While you may know that something you buy in a store had to be loaded onto a truck to get there, you probably don’t realize how many steps go into that process. Similarly, every time you see an airplane in the sky, you probably think it’s a passenger plane, but that’s really not as accurate as you may think. For instance, would you believe that over $6 trillion in cargo was shipped by airplane in 2012? Imagine how much larger that number becomes when combining air and ocean cargo.
Shipping is huge. Cargo airlines exclusively send things — not people — nationally and internationally every day. But who are they shipping to? While FedEx and UPS certainly have their own planes, a lot of what you see is probably on its way to a warehouse.
Do a Google search for a purchasing agent job description and you’ll start to see what’s happening. In that purchasing agent job description there will be mention of negotiating and contacting suppliers so your company can receive the parts it needs. If this company is making and shipping small motors, for example, the purchasing agent job description might say that the person will have to contact cargo companies, haggle with suppliers, report to supervisors, negotiate bids, and sign purchase agreements with new suppliers on a regular basis.
None of that shows up on the side of an ocean freighter.
But there’s always more to the story in shipping. To get door to door delivery of your new blender, the pieces for the blender had to be shipped from several different places to the blender factory, put together, then shipped to a retailer. The retailer then shipped it to you. But before any of that, the companies who make those separate blender-pieces had to negotiate for the best terms on the materials for the blender-pieces (probably done by purchasing agents), then figure out how many the company would be using. At that point, those pieces were shipped door to door. And the company who had the materials for the blender-pieces? Well, you get the idea.
Additionally, when things are shipped door-to-door, they’re often taking a car ride, then a plane ride, then another car ride. It’s a lot, but flying reduces travel time, which reduces the danger of a broken or mishandled product.
As you can see, like so many other things in life, shipping is complicated. The next time you have something delivered…appreciate it.