1 How Things Get to Your Doorstep | The Billfold

How Things Get to Your Doorstep

This post is brought to you by UPS. UPS <3's Logistics.

I am an iPhone case. Sparkly, with rhinestones. Impractical, but appealing to a certain aesthetic: Yours. I’m in a box on a shelf in a warehouse in Phoenix, Ariz., or Dinwiddie, Va., or Bellevue, Wash.—any one of the 40 Amazon distribution centers in the U.S. You go on Amazon to find me. After you look at all the other iPhone cases and decide that I’m the one and you have to have me and you can’t live without me, you click “BUY” and you’re done—I’m almost yours.

The distribution centers are giant warehouses full of boxes of stuff and I could be in any one of them. If you’re also buying other things—a remote control helicopter, salad tongs, The Hunger Games—they might all be in the same warehouse, but they might not be. But today you’re only buying me, and I’m in Phoenix.

There isn’t an iPhone case section. I’m not in a box with other iPhone cases. When your order shows up on a worker’s handheld scanner, it tells him exactly where I am and how to find me. He follows the scanner’s directions to the box that has me in it. He finds me, scans me, puts me in his tote. He collects more people’s items, fills his tote. Drops it on a conveyer belt. And off I go.

I get put into a box—the exact right size box, a computer program knows exactly what size I am and picks out the the perfect size box so there’s no waste. I’m in the box. The box is sealed. The box is dressed with a shipping label—it will have your address on it in English, but it will also have your address and information encoded in other ways, computer code ways, ways that you can’t read with your eyes but computers can read with their … minds. It’s called a smart label, and because of it, you will know where I am every step of my journey, if you care to check, which you will, because you want me really bad and you can’t wait for us to be together forever. Neither can I.

The box is sealed, combined with other boxes, and put on a truck, one of a constant flow of trucks that are arriving and leaving the distribution center all day. I could be coming at you through USPS or DHL or any of the carriers that Amazon uses. When you ordered me, you chose UPS, so I’m coming at you on a big brown truck.

But first I have to get on a plane. Because of the smart label, I’m in the right place and go from the truck and onto a plane. Vroom. Airplane. Wee. From the plane, I go to a distribution center. I get unpacked, sorted—since I’m in a box, I go with the other boxes, and then I’m off on a conveyor belt roller coaster. It’s a system that knows exactly what I am and where I’m going, and it shuttles me through the warehouse until I get to the exact right place. We’re still so far apart, so I get put on a plane again.

We land near you, and I get whisked into the local shipping facility, where another scanner tells another person exactly what shelf to put me on in the truck. The truck goes to your house. A computer tells the driver exactly where to go. When the van pulls in front of your house, it stops. The driver gets out, comes in the back. His scanner tells him where I am, and he picks me up, scans me again, walks up to your house. Ding-dong. I’ve arrived.

You open me. You love me. You keep me. I’m your precious.


Sources: Amazon PR, Bloomberg TV, UPS, Discovery’s How Stuff Works

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9 Comments / Post A Comment

Marzipan (#1,194)

OR: it is delivered. they leave the notice on your door, because they need a signature. you call to see if you can get it held for pick-up. talk to a robot, with that tone of voice like maybe you are talking to a hard-of-hearing person. have the robot hang up on you three times. talk to the robot with that tone of voice like maybe you hate it and everything it stands for. e-mail UPS, complain. talk to a person, can’t get it held for pick-up. UPS e-mails you back, can’t get held for pickup, sorry. attempted delivery 2. attempted delivery 3. couldn’t deliver, so it will be held at customer pickup center for five days.

plan to pick it up after work today. my new laptop, FINALLY.

It was like a little play of inefficiency. and the thing is, I will concede, that when I think about it, it’s amazing how good we are at getting things places, it’s like magic. You order something, anything, and they will find it and BRING IT TO YOUR DOOR. It’s crazy that this is ordinary to us! But I prefer USPS, because I like to support the government, and they have never done me wrong and I like stamps and mailmen.

@Marzipan OR: it is delivered. they leave the notice on your door because they need a signature. said notice claims that if you sign the back they can leave it for you, as it does not require an in person signature. you sign said notice and leave it, only to find another notice the next day. you call UPS to get it held for pick-up, and speak to the evil robot 3 different times and get nowhere. get angry and call again and say absolutely nothing until it finally puts you through to a human. success! said human tells you that they will make sure the package is left for you, as signing the back of the notice should have been fine. another human calls you back later that night and says that they can’t leave it for you after all because 2 other people (whom you know) live in your building and might be THIEVES. tell you that you can pick it up that night. give you address. address takes you to UPS loading area. walk up to little security booth and sheepishly ask where the hell you are supposed to go. get directions to actual customer service center. wait in line behind a bunch of people who have IDs whose names and/or addresses don’t match the label on the package. FINALLY get your package.

USPS all the way!!

hershmire (#695)

@Marzipan @Alexa Suarez@facebook My local UPS pickup center is in the stabby-est part of Brooklyn. The next closest is in the part of Queens where no people exist. Ah, UPS. I avoid you like the plague.

Megano! (#124)

I have to go pick up something from UPS TODAY.

Actually at the close depot, and NOT the one that it takes me two hours (EACH WAY) to get to, thank God.

Keck (#2,466)

why does this article make me feel so very sad?

grog (#2,222)

@travelmugs I really wish Amazon and others would have an option where I can choose to pay a couple of dollars more, and wait an extra day or two to ensure that my stuff was shipped from a warehouse that treated their workers like humans.

Fig. 1 (#632)

@Keck I’m not sure about you but I feel terrified. NIGHT OF THE SPARKLY IPHONE CASE

@grog I order stuff from Amazon.fr all the time — where they almost certainly are not allowed to treat their workers like this, and also pay VAT — and guess what? It’s not really any more expensive.

Then again they lost more than $600 million on Prime shipping last year.

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