A purchase order (PO) is a commercial document and first official offer issued by a buyer to a seller indicating types, quantities, and agreed prices for products or services. It is used to control the purchasing of products and services from external suppliers.

The purchasing process starts with a need. That need should be verified. The item requirements are checked and noted the PO. The suppliers are checked for availability, price, and delivery time.

Before issuing a PO, the actual inventory should be checked as well for any backorders for the item. The next step is to get approval in accordance with specific company policies and procedures. (Some companies don’t require approval below a certain price or quantity). Once approved, the PO is entered into the computer system, and the PO issued to the supplier.

When a seller (aka, supplier, vendor, etc.) accepts a purchase order, a legally binding contract is formed between the two parties. In addition, the buyer should always clearly and explicitly communicate their requests to the seller, so there is no confusion when the purchase order is received.

Upon receipt, the purchase order is used by the seller to pull purchased inventory for packaging and shipping. Once the inventory is pulled, an invoice is prepared by the seller based on the items and quantities actually provided and prepared for shipment.

Once the item has been received and signed for, the PO then becomes an account payable if it wasn’t prepaid.

It is common that the actual shipment may not contain the correct items or quantities. This is when the record of the PO becomes critical. Just receiving an invoice is not good enough. Whoever receives the shipment must check the shipment before signing the receipt to make sure the PO matches the invoice or receipt.

About 5% of all shipments contain errors and would revert to the PO for rectification, legal action, or reimbursement.

The basic Purchase Order process steps:

  1. Create a purchase order.
  2. Send out multiple requests for quotation (RFQ)
  3. Analyze and select a vendor.
  4. Negotiate contract and send PO.
  5. Receive goods/services.
  6. Receive and check invoice (3-Way Matching)
  7. Authorize invoice and pay the vendor.

5 Common Purchase Order Mistakes to Avoid in Procurement:

  1. Ignoring deals from other suppliers. Chances are you use some suppliers more frequently or order greater quantities from them than others.
  2. Disregarding suppliers’ advice. You’ve heard it before: the customer is always right.
  3. Accepting prices as is.
  4. Resisting change.
  5. Working in isolation.


One of the few things a company has real control over is how much it pays out for goods and services. While it is easier to take the path of least resistance, purchasing departments and managers should be proactive on how the company spends its cash.

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