Shipping Phase 2: Sorting

Phase 1 of shipping is discussed here.

Once we close pre-ordering on the sketched editions it is time for me to begin sorting. By this time I have over 1000 pieces of paper stacked in my filebox. Each piece of paper represents and order. I have to make sure not to lose any papers or else that order will fail to be sent. This is why I try to do sorting when all the kids are out of the house. Before I start sorting and after I’m done sorting, finding an order to modify it is fairly simple. Trying to find an order mid-sort is tricky, so I try to plow through the sorting quickly. The sorting process is actually a series of sorts. Each one getting more refined so that I have stacks of similar orders ready for packaging. I have to do it so many different times because if I make the each sort simple, I can do it quickly. If I have to think, then the sort takes forever.

First sort: I focus just on the contents of the order. If the order contains a sketched edition, it goes in one pile. If it contains a regular edition, it goes into a different pile. If an order contains neither, then I’ve made a mistake and filed an order that should already have been sent. I send it out asap. Then I put all the non-sketched orders back into the filebox. I’m still in collection phase for non-sketched orders. I’ll sort them later.

Second sort: Now I focus on the shipping method. Parcel post, US priority mail, international priority mail, international first class, international first class Canada/Mexico, and International priority Canada/Mexico each get their own piles. Each shipping category represents a different pricing structure for the postage and different packaging requirements. I need to have them separated out both for printing postage and for the packaging. When I am done, I put each of the stacks into it’s own hanging file with a temporary label, such as “parcel post sketched”

Third sort: I take one of the stacks from the second sort (Lets say “parcel post sketched”) and I sort again. This time I am focused on whether the order contains a single book or multiple items. The orders with multiple items are set aside for a moment.

Fourth sort: I now sort my stack of orders and sort them based on which sketch the order requested. I now have stacks containing a single book, all the same sketch, all the same shipping method. I put these stacks into a file box labeled accordingly.

Fifth sort: I sort the orders containing multiple items by weight. I know the approximate weights of all our merchandise and so I do quick calculations in my head. I then label the stacks by shipping method and weight. These stacks will be more complex to handle on the packaging end, but there really isn’t much I can do to simplify orders which all contain multiple different items. These stacks are put into the filebox in labeled hanging folders.

I now repeat sorts 3-5 for all the other stacks that I made during sort 2. I also make a tally count of how many of each sketch type we need to create.

Sixth sort: I take one of the many labeled piles from it’s hanging folder. I now sort the pile alphabetically by the last name of the shipping address. This is necessary because the mailing labels will print out in alphabetical order and we need to be able to match the printed invoices to the labels. Repeat this sort for all the piles being mailed inside the US. This sort does not apply to international orders, because those require customs forms and postage can not be printed in batches.

Hurray I’m done! …Except I still have all those regular orders that are still in the collection phase. So I wait a couple of weeks and repeat sorts 2-6 for all of the non-sketched orders. Next phase will be Phase 3 Inventory Preparation

9 thoughts on “Shipping Phase 2: Sorting”

  1. It seems like you ought to be able to have the computer sort the orders for you the way you want (if the order information was, for example, stored in a database I know I could make a Crystal report to sort them) and then have them print out in that order. But I guess the appropriate widgets aren’t available for your store. That’s one of the frustrating things about technology — knowing that an easier way exists but is not, for whatever reason, available to you. :/

  2. You’ve put your finger on the exact problem. All the data exists in electronic form, but the store is not set up to sort the data in the ways that I need. The store is set up for processing orders as they arrive, not for organizing a thousand orders for a mass mailing.

  3. data export?

    I did a quick search through volusion’s knowledge base to find their data export options, and it looks like they’re pretty comprehensive (
    You can export to, say, a comma-separated (CSV) file, which you can then import into Access, Excel, or any of a number of other databases, and do sorting and searching from there. Excel might be your best bet because you could set up different sheets to mimic your different file folders.
    If you want to do mass mailings, you can import the data, or a piece of it, into Word and use Word’s mail merge feature to print envelopes.
    I know all of these options take skill with the different tools and time to process, but this may be something you could farm out to a loyal fan who happens to have the necessary skillsets (like me 🙂 ) and time (_not_ like me 🙁 ). Seriously, the sorting process you described looks straightforward enough that I could spend a couple of hours getting it at least most of the way there.
    If you’re interested, drop me a note and I’ll at least be able to discuss it with you.


  4. I’ll also be happy to talk you through/assist in the creation of an access database to do the munging you need. My Ph.D. proposal process is almost at a break. Feel free to contact me on gtalk at denubisX if you want to talk about this. The fact that you’ve operationalized all your sorts should make this very easy.

  5. Re: data export?

    Volusion does allow lots of download options and I use them to transport address data. Unfortunately in all of my poking around, I’ve never found an option that includes downloading the contents of the orders by line item. In order to sort for postage printing and packaging I need to be able to sort the orders by both contents and package weight.

  6. I can download address data to a CSV. I can’t download order contents by line item, which is one of the parameters I use for sorting. If I could do that, then yes sorting electronically would be much easier. Also, once I’ve downloaded the information into a CSV, I lose the ability to use the information the print invoices. The paper invoices are critical to making sure that the correct items go into each order. Having the information sorted electronically only helps me if I can then print invoices from the sorted information.

    Short version: The software is not set up to do what I want it to do. I’ve jerry-rigged a solution that works, but is time intensive for me.

  7. Hrm, it does sound troublesome to the point where investigating other options should be on the cards, especially with such a massive time sink every few months… Maybe a request to volusion support about the particular problem is in order.

    But hell, with that amount of dedication you’re putting into the orders we probably should be paying more ^_^; Please keep up the good work!

  8. Beautiful planning, kludging and execution.

    Not having the kind of brain that can juggle all the various weights of X number of things by weight for postage, I’d probably have a cheater list to glance at for that part, but the sort by types plus resort refinement really works – grand applause, and field-notes for should I ever get or have to do similar.

    Thanks for this!

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