Shipping Delays: How to prevent and address them in 2024

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A shipping delay can cost you up to 30% of the order’s value. And failing to meet promised delivery dates on two to three occasions can result in 55% of buyers deliberately avoiding your store. 


While some causes of delays are unavoidable, such as supply chain shortages or pandemics, proactive planning and the strategies we’ll cover today can help you prevent and manage delivery delays.


So if you’re eager to learn how to ensure customers get their products on time continue reading because this post is for you!


What Are Ecommerce Shipping Delays


What Are Ecommerce Shipping Delays


A shipping delay occurs when order fulfillment isn’t completed by the promised delivery time, resulting in the customer collecting their product late.


As we’ll see in the next section, shipping delays can be caused by a host or factors. Some controllable, others not. 


What Causes Shipping Delays?


Inventory Shortages


Inventory Shortages


One of the most common reasons why you might suffer shipping delays is a lack of inventory. After all, you can’t pick, pack, and ship what you don’t have access to.


Sometimes, there’s no way to improve this problem, such as during general supply chain shortages. Other times, the onus is on you to order enough stock ahead of a big sales push and before adding any products to your website.


Labor Shortages


Without the workforce to (A) load and unload cargo, (B) pick and pack orders, and (C) transport them to their destinations, shipments are bound to be dispatched late.


For example, during the 2020 pandemic, online shopping actually peaked, but fear of contacting COVID brought forced millions of supply chain workers to stop attending work. 


Consequently, packages took way longer than usual to be delivered, sometimes up to 6 months and longer.


Extreme Weather


Extreme Weather


Extreme weather isn’t conducive to order delivery. 


Less severe conditions like downpours and fog reduce visibility so transporting goods becomes unsafe. On the other hand, critical conditions like earthquakes and hurricanes make transportation life-threatening and cause days and weeks-long delays. 


For instance, in September 2022, when Hurricane Ian hit the state of Florida, its Gulf Coast and South Carolina, hundreds of buildings were torn down and thousands of people lost access to electricity. 


As a result, the US Postal Service closed over 10 facilities in Florida and USPS halted deliveries throughout 800 Southwestern shipping zones – all leading to delayed shipments.


Global Emergencies


Global events like wars and pandemics also lead to massive shipping delays. 


A recent example is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which forced the closure of vital Russian ports and halted operations in the Black Sea.


Since you can’t foresee nor control these such events, you have to focus more on dealing with the delay rather than preventing it.


National and International Holidays


Spikes in order volumes often come with holidays like Christmas, Black Friday, and others. 


Besides overwhelming merchants during the fulfillment stage, this surge in shipment volume makes it harder for shipping companies to deliver packages swiftly.


And since many couriers observe closures during holidays, it’s easy for backlogs to pile up when they are unavailable.


Inaccurate Shipping Information


Sometimes shoppers enter a misspelled address or an old phone number. As a result your courier won’t be unable to contact them or reach the right address on time. 


However, incorrect shipping information isn’t always a mistake on the customer’s part. In fulfillment centers where shipping and order details are written on physical lists, there’s an inherent risk of your staff mixing up the shipping address, the customer’s name, the SKU and the quantities.


To prevent customers from entering wrong shipping details, send a confirmation email immediately after receiving their order asking them to validate their address.


And to prevent staff from mistyping order details, use an Enterprise Resource System to sync order documentation across devices like tablets and computers. That way, picking and packing staff can see the details of an order by checking in with the order management app.


Supply Chain Disruptions


These disruptions can have several global and economic causes. Examples are materials and resource shortages, vessel delays, congested ports, and shipping capacity limitations


How to Prevent Shipping Delays


Offer Free Shipping When You Can


In one survey, when asked to choose between free shipping or swift shipping, 83% chose free shipping. What does this mean? That the vast majority of shoppers are glad to wait a few extra days as long as they can count on the zero cost shipping. 


If your business is at the stage where you can afford it, look to free shipping because it’s an excellent way to maintain customer satisfaction in the event of a shipping delay.


Offer Local Pick-Up Options


Offer Local Pick-Up Options


Some delivery delays happen because of backlogs on your courier’s end (often because of  labor or resource shortages).


So as a result, parcels won’t get delivered for a while, even though they’ve already been sent to the carrier’s facility in the destination city. 


As a solution, you can offer customers the choice to get their products from local pick-up stations. This gives them a way to get to their package promptly, rather than waiting for their package to get to them. 


If you don’t have a brick-and-mortar storefront, you can negotiate in-store pickup at a carrier storefront such as a FedEx or UPS location. 


Fulfill Orders From Multiple Warehouses


The greater the distance goods needed to travel, the more opportunities for transport delays arise. 


So if you have many customers living in different parts of the world, fulfilling orders through a network of warehouses rather than a central one will help increase shipping speed and prevent distance-related delays.


With this approach, products will be shipped from the nearest warehouse and shipping costs will be lowered, resulting in faster delivery and an improved customer experience.


While this isn’t possible for all brands, the good news is that working with a good 3PL provider can help. Top 3PL companies have multiple fulfillment centers across the globe, which makes shipping far more efficient than just sending from a single location.


Give Safe Shipping Time Estimations


Promising shoppers safe shipping time estimations works to manage their expectations about delivery. 


The key here is to not overpromise nor underpromise. If you can’t realistically provide same-day or 2 day shipping, make that clear from the onset. If your single supplier offers 14 day shipping you can promise 20 days then fulfill the order earlier.


But if you’re working with multiple suppliers, I recommend using your slowest supplier’s timeframe as an estimate. 


For instance, if 

  • supplier A offers 15-day shipping, 
  • supplier B offers 21-day shipping, 
  • and supplier C offers 28-day shipping,

Quoting supplier C as a standard estimate will make the most sense.


That way, you can delight customers by delivering earlier than expected, and in the worst-case scenarios, you can get products to their buyers in 28 days most of the time.


Work with Reputable Shipping Carriers


Work with Reputable Shipping Carriers


Working with top shipping carriers guarantees shipments are handled professionally. Three options to look into are DHL, UPS, and FedEx.


Many merchants favor UPS for its cost-friendly solutions that suit different business needs and budgets. Others choose DHL for its reliable international shipping services that make it ideal when you want to reach a global audience. And, with its vast logistics network, FedEx performs better in speed and reliability, so it’s favored mostly for US-based shipments.


Each of these carriers has its strengths and weaknesses, so the right choice for you depends on your needs and customer base.


Automate to Streamline Processes


Automate to Streamline Processes


The lower the degree of human intervention in your supply chain, the lower the probability of errors that cause shipping delays. 


One area to automate first is order processing because it reduces the occurrence of shipping delays related to inaccurate shopper information. 


Once customers input their contact details and address, the information is automatically synced to your warehouse and passes as is to your fulfillment team. 


On top of that, you can adopt a label and barcode system so pickers, packers and other staff can ensure they’re moving the correct SKU with a quick barcode scan.


Keep Close Communications With Carriers 


Maintain an open line of communication with your shipping provider so they can immediately contact you in the event of a delay. 


In turn, you’re able to inform the customer ahead of time and start working to mitigate the issue.  For example knowing when to look for different suppliers or carriers to fulfill and ship the order before the deadline elapses.

Recommended: Your ultimate guide to fast shipping for dropshippers in 2024


How to Address Shipping Delays


Talk to Your Customers


The first thing to do when a shipment delay occurs is to contact your customer and explain why they won’t be able to receive their orders on time.


If you’re communicating via email or text be open and include a real apology such as;


“X item will be late because of (problem). We’re sorry that we won’t be able to meet our promised delivery date. Here’s a revised deadline (X) 


In the meantime, we’d love to offer you this discount/store credit/gift card, etc.”


If you’re okay with making a direct call, I would say do just that. Calls are more personalized and your customer will appreciate you going the extra mile to speak to them. 


Whichever option you choose, just be direct about it and as we see in the next tips, offer store credit to ease the pain.


Offer Store Credit and Gift Cards


By offering coupons, store credit, and inexpensive gifts to make up for the delay, you can ease your customer’s frustration over the delayed package. 


While it may cost you some money, it’s better than losing the customer forever and earning negative reviews that pursue potential customers. 


Follow Up with Your Shipping Provider and Provide Ongoing Shipment Updates


Shipment Updates


Even if the shipment is delayed, the ability to see exactly where their order is gives worried customers some peace of mind.


Regularly send follow-up texts, emails, or calls and provide attentive customer support to make them confident that their package is on the way and to keep them positive in the face of unexpected delays.


This transparency bolsters customer retention and makes customers view your company as trustworthy and attentive.


Optimize shipping options moving forward


If long delivery times are a recurring cause of shipment delays, you might want to offer expedited shipping options even though they may be more expensive.


While some customers want to save money and are willing to wait, others prioritize quicker delivery and are willing to pay extra for it. So by offering both regular and expedited shipping options, you give customers the option to select a method and speed that suits their needs.


Final Thoughts


Shipping delays can be caused by a host of factors, from global emergencies to terrible weather, labor shortages, wrong customer addresses and more.


To prevent them, you can offer local pick-ups, distribute inventory from multiple locations, automate order processing and work with top couriers for a reliable experience.


Unfortunately, you can always prevent shipping delays so when they happen, inform your customer professionally, offer store credit and gifts to ease your customer’s pain, track the shipment in real time and keep your customer in the loop by providing shipment updates.

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