At the beginning of 2017, a six-year old girl in Dallas, Texas asked Alexa, Amazon’s personal digital assistant, “Can you play dollhouse with me and get me a dollhouse?” A little girl’s request for someone to play her favourite game with resulted in Alexa ordering and delivering a €160/£140 KidKraft doll’s house and, inexplicably, 2 kg of sweets. “How awesome!” the little girl must have exclaimed when the parcel arrived. “What on earth has happened?” her family must have wondered. And journalists across the world started contemplating something we now take for granted: online purchasing and the complex supply chain which underpins it.
So, what are the stages in online purchasing? And where do trucks delivering goods bought online slot into that supply chain?
The magic “buy” button
As customers browse online at popular European ecommerce sites such as Ahold, Ocado, Otto or Vente-Privée, merrily filling their virtual shopping bag with goodies, it all seems so simple. Fill your shopping basket, click the magic “buy” button, tap in a few payment and delivery details, press the “confirm” button. “Hey presto”, your work is done so you just sit back, relax and await delivery. But what happens next? Being a customer, you simply expect the goods to arrive fast by parcel truck.
Converting the virtual shopping basket into physical items in the customer’s home is a complicated chain of events demanding plenty of technology and regular human intervention. Let’s take you for a ride: from click, to pick, to pack and deliver.
From click to pick to pack
The buyer places the order and the retailer receives it. Algorithms swing into motion and direct the order to the warehouse situated closest to the customer’s destination. Checks are made to confirm the product is in stock in the warehouse. Just like a real shopper in a real shop, inside the warehouse, there is a human ‘picker’ who picks up the product(s) and delivers it(them) to the human ‘packer’ at the end of the process. Handheld devices scan the order to locate the products then direct the picker to take the optimum route around the warehouse to fill the order as efficiently as possible. Orders are sorted and prioritised according to “same day”, “next day” and “standard delivery”.
Companies like Amazon are investing in artificial intelligence for warehouse systems and robotics technology for automated robots and drones. Robots can help with tasks such as sorting and moving goods around a warehouse and automating the collection process. Delivery by drone is also being trialled.
Trucking to the letterbox
Products are then packed, weighed and sorted into piles by destination. Trucks collect the parcelled goods to take them to the delivery centre nearest to the customer. Before dispatching to the trucking company responsible for the final delivery, there are several checks made. This includes checking again that the products collected match those ordered by the customer. Package weight and dimensions are confirmed to avoid disputes with trucking companies. Then, to facilitate real-time parcel tracking, route optimisation and mapping technology is used to ensure that the parcels reach their destination. The products are then collected by the final mile trucking companies and delivered to the customer.
Online shopping is changing the supply chain rapidly. Make sure to have enough trailers on a stand-by mode. TIP Trailer Services can help you with extra trailers or to update your trailers with ‘state of the art’ fleet management tools. Contact TIP for more info.