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The journey of a parcel

Have you ever thought about what happens after you’ve handed your parcel over to the courier?

Our parcels go on a journey of many touch points from the moment the need for the parcel arises. In this article, we take a closer look at the journey that your parcel takes as it moves from the warehouse to its final destination.

The requirement

The first step of the journey is the simple requirement for a specific item. In the case of most merchants, it is an order placed on their online stores by one of their customers. Once the order is placed and paid for, the merchant begins the journey of the parcel.

The picking & packing

The items that have been ordered on the online store are now picked from the available inventory in the merchant’s warehouse (or wherever their inventory is located). Depending on the amount of items in the order, this process is a carefully calculated one to ensure that the right item, in the right quantity, is picked for shipment.

Once the items have been selected, they are carefully packed to withstand the rigours of the journey ahead. At this point, it is the responsibility of the merchant to ensure that what they are shipping does not contain prohibited or hazardous goods. By accepting a parcel, the couriers do not acknowledge that the packaging is adequate or the contents are acceptable – that is up to you.

Cushioning material should be packed around all sides of the items and there should be no voids inside the box, which can jeopardise the integrity of the box and its items. A recommendation in the logistics industry is that all items are packaged to withstand a one metre drop. Merchants are further advised to follow the Packaging Guidelines as outlined by uAfrica and their courier partners.

The documentation

There are documents that are required by the courier companies in order to ship parcels using their services. When using uAfrica, a shipping label is automatically generated for you whilst you are fulfilling the order. This shipping label, otherwise known as a waybill, must be printed in such a way that the merchant has four copies available upon collection.

uAfrica will also send an automated collection request to the courier to inform them of the collection (this is dependent on the settings of your uAfrica account). Then, ensure that your parcel is ready, your shipping labels are printed and wait for the courier to knock on your door.

The collection

The courier company that you have fulfilled your order with will receive the automated collection request from uAfrica and send their driver to your address for collection. Upon arrival, the courier driver will adhere to COVID-19 hygiene regulations and ask for the parcel that needs to be shipped. The courier driver will sign one copy of the shipping label for the merchant to keep as proof of collection. The other three copies will be placed into the plastic document protector on the parcel. The parcel is then picked up by the courier and bundled into their vehicles.

In the case of a sticker shipping label, the courier driver will scan the barcode on the label, and this data is stored in the tracking system of that courier company’s website. The sticker label works exactly like the printed paper shipping label: at every point where the parcel’s barcode is scanned onto the system and tracking is updated, another copy of the waybill is signed and tracking must be updated.

The courier hub

The parcel is transported and booked into the local courier hub (along with hundreds of other parcels collected that same day). The parcel is then weighed and dimensioned using ‘volumiser machines’ that compare the actual weight of the parcel to the volumetric weight. The parcel is sorted with others that are addressed to a similar area and then loaded into the vehicle for delivery to that specific area.

In the case of shipments that need to move to another hub closer to the delivery address (for example, when shipping a parcel from Johannesburg to Cape Town), all the parcels for that location are loaded onto an aeroplane or truck and delivered to the central courier hub. Here, the parcels are again sorted for each zip code for delivery to the individual customers and loaded into the courier vehicle.

The delivery

The courier driver then drives the loaded vehicle from the depot and delivers the parcels on board to the various recipients on his or her delivery route. To ensure the highest level of service, for proof of delivery and to ensure that the parcel is in the right hands, the courier will require a signature from the customer when the parcel is delivered. In the case of a sticker shipping label, the barcode is scanned as the parcel is handed over to the recipient.

Once the product is delivered to the recipient or customer, the tracking system is updated with the delivery status of the parcel, based on the information of the final signed waybill or the barcode on a sticker shipping label.

For a more visual representation of this process, watch the “Journey of a Parcel” as created by The New Zealand Post.

When we analyse the journey that a parcel makes when moving from Point A to Point B, it becomes apparent that there is much organisation that goes into the courier processes. It also reiterates the importance of following correct packaging guidelines and using the required documentation as accurately as possible - including checking that the sender and delivery addresses, as well as the weight and dimensions of the shipped parcel are correct.

This journey can be an extensive one, with many touch points and going through many different hands all over the world - of course, depending on the final destination. Although there are still many improvements to make within the courier and logistics industry, technology, strategic and organisational processes have allowed us to send parcels across the globe with the click of a few buttons - and what a wonderful process that is!

DISCLAIMER: This “Journey of a Shipped Parcel” is based on common processes within the South African courier and logistics industry. The process is highly dependent on various factors, including the sender and delivery address of the parcel and will also differ for parcels that cross international borders. The processes outlined above are a simplified version of reality, designed to give readers a brief overview, rather than an in-depth, detailed description. The article is based on information from various resources and offers a generalised look at the journey a parcel makes in the hands of a courier company. This article is not based on the processes used by a specific courier company.

Useful resources:
uAfrica.com
uAfrica takes the messiness out of running a successful online store. With quotes from various couriers, automated shipping labels and a multichannel feature that updates inventory and centralises order management. Logistics has never been easier!
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