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Commerce & Sales Channels

Delivery Exception: What is It and How to Manage It

Commerce & Sales Channels
June 15, 2021
9 min read
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Even the most reliable carriers will run into obstacles that cause delivery exceptions and may delay shipping. Learn how to manage the most common causes of a delivery exception to keep your customers happy.

Studies show fast delivery is a key driver of positive customer experience, repeat business, and invaluable referrals, especially from Millennial and Gen-Z consumers. As a result, sellers increasingly are implementing inexpensive, or even free, 1-2-day delivery and a user-friendly shipping experience. 

However, despite the most dependable eCommerce order tracking systems and merchants’ best efforts, much can happen during transit to cause delays. Unintentional damage that makes a shipping label unreadable will impede arrival, or unpredictable natural disasters like a wildfire or hurricane can make routes impassable. 

These events cause delivery exceptions, the term for when a package is temporarily stuck in transit for an unforeseen reason that could change its date of arrival. 

Delivery exceptions – even unpreventable ones – lead to frustrated shoppers, who then turn to sellers for support. Accordingly, the best sellers expect the unexpected. They put standard operating procedures (SOPs) and technological systems in place to respond to such events and communicate when delivery exceptions occur. 

The result is an optimum customer experience, a key factor for thriving in today’s always connected, business-to-everyone (B2E) world. In fact, 96% of customers say customer service is important in their choice of loyalty to a brand, and Forrester has reported that 69% of U.S. consumers shop more with brands that offer consistent experiences in store and online.

For these reasons, learning about delivery exceptions and how to handle them is pivotal to creating customers for life.

What Is a Delivery Exception?

A delivery exception status, sometimes called a shipment exception, occurs when a delivery cannot be completed because the package is temporarily stuck in transit. 

Keep in mind that delivery exceptions do not guarantee a late shipment. Often, they cause no delay at all or only a brief setback.  

What are the 3 Typical Results of a Delivery Exception?

1. On-Time Delivery

No delay occurs because the delivery exception was not as severe as originally thought. Inclement weather cleared up sooner than expected or perhaps the delay occurred early in the shipping process, giving the carrier plenty of time to adjust. 

2. Late Delivery

Delivery exceptions are often only a minor 1-to-2 delay. For instance, if a signature is required and nobody was home, a driver will return the following day.    

3. Returned to Sender

Despite their best efforts, sometimes carriers cannot deliver. In these cases, the package will be returned to the sender. Why are delivery exceptions important for ecommerce businesses?

eCommerce customers have high expectations for delivery speed and accuracy of tracking information. Being guaranteed a delivery date only to have a shipment stuck in limbo is a frustrating customer experience to say the least. eCommerce businesses in particular need to be aware of the most common causes of delivery exceptions and be prepared to communicate quickly and clearly with customers when they happen.

What are the 10 Most Common Causes for a Delivery Exception?

1. Damaged, Unreadable or Missing Labels

If the delivery address on a shipping label is illegible or unscannable, delays will occur while the carrier verifies the recipient’s address. 

2. Incorrect Address

Likewise, sending to an incorrect address can cause major delays. Sometimes packages are sent to a recipient’s old address by accident or one digit in a zip code is inputted incorrectly. 

3. Holidays

A federal holiday in the country of origin or receiver’s country may cause packages to be delivered late. The day off can also cause further delays due to carriers playing catch up with an accumulation of shipments. 

4. Severe Weather

Uncontrollable natural forces, such as floods, hurricanes, and tornados, are outside anyone’s control and can make delivery routes unpassable. While safety throughout the logistics process is paramount, shippers should have contingency plans in place for acts of God to ensure orders arrive as soon as possible in the affected location. 

5. Nobody to Receive Delivery

If a signature or other form of delivery confirmation is required, somebody must be home or at the business to sign. If nobody is available, the package will return to the fulfillment location and delivery will be re-attempted the next day.  

6. Missing Documentation

In this case, the package lacks documents required to send it to the destination. This delivery exception is encountered more for ocean freight, which requires complicated paperwork to manage custody and inventory, than ground and local freight. 

7. Customs

International shipping’s challenges include orders being held at customs longer than expected. Understanding the Harmonized System (HS) code system and proper documentation like tariff codes at the stock-keeping unit (SKU) level minimizes disruption.

8. Regulatory or Security

Similar to customs delays, shipping hazardous materials improperly or a security concern at the recipient location will cause delays and returns. Contents may even be seized by law enforcement.

9. Animal Interference

An aggressive animal on the property can prevent couriers from delivering an item. Typically, delivery will be attempted the following day.

10. Refused

People may refuse deliveries for many reasons. The consignee may not have expected an order or the person who answered the door is not the person intended to receive the shipment.

How should businesses respond to a delivery exception?

Firstly, customers should always be notified when a delivery exception occurs. If the cause of the delivery exception is related to an address correction, verify the address with the customer as soon as possible. If the exception is due to severe weather or a delay in customs, apologize to the customer, thank them for their patience, and if appropriate, offer a discount on a future purchase.

If the delivery exception is unable to be resolved in a timely manner, reach out to the customer and offer either a refund for the product or to ship a new product altogether.

What are the 4 Ways Fourth-Party Logistics Providers (4PLs) Help with Delivery Exceptions?

1. Gain Control Over Predictable Mistakes

4PL’s certainly cannot control the weather, but they can put merchants in the best situation to handle predictable events that lead to shipping delays. Properly picking and packing orders to ensure items and labels are not damaged, along with utilizing trusted carriers from start through the last mile, ensures shipments arrive on time consistently.  

2. Prepare for the Unexpected

Despite the best contingency plans, factors like weather, road conditions, and porch piracy are outside sellers’ control. A full coverage insurance plan is a must because inventory is typically the largest asset for small-to-mid-sized businesses (SMBs).  

3. Nationwide Warehouse Network

Utilizing multiple fulfillment centers, as part of a nationwide warehouse network, allows orders to be shipped quickly from a different location outside the path of unpredictable weather. 

4. Customer Communication

Shipment tracking through the last mile ensures customers are notified of unforeseen delays and even asked to update an incorrect mailing address. Turning a potentially negative situation into a positive, shareable experience goes a long way towards building brand equity, repeat business, and word-of-mouth. A recent study showed that consumers are more willing to share positive experiences than negative ones.  

The Bottom Line With A Delivery Exception

4PL Ware2Go was created by UPS specifically to help large and small businesses in all growth phases offer affordable, reliable 1-2 day shipping. To learn more about how Ware2Go can help you prevent and address delivery exceptions, please reach out to one of our eCommerce shipping experts. 

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