In today’s world of online shopping, we have become accustomed to clicking a few buttons and having the items arrive on our doorstep within a couple of days. It was not always like this. Just a decade ago it was still common for companies to say that deliveries would arrive within 10-14 days. To make today’s 48 hour deliveries a reality, a vast array of processes and companies need to work together. Here is how packages get from the ecommerce store to your front door.
The virtual marketplace
The journey of your online order begins with the virtual world of ecommerce. After reading reviews and comparing prices, most online orders start with a Google search for a product or with directly searching one one of the various online shops like Amazon or ASOS. From here you add the item to your basket, add your payment details, and make your order. Some retailers have this process down to just a single click, but even with smaller shops the entire buying process is now complete in under five minutes.
Order processing and packaging
After you have made your purchase,the real behind-the-scenes magic happens. Your order is received by the online retailer’s warehouse team and the work begins. The order processing stage involves verifying your payment, double-checking for product availability, and preparing the items for shipment.
Each product will have different requirements for how it is shipped depending on its fragility, size, and weight. For example, wine glasses or garage flooring each need to arrive in pristine condition, but how they are packaged will be very different. If you have ordered multiple items, this is where they are all brought together and packaged into the best sized box for shipping out to your home.
Warehousing and fulfillment centres
Warehousing and fulfillment centres are key components of the online shopping experience. These are storage spaces from where items can be shipped nationally or internationally depending on the retailer. Every online retailer finds ways to run an efficient warehouse, with more products in less space. This can be achieved by ensuring they have the optimal industrial equipment available, for example, many businesses will use pallet racking in their warehouses, to gain more space on the same square feet floor. Some shops have offloaded warehouse management and stocking to large logistics firms like Amazon, whereas other smaller outlets may be picking your item off the shop floor, or for really small retailers, the owner may be packing the items in their front room! Advanced inventory management systems help streamline operations, ensuring that popular products are always in stock and ready for swift dispatch.
Logistics and delivery
Once the items are packaged up, they start their journey to your home. Large retailers have delivery and logistics companies make regular pickups from their warehouses, but smaller retailer may take their products to a local logistics hub or sorting centre themselves. Either way, once the item is at the hub the delivery company sorts the boxes to make the most efficient use of the space in their lorries, and then loads the boxes to be taken to local delivery hubs near buyers’ homes.
Once at the local delivery hub, the boxes move into what is known as “last mile” delivery. This is where the item gets from the delivery company’s local hub to your front door, and where you live makes a major impact. If you live in the countryside, the box will be loaded into the back of a delivery van and driven to your door, but if you are in a city that last mile may be made in a van, in a car, on a motorbike, or even with an autonomous vehicle or drone. This stage is often the most critical and time-consuming part of the process. Logistics companies use various strategies which help you keep updated with your product status, such as route optimization and real-time tracking, to make sure the items arrive at the correct location and at a time when you are in to receive them.
The role of technology
To enhance the efficiency of the entire supply chain, the optimal use of advanced technology cannot be neglected. Data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) help forecast demand patterns, enabling retailers to manage inventory effectively. Furthermore, GPS tracking and mobile apps are used to provide consumers with real-time updates on their order’s location and estimated time of arrival.
With the continued growth of the ecommerce industry, there’s an increasing concern about environmental sustainability. These concerns include the carbon footprint of the vehicles used to get products from a warehouse to your home and the use of plastics in packaging. Many retailers are taking steps to address these issues by using packaging materials that will naturally biodegrade, choosing greener energy sources to power their warehouses, and moving towards electric vehicles, especially for that last mile of deliveries.
From the virtual marketplace to your doorstep, the journey of your order is a marvel of logistics and technology. It incorporates the seamless cooperation of various dealers and processes, from order processing and packaging to last-mile delivery. We may take it for granted, but getting almost anything you want in under 48 hours without leaving your home is something that few could even have dreamt of a few decades ago.