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Shipping And Receiving Departments Deserve Thanks

In today's globalized environment, shipping and receiving has never been more crucial --or more complex

. With Americans buying goods from, and selling goods to, the rest of the world, high-quality shipping and receiving professionals are among the most important links in the supply chain. The numbers tell the story: the US Post office handles over a billion packages a year, representing more than three billion pounds' worth of goods. FedEx delivers over six million every day, while, in the same twenty-four hours, UPS delivers a whopping 15.6 million.

It's up to shipping and receiving professionals to make sure this enormous volume of mail goes to the right places--and that's no easy task. Consider the steps a single package goes through--say a video game or DVD you order from an online catalogue, or from an online store like or Barnes and Noble.

Long before you click that "Buy" icon on your Web browser, a distribution center must order its stock from the manufacturer's warehouse, where a shipping clerk must correctly log the request. Packers must find the ordered materials and package them safely for the series of long journeys ahead.

Then the stock must reach the distribution center, where, when it arrives, a receiving clerk must make a note of its arrival, unpack it, and safely store it. Then, finally, when you place your order, someone has to find the materials in the distribution center's warehouse, at which time they're packed up once again, and yet another shipping clerk makes sure that they're sent to the right place, with the right bill, to the right person.

Now multiply all that effort by thousands, and you'll have some idea of the difficulty involved in shipping and receiving. And let's not even talk about returns! The shipping and receiving department of today is so central--and so representative of the complexity of modern, globalized business--that one suspects if Adam Smith were writing The Wealth of Nations today, he might well replace his famous pin-factory example with the shipping and receiving department of a modern corporation.

In such an environment, old-fashioned care and intelligence make all the difference. The mail room must keep meticulous records, noting whether payment has been received from the customer, whether and when orders have been sent, and logging customer complaints when mistakes do occur.

Every step in an item's journey from the manufacturer's assembly line to your door must be recorded. It's shipping and receiving workers who keep the records that enable retailers to know which items move quickly vs. which items collect dust in a warehouse. And it's shipping and receiving workers who tell you when your item has shipped and how long it'll take to reach you.

But hard work is not enough. Along with smarts and initiative, good tools are a necessity. For example, computers have made the work of shipping and receiving easier and more efficient in some ways, allowing shipping clerks to use barcode scanners, for example, to record all necessary information about an item (or an entire pallet of items) at the touch of a button. These technological breakthroughs make it much easier to track packages in their progress from one place to another. With the help of robotic equipment, too, warehouses can sort items faster. But with these gains in efficiency come increases in customers' expectations.

Not only flashy new technologies, but the simplest, humblest tools are needed in the mail room. The best packing supplies are needed, along with a good record-keeping system and lots of writing equipment on hand. Good scales (for keeping track of package weights), a plethora of calculators, strong packing tape, and shipping boxes.

And, because nothing is more important than the safety of employees, a good, sturdy box cutter is critical --a strong utility knife that won't dull with frequent use. A priority should be to find and utilize a safety knife that protects hardworking shippers and receivers from work-related injuries.

by: Kara Knapp
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