December 27, 2013

From Horses to Drones

In 1860, the Pony Express was able to cover a route between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California in 10 days.  As you surely recall from elementary school, the PE used horses and single riders that traveled between stations, with riders switching out to a fresh mount at the stations.

The logistics of such an operation are impressive.  There were over 150 stations, hundreds of horses, and 1,900 miles to cover.  Station personnel had to have a fresh horse ready to go, at precisely the right time, day or night, to keep the schedule.  They did this without computers, GPS, weather forecasting, cell phones, or convenience foods.

It makes me wonder what cog in the great wheels of UPS and FedEx got stuck and caused such a major disruption to their service these past three weeks.  I wonder how much of their logistical issues can be blamed on Amazon...

Since we had the great Icemaggedon of 2013, there was some delay to be expected.  Like many other people, I used the iced-in time to do some online shopping.  I ordered about 30 items from Amazon on December 8th.  At the time, I was not a 'Prime' member, but all of my purchases qualified for free shipping, and the latest estimated delivery date was showing as the 19th.

Other purchases from various sites began shipping, and I started getting delivery exception emails, as they encountered delay after delay.  I began to grow concerned, especially with my Amazon order, as they hadn't even processed it for shipping.  I ordered some additional items and signed up for a free trial of Prime, to get two day shipping.  I found out the hard way that Prime's two-day shipping means just that...once it ships, you receive it in two days, not that you necessarily get the item within two days of purchasing it.   

I ripped Amazon via email on the 18th, pointing out that they couldn't use UPS or the ice storm as an excuse for me not receiving items, as they hadn't even found the time to box them up and turn them over to the shipping company.  They magically upgraded the shipping method and I had all but two ot the items the very next day.

That two-day Prime shipping purchase?  UPS delivered it at 8:30 am Sunday.  Yes, you read that right.  All I could think was, "Damn, they're union...that means double time for working Sunday, I wonder who foots that bill."

I have had a couple of pleasant conversations with the delivery guys that come to my workplace.  I see how hard they are working, I see them jog to and from their trucks, I see them worn down and discouraged, as they share that people have been yelling at them and threatening them.  I know that the delivery guy simply gets in his truck each day - a truck that someone else loaded for them.  After a complicated computerized system moves the packages around the country to distribution centers and prioritizes the order in which they go out the door to the end customer.  I know that the driver is the least of the problems in the logistical nightmare that still grips most delivery businesses two days after Christmas.  I don't know what caused it, but I suspect that the ease of shopping and the impact of major online marketplaces will force changes to the industry's standard operating procedures.

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