On Sunday evening, I purchased a Shock Doctor™ Knee Compression Sleeve from Amazon. The cost was $11.57, two-day shipping was free, and upon clicking the yellow Buy Now button, a symphony of interrelated gears instantly spun into motion across the globe.
Payments were electronically processed. Invoices, order numbers, and tracking codes generated. Inventories updated. And at the Amazon fulfillment center in Campbellsville, Kentucky someone - possibly a robot - located the item in a size small from amidst sprawling isles of warehoused goods, and carefully packed the product into a cardboard box. Shortly thereafter, a UPS driver arrived, loaded the shipment into a truck, and brought it to the Louisville regional shipping facility.
By the time the sun rose Tuesday morning, this box had been processed, scanned, flown across the country via jet airliner, sorted (and scanned once again) in Los Angeles, sent by semi truck to the San Luis Obisbo UPS facility, transferred to a big brown truck, and was now Out For Delivery.
I was eating lunch when the mailman popped his head through our open front door, handing me the box. I didn’t even have to stand up. I wished him a good day, and finished my lunch marveling at the convenience of modern life.
Imagine the journey this Shock Doctor™ Knee Compression Sleeve had taken. The elastic neoprene material was sourced from wherever it is that high performance fabrics originate, stitched with a moisture-wicking weave pattern into a lightweight compression sleeve by Indonesian factory workers, inspected for quality, then packaged, boxed, and sent across the Pacific ocean by barge. Upon arriving at a United States port, this shipping container was unloaded by a union dock worker assisted by hydraulic crane, and cleared by a federal customs agent. Then through a series of mind-bending logistical steps, partially described above, my tube of stretchy fabric made its way from that steel shipping container via forklift, semi-truck, airplane and local delivery vehicle through Amazon’s facilities and ultimately into my hands.
I was drawn out of this reverie when my phone dinged. An automatically generated SMS message notified that my UPS shipment 1Z88FR020224685407 had been delivered.
I opened the box. I slipped the compression sleeve over my foot, up my leg, and when it finally arrived to its home on my knee I appreciated its contour-fitting design. I admired the color. Indeed the fabric was quite breathable. But the fit was a bit too snug.
A size medium really would suit me better.
So I logged back onto Amazon, clicked a few buttons, my Visa credit card ending in 1744 was refunded the $11.57, and an email arrived to my inbox with return shipping instructions.
I was greeted by Tiffany at The UPS Store, who, upon scanning the barcode provided by Amazon, packed the slightly-too-small sized item into a new cardboard box, which was then sent by air mail to an Amazon return processing facility. The sleeve was received, sorted, and then sold bulk to the bargain-hunting, third-party vendors that buy Amazon returns by the pallet. I mean, they couldn’t just re-stock my Shock Doctor™ and sell it again - I could have had a flesh-eating staph infection on my knee. Plus, the cardboard box was slightly crinkled during shipping.
Driving home from The UPS store, I thought about the Indonesian factory worker who was paid to sew together this sleeve. I thought about that union dock worker who unloaded the shipping container, the one who gets two-weeks paid vacation plus full health and dental. And let’s not forget Tiffany who receives an average base wage of $10.74 per hour according to Glassdoor.
At the end of the day - after a massive international logistical operation and the consumption of incalculable quantities of energy, fossil fuels, cardboard boxes, human resources - I had no knee compression sleeve. A penny hadn’t left my bank account. I mean, nothing had even really happened.
And I wondered: So who had paid for all of this?
Upon returning from The UPS Store, I placed a new order - this time for a size medium. I really hope it fits.