What does “shipped” mean?
For the most part, many of us can assume an order that has “shipped” is no longer sitting in a warehouse waiting to be picked and packaged.
However, the shipped status can also be somewhat ambiguous. It doesn’t provide us with much information on the surface about when we’ll receive an item. This can lead consumers incorrectly assuming that their parcels will soon be “out for delivery”, when they’re actually still thousands of miles away.
It’s a question you might have asked yourself if you’ve ever checked the status of an ecommerce order. In a world where most customers want to be kept up to date on the progress of their delivery, many ecommerce brands have begun to implement real-time order tracking options into their sites.
These tools can provide you with an insight into where your order is in the logistics journey after you make a purchase, usually within the “orders” section of your customer account. In some cases, companies also send automated messages to their customers to let them know a package has shipped.
For the most part, many of us can assume an order that has “shipped” is no longer sitting in a warehouse waiting to be picked and packaged. However, the shipped status can also be somewhat ambiguous. It doesn’t provide us with much information on the surface about when we’ll receive an item. This can lead consumers incorrectly assuming that their parcels will soon be “out for delivery”, when they’re actually still thousands of miles away.
What Does Shipped Mean? Defining the “Shipped” Status
The word “shipped” is applied to an order in a logistics pipeline when a seller or manufacturer hands the package intended for a customer to a courier. Basically, what it tells us that the item is no longer held by the ecommerce company, and is in the process of transit.
Shipping is typically the second stage of the logistics pathway for any company.
The first stage begins with “order processing”, when, after a customer makes an order, the seller packages the item, attaches any labelling, and prepares the piece for transit. When the package is ready, it’s then given to the courier the company works with for shipping. Common couriers include the likes of UPS, USPS, FedEx, and DHL.
The “shipping” process begins the journey of the product you purchase from Point A (the seller’s warehouse) to Point B (your home). But there can be a number of stages between the two points.
Once a package is delivered to a courier, it then needs to processed by that company, and transported to a location for last-mile delivery. Depending on where the seller is located, and where you are as the customer, the package could change hands with multiple couriers before it finally enters the final stage of delivery. In “last mile delivery”, the package reaches the local facility or post office closest to the consumer, where it can be passed over to the consumer.
At this point, a new courier takes the package and hand-delivers it to your address. In some cases, an order tracking system will update your package’s status to “out for delivery” when it leaves the local shipping office. That starts the next stage of your logistics journey.
How is “Shipped” Different to “Out for Delivery”
As mentioned above, the “shipped” status typically becomes before a product is updated to being “out for delivery”. When a package is shipped, it simply means it has moved into the transit process. It’s with a courier, but it’s not necessarily in the hands of the courier that will deliver the parcel to you.
Shipping is often a long-distance process. A courier in one location picks up a parcel, and transports it to the right location through air, or ground-based transportation.
When the parcel is picked up by the local distribution office or postal office in your town or city, its status may update to “Out for Delivery”. In some cases, this status means a post office worker literally has your package in their truck ready to be delivered. Typically, a parcel that is out for delivery has already been sorted and placed in a pile of items to be delivered shortly.
However, an item that is “out for delivery” may not arrive on the same day. It can take a courier a while to get through multiple deliveries, which could mean it still takes a day or two to reach you.
How is “Shipped” Different to “Delivered”?
In today’s fast-paced world, it’s easy to see a “Shipped” status and assume this means your product has already been transferred to you. However, it’s important to remember there’s a middle man between the manufacturer, and you as the customer. The “Shipped” status means your package is with that middle man – but it hasn’t reached you yet.
A shipped status doesn’t mean the logistics process is over, it just means it’s been passed onto the courier, for the next step. It also, unfortunately, doesn’t mean that a product will be arriving on your doorstep in the next day or two. Depending on where you’re purchasing a product from, the “shipping” process can be relatively long and complex.
If you’re buying a product from overseas, the shipping process can involve sending your parcel across multiple different couriers and logistics centers. Only once the product has been passed to the local courier, and hand-delivered to your door will it be defined as “delivered”.
When is an Order Shipped?
Another common misconception in the ecommerce world is that as soon as you place an order online, it will enter the shipping phase. However, before an item can be handed off to a courier and “shipped” it first needs to go through a processing stage.
For a lot of companies, the processing stage can be relatively quick and straightforward. Bigger brands like Amazon use state-of-the-art technology to help employees locate a product, package it, and get it ready for shipping immediately. However, depending on the company, the “processing” part can take a lot longer too.
For instance, if you order a product that’s customized to your specific requirements, it will need to be produced first, which means there’s more to do than simply collect an item from a shelf. After the product is made, it needs to be checked for quality purposes, and packaged. The right documents (like an invoice or receipt) need to be added, and labels must be applied.
Additionally, during the processing stage, the ecommerce seller will also check that the funds you’ve allocated to your order have gone through. If your card isn’t accepted, then your order won’t be processed until you resolve the problem.
Only once a payment checks out, and a product is manufactured, packaged, and labelled, can it be passed off to a courier to begin the shipping stage. At this point, most companies will send you an email or message letting you know your item has been shipped.
How Long Does it Take for a Product to be Shipped?
This is perhaps the most common question customers have about buying products online, but it can also be the hardest one to answer. All consumers want to get their products as quickly as possible, but shipping isn’t always straightforward. For some companies, orders can be processed, shipped and delivered in a matter of just one day. For others, it takes weeks to complete the logistics journey.
There are numerous factors which can influence how long the shipping process takes. For instance, the amount you pay for delivery will usually play a part. Some companies offer “Express shipping”, which means packages are handled as a priority, and shipped using faster couriers. Express shipping means your product skips the standard queue for processing and delivery, and goes to the front of the line, so it can be delivered to you in a few days.
If you opt for standard shipping, your item will usually arrive within about 5 days, depending on where you’re purchasing the product from. This just means your product is handled with the same level of urgency as every other purchase. Even with standard shipping most companies will endeavor to get items to their customers as quickly as possible.
Why Do Some Items Take Longer to Be Shipped
As mentioned above, there are various factors which can influence how long it takes for a package to be shipped and delivered to a customer. The price you pay for shipping might accelerate the delivery process, but other things can also lead to delays, such as:
- Distance: Perhaps unsurprisingly, the further away you are from a seller or manufacturer, the longer it will take for your item to reach you. The more distance the product has to travel, the longer it takes to move from one courier to the next. Distance can also increase the likelihood of issues happening in transit which delay your product further. That’s why many companies have multiple warehouses located close to customers, just in case.
- Shipping budget: Your options for how quickly a parcel will arrive will also depend on the budget your seller has for shipping. If a seller doesn’t have a particularly large logistics budget, for instance, they may not be able to afford faster options like air transport. They may also have to pay for cheaper support from couriers, which can lead to packages being labelled as something other than a priority.
- Weather delays: You’ve probably noticed that during periods of bad weather, deliveries get slower. This is because trucks and airplanes can’t always operate during bad weather. Fog and snow can prevent vehicles from moving as normal, which means packages get stuck in one location for a while. Even if your package doesn’t have far to come, snow and ice can prevent it from reaching you at a normal pace.
- Technical difficulties: Just as trucks and planes can be subject to issues caused by the weather, they can also be hampered by technical difficulties. All vehicles are capable of breaking down and not working as normal. If a truck breaks down, the vehicle needs to be retrieved, and the packages within it need to be moved to a different vehicle if the truck can’t be fixed. The more severe the technical difficulty, the greater the delay.
- Late night shipping: While couriers arriving at a facility late at night might seem like a great way to speed up the shipping process, it can actually slow things down. Although couriers work throughout the day and the evening, they won’t necessarily unload their truck if they arrive at a logistics facility on the evening. After the truck has been unloaded, the packages still need to be sorted before they can be passed over to you.
On top of all of those potential causes of delays, there are also various other things that can go wrong throughout the logistics pipeline. Sometimes, orders can be missed if a company doesn’t have the right logistics technology in place to keep track of anything, which means they’re not processed as quickly as they should be. If a product is being made from scratch, something could also go wrong with the production process which means the company needs to start again.
There are even unpredictable socio-economic and political events which can delay shipping. For instance the pandemic in 2020 caused a lot of shipping delays, due to flights being cancelled, and countries closing their borders.
Defining the Shipping Process
The average logistics pipeline looks something like this:
- Step 1: Order processing: The product is packaged, and labelled.
- Step 2: Shipped: The package is handed to the first (or only) courier.
- Step 3: (Still) Shipped: The package is transported to another courier, or a smaller truck or van to allow for last-mile delivery.
- Step 4: Out for delivery: The package is currently in transit to the customer, in the van or truck of the local delivery company.
- Step 5: Delivered: The package has been handed to the customer
This means the “shipped” stage in the fulfillment journey is just one part of a lengthy process of getting an item from a manufacturer to a customer. Understanding exactly what “shipped” means as a consumer means you can effectively keep track of the logistics process, and potentially determine when you should begin to expect your parcel.
For ecommerce business owners, knowing what “shipped” means to a customer ensures you keep your consumers informed with the right guidance and information throughout the purchasing journey.
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