How Things Get to Your Doorstep

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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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