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We’ve all become so accustomed to shopping online that we often don’t think about what’s going on behind the scenes to make it possible. Visiting a complementary center is quite eye-opening, especially during the peak shopping season. We are going to follow an online order whose journey is at your door.
Suppose you want to order a few t-shirts and a hoodie from your favorite brand’s website. Unfortunately, this is the 2022 – International Shipping problem and the colors you wanted 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 unavailable, presumably, it sits in a box inside a shipping container off the coast of California. When that container is finally unloaded, the box of T-shirts and hoodies is loaded onto a large tractor-trailer and driven to designated perfection centers across the country.
The truck is pulled up to the receiving dock, it is unloaded and the box is opened. Inside are separate cartons of T-shirts and hoodies of different colors and sizes, each marked by a barcode. Barcodes are scanned to record each carton receipt. Depending on the center of perfection, there may be a part of impressive measurement technology where one of each item is taken out of its carton, weighed, measured and photographed.
Next, a friendly face carries the cartons to a specific shelf in the warehouse reserved for T-shirts specifically of that size and color. The shelf barcode is scanned to make sure it matches the item’s predefined location. Thanks to the seamlessly integrated technology, T-shirts and hoodies are now “available” on the brand’s website.
Finally, you can place your order! You decide on 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 the best shopping season. But don’t worry, it won’t be lost. All orders arriving that day are assigned to sort and pack in waves, automatically prioritized by order type or shipping speed when you check out. If you choose preferential shipping, you will be picked and packed first that day.
Picking is the process of pulling things from the shelf into separate tots, one for each order. Lucky for you, 25 other buyers also ordered T-shirts and hoodies of the same brand that day. That means your order has to go through an automatic sorting machine! This miracle of modern invention saves someone from having to go to different places in the warehouse to pick the same thing 25 different times. Instead, a smiling face picks up bulk cartons of hoodies and T-shirts and feeds them into the machine at once. The barcode is scanned by a flashing red light as it enters the machine. Inside, an iBot grabs your red T-shirt and speeds it up into one of 2,000 empty bins on a huge wall, up and down. Within minutes, the yellow T-shirt and gray hoodie fell into the same bin. On the other side of the wall, a light is shining on the side of the bin, indicating that the order is complete. Another smiling face pulls the bin out and places it on a conveyor, where it sparkles in a new direction. Your order definitely has its time in life.
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Binti stops at the packing station. There, another friendly face pulls each item out of the bin, scans them again, and wraps them in soft tissue paper protected with a branded sticker. Then, they are carefully placed in a beautiful box with the brand logo. The box is taped off, and a shipping label with your address is applied to it. The smiling face then puts the box in another conveyor belt. As it moves away, you’ll receive an exciting email that says your order has been sent. Meanwhile, a squatty little robot takes your empty bin, along with 20 others, to the sorting machine.
At the end of its last carrier journey, your box goes through a machine that scans the shipping label. It sends it with a sharp left-handed turn and down a ramp, where it ends in a palette with a large UPS sign overhead. Later that day, a UPS truck returned to the warehouse and picked up the pallet. Your order is off its way to your home. It can change trucks a few times as it gets closer, but after two or three days, it reaches your door, safe and sound.
This process, multiplied by one billion times, runs 24/7 in fulfillment centers across the country. Of course, each order is different, and each fulfillment does things differently. When you place an order, think of the hard working staff, from dock workers to truck drivers to warehouse workers who make this great voyage possible.
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