in international trade. It certifies the country in which the goods were manufactured, produced, processed, or underwent their last substantial transformation.

Common challenges and solutions with shipping manifests

Shipping manifests, although crucial, come with a specific set of challenges. Here are some common problems and their solutions.

Misunderstanding the purpose of a shipping or cargo manifest

Often, businesses may view a shipping or cargo manifest as merely an administrative task rather than a key document in the shipping process. However, these manifests are vital for tracking shipments, ensuring accurate deliveries, complying with customs requirements, and serving as legal evidence in case of disputes.

Solution: Offloading this task to a third-party logistics provider (3PL) can be an ideal solution as they have expertise in handling crucial documents and understand their significance.

Errors in filling out shipping manifest details

Mistakes or omissions in the shipping manifest can lead to serious consequences, such as delayed shipments, customs clearance issues, additional fees, or disputes with receivers.

Solution: Contact your shipping agent or freight forwarder to inform them of the error. To correct it you may have to pay additional fees. Going forward, implement a robust double-checking system or hire an outside professional to help avoid errors.

Amending a submitted shipping manifest

Sometimes it may be necessary to amend a submitted manifest, which can be a complex process, especially when the shipment is already en route.

Solution: If an amendment does need to be made, a manifest corrector document or online submission must be filled out before the ship is scheduled to arrive. Amending a shipping manifest, however, will likely result in a monetary penalty.

Discrepancies between a shipping manifest and actual shipment

If there is a difference between what was shipped and what was listed on the shipping manifest, it’s considered a discrepancy. Discrepancies between the shipping manifest and the actual shipment can occur due to several reasons such as clerical errors, miscommunication, or problems during the packing process.

Solution: Ensuring effective communication between the different parties involved in the shipping process is vital to avoid these types of discrepancies. A 3PL can be invaluable in managing these discrepancies given their expertise and established processes.

Overcoming language barriers in international shipping

Language differences can pose a challenge, especially in international shipping, where manifests need to be understood by people in different countries.

Solution: To overcome language barriers, use standardized international shipping terms (Incoterms) and internationally recognized commodity codes (HS codes) wherever applicable. 

Source

Hiring staff proficient in the languages of your primary shipping destinations can also greatly help.

Don’t let the little things get in the way: unlock next-level fulfillment with ShipBob

Navigating the complexities of shipping manifests doesn’t have to be a barrier to your business growth. By partnering with a third-party logistics provider like ShipBob, you can elevate your fulfillment operations and make manifest management easier.

As a tech-enabled 3PL provider, ShipBob offers an end-to-end freight management service that streamlines the shipping manifest process and takes on the responsibility of ensuring the safe delivery of your goods. From detailing the specifics of your goods to managing consignment information, ShipBob’s experienced team ensures that all crucial details are handled correctly.

When you partner with ShipBob for fulfillment services, the entire fulfillment process is taken care of for you. Simply send your inventory to ShipBob, where it will be securely stored until an order comes in. The team will efficiently pick, pack, and prepare the orders for shipment, without you ever having to touch a thing.

Moreover, if you’re shipping hazardous materials domestically, ShipBob’s platform allows you to mark items as “dangerous goods.” This alerts the ShipBob team to take appropriate measures when managing and fulfilling the order.

Get started with ShipBob

Ready to partner with a 3PL for your brand’s fulfillment? Learn more about ShipBob and connect with our team to get started.

Shipping manifest FAQs

Below are answers to some of the common questions people have about shipping manifests. 

What happens if you make a mistake on a shipping manifest?

A mistake on a manifest can lead to shipment delays, fines, and legal issues. It’s best to double-check your shipping manifest before submitting it or amending it as quickly as possible.

Can a shipping manifest be amended after submission?

Yes, it’s possible to amend a manifest after submission. In these cases, you will need a shipping line agent to send a manifest corrector document to the delivery destination or submit an online form (if applicable) before the ship arrives at its destination port.

What is the difference between a shipping manifest and a bill of lading?

A bill of lading is a contract between the freight carrier and shipper, whereas a manifest is a detailed inventory of the shipment.

Are shipping manifests open to the public?

Generally, no. Shipping manifests are for customs, port authorities, and the shipping agency. They are typically not publicly accessible.

Written By:

Meredith is a Content Marketing Specialist at ShipBob, where she writes articles, eGuides, and other resources to help growing ecommerce businesses master their logistics and fulfillment.

Read all posts written by Meredith Flora