This article was translated from our English edition using AI technologies. Errors may exist due to this process. The opinions expressed by the employees of Entrepreneur they are personal.
We’re all so used to shopping online that we often don’t think about what’s going on behind the scenes to make it possible. Visiting a logistics center is quite revealing, especially during peak shopping season. We’ll follow an online order all the way to your door.
Suppose you want to order some t-shirts and a hoodie from your favorite brand’s website. Unfortunately it’s 2022 – there are international shipping issues and the colors you want are “out of stock” on the website. The brand stores its inventory with a third-party logistics provider, or 3PL, which has multiple fulfillment centers across the country. If an item is not available, it is most likely in a box inside a shipping container off the coast of California. When that container is finally unloaded, that box of T-shirts and hoodies is loaded onto a big tractor-trailer and driven across the country to the designated distribution center.
The truck stops at the receiving dock, unloads and the box is opened. Inside are individual boxes of t-shirts and hoodies in different colors and sizes, each identified by a barcode. Barcodes are scanned to record receipt of each box. Depending on the fulfillment center, there may be impressive metering technology where one of each item is unpacked, weighed, measured and photographed.
A friendly face then brings the boxes to a designated rack in the warehouse reserved specifically for that size and color of shirt. The barcode on the shelf is scanned to ensure it matches the item’s pre-assigned location. Thanks to perfectly integrated technologies, t-shirts and hoodies are now “available” on the brand’s website.
You can finally place your order! You opt for a red t-shirt, a yellow t-shirt and a gray hoodie.
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Your order is just one of thousands of orders the warehouse receives each day during peak shopping season. But don’t worry, you won’t lose. All orders that arrive that day are assigned to picking and packing in waves, automatically prioritized based on the type of order or shipping speed you selected at checkout. If you choose priority shipping, yours will be picked up and packed first that day.
Picking is the process of removing items from shelves and placing them in separate bins, one for each order. Luckily for you, 25 other shoppers also ordered t-shirts and hoodies from the same brand that day. This means that your order goes through an automatic sorting machine! This miracle of modern innovation saves someone from having to go to multiple locations in the warehouse to pick up the same items 25 different times. Instead, a smiley face picks up loose boxes of hoodies and t-shirts and feeds them into the machine one by one. The barcode is scanned by a flashing red light as it enters the machine. Inside, an iBot grabs your red t-shirt and runs it up, up and down to one of 2,000 empty bins on a massive wall. Within minutes, the yellow t-shirt and the gray hoodie fall into the same container. On the other side of the wall, a light comes on next to the trash can, indicating that the order is complete. Another smiling face takes the container out and places it on a conveyor belt, from where it goes off in a new direction. Your order clearly has the time of its life.
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The container stops at the packing station. There, another friendly face takes each item out of the trash, scans them again, and wraps them in soft tissue paper secured with a branded sticker. They are then carefully placed in a beautiful box adorned with the brand’s logo. The box is taped shut and a pre-addressed shipping label is applied. The smiley face then places the box on another conveyor belt. As you drive away you receive this exciting email that your order has been shipped. Meanwhile, a chubby little robot brings your empty container, along with 20 others, back to the sorting machine.
At the end of its last passage on the conveyor belt, your package passes through a machine which scans the shipping label. This sends you into a sharp left turn and up a ramp, where you end up on a platform with a large UPS sign above it. Later in the day, a UPS truck returns to the warehouse and picks up the pallet. Your order is on its way to your home. You may change trucks several times as you get closer, but two or three days later it arrives at your doorstep safe and sound.
This process, multiplied by a billion times, is what happens 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in logistics centers across the country. Of course, every order is different and every fulfillment provider does things differently. When placing your orders, think of the hard-working employees, from dockers to truckers to warehouse workers, who make this fantastic journey possible.
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