What Is a Delivery Exception and How to Handle It as an Ecommerce Store Owner?

By:

Barrett Shepherd

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You shipped an order to the customer, but instead of being delivered, the tracking results say delivery exception. Uh oh! Let’s take a look at what to do step by step to smooth things over with the customer and make sure they get the package.


What is a delivery exception?

If the tracking says an exception occurred, that means the shipment is stalled for some unforeseen reason. Delivery exceptions can have three outcomes: a delayed package, an undeliverable package that gets returned to the sender, or a package delivered on time anyway, despite the exception.


Another outcome may be a frustrated customer. First off, don’t panic. Here’s what to do to change that.


Plan ahead

While most orders are delivered on time, mistakes and delays can happen. It’s just a fact of life. As an e-commerce store, it pays to plan ahead so you can smooth things over with the customer and get that package delivered to their door. Having a system in place is your first step. 


Get to the root of the problem.

First, you’ll need to know the possible reasons why did a delivery exception occurs. These include:


  1. Bad weather

Weather delays can result in late delivery. If you are aware of some significant weather events causing delays in the customer’s region (such as the fires in California or a hurricane down south), it is best to inform the customer of the delay. You can do so by adding a banner to your website with the most recent information or adding it to the customer’s shipping receipt, so they know what is going on. Most customers understand major weather delays, but they can be a problem if they paid for rush delivery for a gift.


  1. Damaged or missing shipping labels

Sometimes shipping labels get torn, wet, fall off, or become unreadable for some other reason while in transit. While this is no fault of your own, the carrier may not be able to deliver the package if they can’t scan or read the label. This leaves the package in limbo as the carrier will attempt to find out more about the package and hopefully contact you.


  1. The customer wasn’t home to sign for the package.

If you shipped an order with a signature required, a delivery exception would occur if no one is there to sign for the package. In that case, the carrier will usually try again on the next business day. 


Unfortunately, residential deliveries often occur during the workweek in the day time when many customers are at work. That means the problem happens again and again since the customer is just as unlikely to be home Monday at 1 pm as they are Thursday at 3 pm if they have a 9-5 job.


Unless you are shipping high-value items, it is best practice to not request a signature on delivery for this very reason. It can be frustrating as a customer to deal with, and they may look to your competitors next time. Convenience matters a lot!


  1. Customs delays

Customs facilities aren’t known for speed. Sometimes, there is something wrong with the customs declaration form. If information was inaccurate or missing, that could hold things up. Other times, customs offices are just running slower than usual. 


If you are struggling to figure out how to sell products online internationally, Simpl Fulfillment is an e-commerce fulfillment company that can pick and pack orders for you AND ensure that customs forms are filled out correctly, so packages don’t get held up in customs, leading to happier customers.


Here’s what to do if the package is late due to an exception

If you are a busy seller with many orders, you probably won’t notice the delivery exception on the tracking link. You’re more likely to hear about it from the customer when the package doesn’t arrive on time. In this case, follow the same steps below. 


And be sure to give your customers the reassurance that you are handling things. They are understandably upset — especially if they bothered to contact you.


STEP 1: Call the carrier

If you are not sure why a delivery exception occurred, you should call the carrier to find out. You will need to have the tracking number and customer’s address handy. Here are the phone numbers to call in the United States:


FedEx: 1-800-GoFedex  (that’s 463-3339)

UPS: 1-(800) 742-5877

DHL: 1-(800) 225-5345

USPS: 1-800-ASK-USPS® (that’s 275-8777)


STEP 2: Contact the customer

Give the customer a heads up that the package will be delayed. It may suck to be the bearer of bad news, but they’ll be less upset if they hear it from you instead of going on a scavenger hunt trying to track down the package themselves. 


Since you already called the carrier, you can inform them of what is going on, tell them any steps they need to take, and what you are doing to rectify the situation. 


This is where you can steer a bad situation into a good customer service experience.


STEP 3: Decide the best course of action

For packages that are undeliverable due to a damaged package or label, it is best practice to send a replacement or issue a refund. Keep in mind that if the shipment was insured, you could get reimbursed by the carrier for your losses if it was the carrier’s fault.


For weather delays, it’s unlikely you will get reimbursed. This may fall under the ‘act of god’ policy in many shipping carrier’s terms of service. What you can do is let the customer know their order is on the way and that you are keeping an eye on it. If they paid for expedited delivery and it failed to arrive on time, a refund or overnight replacement may be in order.


Then we have international shipments. Customs delays are not uncommon. Letting the customer know that this is a possibility before they place the order is critical. You don’t want them to be surprised. Still, they have every right to feel a bit let down if the delay is substantial — especially if it was because you didn’t fill out the customs form correctly. Eek!


A little reassurance goes a long way. You may even wish to offer the customer a small freebie or promo code if you feel it is warranted. If they paid extra for rush delivery, a refund or overnighted replacement might help make amends.


Speaking of which, giving customers various shipping options is a great way to avoid common international shipping woes by getting the delivery to their door faster if they choose expedited shipping. 


If they prefer to pay for the slowest shipping speed and you made it clear on your website that you can’t guarantee delivery times on the cheap shipping methods and that there is always a possibility of customs delays, you’re mostly off the hook.


Finding out why there is a customs delay is not always easy. With patience, these shipments normally clear customs and get to the customer, just slower than you would like.


Handle delivery exceptions swiftly and keeping the customer informed is good for your brand.

Sometimes, delivery exceptions are unavoidable. But many are fixable if you handle them correctly. It may take extra time and effort, but customers will remember how quickly you sprang to action to fix things. This is an excellent opportunity to gain customer loyalty and turn a bad situation into a good one.

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