Have you ever wondered what happens to an order you place with us? How many people handle it? What fun and interesting places it visits? Well here is a day in the life of a mail order at our shop...
It's 11pm Sunday night and you've just placed an on-line through our shopping cart. Once you've submitted it the shopping cart system (which is in Georgia) assigns a 12 digit number, archives the order and e-mails a copy to us and to you. The e-mail version does not contain credit card information - for that we have to log into the server later. Usually within a few minutes of placing the order the e-mail copy arrives at our e-mail server, waiting for us to check e-mail later. Since we're closed on Monday it may or may not get read on Monday. Sometimes Cathe checks e-mail from home that day (or in the evenings) and she can print a copy of the order to the shop printer (Virtual Private Networks are so useful) and let you know we've gotten it. Otherwise it will get read the next day by either Rachele, Cathe or Debi and you'll get a confirmation e-mail we received the order. We do this because the automated copy you got when you placed the order really only lets you know the system accepted the order. We like to make sure you know we in fact have received it and are working on it. If you don't get that reply within a couple of days it's always a good idea to call us because no system is fool proof (especially not e-mail). If you've called in your order you know we got it, and if you've sent an e-mail or left us a message we also try to send something so you aren't left wondering.
Now we've printed your order, let you know we got it and it's in the queue to get pulled. In any given day we can get between 5 and 30 orders via the shopping cart, e-mail and phone (and that doesn't count special orders from in the shop or customers in the store during our regular ours). We put orders in the queue based on when the order came in or in some cases, if we know it's an urgent order. This is one of the reasons that it's always good to let us know if you have a deadline, especially an urgent one. It helps us prioritize the orders when we're pulling them and when we pack and ship them.
How long it takes us to pull an order is really dependent upon the number of items and whether or not we have to cut fabric. An order for 30 colors of a single type of thread takes much less time to pull than one with 8 pieces of fabric to be cut. If we've been asked to color match something or pick colors, that can also elongate how long it takes us to pull an order. It can be anywhere from 2 mintues to upwards of an hour for more complicated orders. If you've asked for your fabric to be serged or your canvas to be taped we do that when the order is being pulled and we try hard to keep threads in the same dyelot if you've requested that. As the order is pulled we check off what we have in stock, place it in zip top bag and continue with each item. Those we don't have get marked as such and the person who pulled the order initials and dates it in case there are questions later.
Once an order is pulled it either goes in our "incomplete" bin or in the "ready to ship" bin. Incomplete orders have several more steps and hands they go through. Debi or Cathe goes through each order to determine what needs to be ordered, if we can get the item and who we need to order it from. We order from over 200 different vendors so there's a lot of information both in our heads an in our database about where items come from. Plus some vendors have order minimums, both for single items and for the entire order. We put the missing items on Purchase Orders, write that number on the order form and log them in a spreadsheet with your name, the vendor, what the item is and your order number and date. If you wanted a partial shipment the order now goes tothe "ready to ship" queue. If you wanted it held for all the items it goes in our "missing items" bins (sorted alphabetically) after we've sent you an e-mail to let you know what needed to be ordered and some idea of a time frame. Time frames are tricky because there are so man factors to take into account. How often we order from that vendor. How long they usually take to ship. Did we just do an order, etc. It can take us a while to get through the incomplete orders because there is so much more paperwork to do for them. So you might not hear from us about what's missing until 3 or 4 days after your order has been placed.
Assuming your order is complete it's now sitting in the "ready to ship" queue. We ship most orders either on Wednesday or Sunday (effectively Monday) when Cheryl is in. Some orders do go out the other days of the week but it depends upon how many are in the queue, how busy we are with in-store customers, etc. Your order is checked again when it's packed so we're sure we pulled the right stuff. We do occasionally find errors we have to fix and even then we still sometimes miss things (we are human after all). Once it's been checked, it's packed - we tissue wrap most orders to keep things neat and because it's more fun to get a nicely wrapped package than a jumble. We put it in whatever shipping package it's going in and weigh it to caluclate the shipping charge. We ship First Class mail for close to 90% of our orders because it's generally the least expensive and generally reliable. If you placed your order on-line you chose the shipping method and we also ship Priority Mail, Global Mail, Air Mail, UPS and FedEx. For orders over $50 we insure it and add that to the shipping charge if appropriate (UPS and FedEx automatically cover the first $100). Once it's packed, weighed and we know the shipping cost we enter the order into our computer system, retrieve the credit card information if we don't have it on file and charge the order. If we have any problems with the charge we'll either call or e-mail you and we put the package in a special bin for such occurances. After the charge has gone through (or we've received a check) we create and print the shipping label. If your order is going out UPS or FedEx you get an e-mail from their systems with the tracking numbers. For USPS our mailing software generates an e-mail that we send on to you to let you know when the package shipped and how. With USPS we can't track packages so once we pop it in the PO Box we never know where it is or when it will really arrive but we've had very few packages actually disappear with the USPS (only 3 in 6 years). It can take a lot longer than you think so if we shipped it Wednesday and you think you should get it Saturday it might take til the following Saturday. We never know and we've learned to be patient. Once the package is labeled it goes in a box we stash packages in until the end of the day when we either take them to the USPS drop box (up the street at the Post Office), to the UPS drop box across the street or to FedEx down the street. Your completed paperwork goes in another queue to get filed and we generally keep them for 3 months before we shred them.
If your order was incomplete we add to it as items come in and at some point, either when it is complete or when we've gotten significantly more of it, it goes in the "ready to ship" queue. If we can no longer obtain an item or if the delay is significant we'll either send you an e-mail or call you to let you know. Some hand-dyed fabrics and threads can take anywhere from 3 weeks to 6 months to come in.
From start to finish an order can go through the hands of anywhere from 2 to 5 staff. It can take a single day to get printed, pulled and shipped, a week for that to happen or it can several weeks if we have to wait for special order items to come in. The volume of orders definitely affects this as well as how complicated each order can be. With the variety of product we carry in the store the variation in orders is sometimes mind boggling. But we love having this part of the business and getting to know stitchers from near and far who aren't always able to physically visit us in the shop. We hope you enjoy shopping with us as well and that this helps you understand a bit more about what goes on behind the scenes with your orders.