Do invoices have to be included in shipments?
March 27, 2008 10:29 AM   Subscribe

Are there legal requirements for sellers to include an invoice in a shipment to a customer?

I'm in the middle of writing a guide for online retailers - the small, independent kind, not the big incorporated online giant kind. These are mostly WAHMs, artisans and casual crafters. Think casual Ebay sellers, for example.

Having ordered from The Ladies several times, I can tell you that it is a very rare event when one of them includes an invoice with the item when it is shipped. I have absolutely no problem with this; I know what I ordered, I am keen to save trees, and in the event of a rare mistake, we both have a record of the original order online.

My question, however, is if this is legally compliant with any regulations that may be in place. Is there a postal requirement or even specific state requirements for invoices to be included in items shipped after purchase?

If it makes any difference:

* They are unlikely to be any kind of incorporated or legally created entity or business;
* Payment is highly likely to have taken place via PayPal;
* Shipments are usually state to state and less usually, international.

I'm not looking for best practice here - I know why invoices are good. and if I need one for a business expense, I just print it off of PayPal.

I'd just like to be able to give The Ladies a heads up if there is, in fact, a requirement to include an invoice in their shipments.
posted by DarlingBri to Law & Government (6 answers total)
Response by poster: Thanks, TWF. The book will go through legal vetting before it is published. I do, however, need to be able to first write text in order to have it vetted.

I'm just looking for some links, knowledge, points of reference or resources where I can read up on this particular question. I understand that MetaFilter is not a law firm and that while individual MeFites may be lawyers, they are not my lawyers.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:49 AM on March 27, 2008

There is no postal requirement, and I don't know of any state requirements.
posted by OmieWise at 10:53 AM on March 27, 2008

If shipping internationally, customs requires an invoice to be included in the parcel (any country).

If a value-added tax is included then, at the very least, the seller would have to provide an invoice upon request when selling to another business.
posted by winston at 11:34 AM on March 27, 2008

"I'm just looking for some links, knowledge, points of reference or resources where I can read up on this particular question. I understand that MetaFilter is not a law firm and that while individual MeFites may be lawyers, they are not my lawyers."

To expand on TWF's comment and respond to this one: You had no way of knowing this, but this isn't a simple question with a simple, well-known answer and it would probably require a non-negligible amount of legal research.

Obviously interstate sales and shipping are going to be regulated by Congress, as is all use of the USPS. Where it gets hairy, though, is that every state could potentially have their own regulations about these sorts of things, as could different jurisdictions in foreign countries.

If you must provide legal analysis about shipping and invoices, you're going to need to have some real legal research done. It would probably be wise not to trust random folks on the internet -- mefites or otherwise -- to tell you the answer. The internet (mefi included) is just filled with legal advice, and some of it is just awful. If I were in your shoes I would avoid the whole issue of the legality of shipping w/o an invoice all together.

As is often the case in situations like these: if you can't afford to hire a lawyer to do the research for you, you probably can't afford to be wrong.
posted by toomuchpete at 12:01 PM on March 27, 2008

I would be surprised if eBay didn't have a guide for sellers somewhere that didn't contain this kind of information.
posted by Brian James at 12:26 PM on March 27, 2008

Who exactly are The Ladies? I take it they are some company that sells on eBay? If they have legal questions, surely they would just ask their lawyer rather than hiring you to write a guide for them...?

There may be some confusion over what an invoice actually is. An invoice is simply a bill. You don't send an invoice because of a legal requirement, you send it because you want to be paid. Invoices are used for sales on net terms, i.e., where you send someone the merchandise and they send you payment within 30 days (known as "net 30").

The invoice is typically mailed separately from the package, because the package is usually sent to the recipient's shipping department, while the bill is sent to the recipient's accounts payable department. If you send the bill to the wrong place, your payment will likely be delayed if it arrives at all, so sending it to the right place just makes sense.

Some companies do in fact send an invoice after a cash or credit card sale, showing an amount owed of zero. However, more typical for companies that do most of their business that way is a receipt or a sales draft.

What I usually receive with a package is a packing slip, not an invoice. Packing slips are used by the shipper so they know what to put in the box, and they include it so that the recipient can verify that everything is there (since the receiving department may receive many orders each day and cannot know what to expect in each). Packing slips typically do not have prices on them.

You do need specific documents for international shipping, but these are not invoices -- they're customs declarations.
posted by kindall at 10:57 AM on March 28, 2008

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