A little over a year ago, the Hallmark retail store I work part-time in implemented a ship-from-store (SFS) program. This meant we fulfilled online orders and sent them to customers. This never made much sense to me (why not just fulfill these orders from the warehouse?), but who was I to make decisions?

When it began, my manager asked if I wanted to do the majority of the holiday orders. I was excited because it gave me an opportunity to work in the stock room and a change of pace from the usual retail routine. 

Since then, SFS has become one of my daily tasks. We get notifications three times a day: 6 a.m. (which we get to when the store opens), 2 p.m, and 5 p.m. Some days we get a few orders; sometimes we get a hundred; sometimes we don’t get any at all. 

I had never packed boxes before doing this, but in the time since I think I’ve learned some things. Here are six of them. 

1.  Choose your podcasts wisely (and break it up with music)

Packing boxes has let me do one thing I had never been able to do in retail before: listen to stuff. 

It wasn’t my first job that let me listen to stuff—I had worked cleaning at Calvin during summer 2020—but it wasn’t until SFS started that I realized I needed to get better with sequencing.

I love listening to podcasts to learn, whether it’s current events (The Daily, NPR Up First, or Consider This), past events (Revisionist History), or anything in-between (The Ezra Klein Show). I’ll also listen to baseball podcasts.

Up until one eight-hour shift, however, I hadn’t really sequenced how I listened to my podcasts. After listening to fifteen Revisionist History episodes, I realized not only was I kind of sick of the podcast, but also I didn’t remember anything from the majority of the episodes. 

Not really worth listening if you can’t remember anything, right?

(Oh, and it’s okay to break up podcasts with music. Currently Posing for Cars by Japanese Breakfast is on repeat for me.)

2. Pick items from the stock room first

Admittedly, this took longer than it should have. I think I was packing stuff for a month before realizing that I was doubling work by getting items from the floor that were also in the stock room. I also realized it was faster because I didn’t have to walk all around if something was already where I packed to begin with.

3. Memorize the box numbers

Hallmark supplies us with a variety of box sizes to ship stuff in. In order to know when to send us more, we have to state which box we use when we confirm the orders. They each have a four-digit SKU. There’s an option to scan, but it’s annoying because we have to awkwardly hold the box to the scanner. Just memorize the SKUs. 

4. Take calls if you have to

One benefit of working alone in the back is that it means I can take phone calls. It doesn’t happen often, and they’re usually from my sister.

When the orders are big enough, I can spend entire shifts pulling the tape dispenser and slapping labels on brown boxes. It’s become automatic enough that taking calls doesn’t slow me down, and I can actually focus on the calls better than I am when I’m in my room. 

5. Don’t bother adjusting the tape dispenser machine

There’s a knob on the side of the tape dispenser machine to help someone know how much tape they need for a box. It takes way too long to adjust the knob for each box size. We have a sheet that tells us the recommended length to adjust to, and it’s just as easy to pull the lever on the machine to that length and stop as it is to adjust the knob and then pull the lever.

6. It’s okay to take your time

I like working quickly, but sometimes, there’s really no rush. If I don’t have a hundred orders to get to, it’s okay if I spend longer than three minutes on an order.

I’m not much of a future-thinking person but when I started packing boxes, I did not expect to still be doing this job at this point.

I had hoped to have moved on from retail at this stage in my life, but I’m still thankful. I was very close to quitting this job when I got a full-time position but changed my mind at the last minute. Working a shift or two a week when I had the full-time job unknowingly helped me to be fine once that full-time job was gone.

Plus, having a job to fall back on was nice, too. 

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