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How Does Overnight Shipping Actually Work?

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Thanks to big companies like Amazon, the idea of the next day delivery is ingrained into our collective consciousness. But how often do you stop to wonder exactly how that new electronic goodie or must-have pair of sneakers got to you so fast? Usually people don’t spare a thought to the shipping process unless their product arrives late. But you might be amazed at the sheer scale and coordination that goes into overnight shipping.

The rise of overnight shipping

You likely know overnight shipping as that one policy that gets the U.S. postal service to work on Sundays.But many large online retailers also offer next day deliveries through UPS and FedEx. It’s become almost expected in recent years that a company of any size is going to have a next day delivery option fulfilled through one of the major three options.

How the packages get to you

Overnight shipping is a million-part machine. After your order is placed, your product is boxed up and labeled. Then, if you asked for it to be delivered the next day, the real fun begins.

Most companies have a port or central hub that they go through. For example, UPS operates out of Worldport, a shipping megacenter that hits its peak hours during the night. A lot of employees sacrifice their sleeping schedules to get you your new Nikes in time for gameday. To give you some sense of the scale of overnight shipping, after midnight, a plane lands in Worldport every sixty seconds.

Your package will journey through a dozen conveyor belts, its final destination at the mercy of the company’s sorting systems. Then it will hop from plane to plane until it lands in your city, where it will be transferred to a delivery truck. Then it will make its way to you, hopefully by the allotted time. Most next day delivery services consider 10:30 A.M. to be the deadline they need to make for the delivery to have been “overnight.”

There are a lot of moving parts involved in this process. It’s no wonder overnight shipping sometimes costs an arm and a leg.It’s not cheap to maintain all those transportation routes. Some companies do let their customers off the hook, though, if the order is right. Silicone Depot,for example, spares you the shipping costs on any orders over $33, allowing savvy customers to coordinate their shopping and save some cash.