All posts

Paperless shipping and returns management: what you need to know


Paperless shipments and returns management is a necessary innovation for logistics companies.

This approach, which eliminates the use of paper documents, offers numerous advantages in terms of operational efficiency, sustainability, and regulatory compliance.

In this article, we will look at the benefits, implementation methods and costs associated with the transition to a paperless document management system.

Why are we shifting towards document dematerialisation?

The decision to go digital when it comes to shipping and returning documents stems from various needs of companies, states and consumers themselves. There is therefore a practical and a social component behind this change. 

Here is a short list (in no particular order of importance) of the motivations pushing towards paperless returns and shipping. 

Globalisation and export boom

With the expansion of companies to foreign countries (EU and non-EU) comes the need to harmonise documentation systems in order to speed up customs clearance and reduce the delivery time of goods. 

Digitisation facilitates the transfer of data between different regulations because it allows the required documents to be completed automatically.

Attention to the environment 

It is no secret: paper production has such an impact on the environment that, in less digitised years, it has led the world towards a deforestation emergency. 

According to an analysis conducted by McKinsey, 40% of shipping documents are still paper (source). Each tonne of paper leads to emissions of about 27-29 kg of CO2, and we produce a lot of paper! 

According to FAO data, the UK produced 3.5 million tonnes of paper and carbon in 2022 alone. About 24-25 trees are cut down for every tonne of paper produced, this means we cut down at a rate of 84 million trees every year in our country alone.

Cost optimisation 

According to the McKinsey case study (source), up to USD 6.5 billion could be saved if companies only used digital transport documents (DDT). 

In addition to this direct saving, international trade could be improved, speeding up time and facilitating trade between nations. For instance, the International Chamber of Commerce estimates that paperless shipping documentation could generate USD 267 billion more in exports revenue between G7 countries by 2026. 

Paperless shipping and returns: 3 advantages

Increased operational efficiency

The dematerialisation of documents accelerates logistical processes, reducing handling time and improving the accuracy of information.

The elimination of paper reduces transcription errors and facilitates real-time access to data. Advanced digital tools, such as APIs, enable automated shipment management, tracking and returns can improve the overall efficiency of the logistics flow.

Environmental sustainability

One of the main benefits of paperless management is the reduction of environmental impact. The elimination of paper contributes to the reduction of CO2 emissions associated with the production and transport of paper documents.

More and more carriers are allowing returns without the need to print labels, making the process more sustainable and convenient for both customers and merchants. 

Regulatory compliance

Adopting digital document management makes it easier to comply with current documentation storage and data protection regulations.

Integrated platforms ensure that documents are stored securely and only accessible to authorised personnel, reducing the risk of sensitive information being lost or stolen.

Compliance with GDPR and other regulations is simplified through the use of digital systems that ensure data traceability and protection.

Costs of implementing a paperless document management system

When it comes to costs, the answer is usually 'it depends'. Even in the case of document dematerialisation, implementation costs may vary depending on the selected solution. 

Implementing paperless management requires an initial investment in software and, in some cases hardware and training. However, the initial costs can be offset by the savings achieved through the reduction of paper consumption, printing costs, and the labour required to manage paper documents.

The ROI of a paperless system can be significant not only in monetary terms, but also in terms of improving efficiency and reducing errors, hence time. 

How to implement a paperless shipping and returns system? 

The first step for effective paperless management is the digitisation of processes. This implies the use of software for the creation, archiving and management of digital documents. 

Next, the transition to a paperless system requires an appropriate training programme for staff. Operators must be trained in the use of the new digital tools and best practices for electronic document management. This ensures that all team members are able to take full advantage of the new technologies and operate in compliance with current regulations.

To maximise the benefits of paperless management, it is essential that the new digital solutions are integrated with the company's existing systems. This includes ERP, warehouse management systems (TMS, OMS, WMS) and sales channels. Integration facilitates data sharing and process automation.

In conclusion

We have already discussed in this article on customs documentation management, the world is moving towards the digitisation of bureaucracy.

In a few years, what is now an option, will be mandatory for all companies globally: moving early can give people time to adapt to the change and provide a competitive edge to be exploited to accelerate international expansion ahead of the competition. 

With this in mind, ShippyPro offers solutions for dematerialised document management via API. Contact us to learn more or visit our Paperless API page.

Sign up for ShippyPro   →



Giulia Castagna

Giulia Castagna is Sr. Content Manager at ShippyPro. She started writing at the age of 4 and hasn't stopped since. She talks about marketing, ecommerce and, on moonlit nights, even logistics.