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Ecommerce Delivery Exception Mistakes To Avoid And How To Handle

Did you know that most delivery exceptions are not caused by the delivery carrier? Thus, it is incumbent on you, the shipper, to make the difference in proactively avoiding every delivery exception that will affect your customers’ delivery experience.

So, what proactive measures can shippers take to prevent delivery exceptions? This article will provide you with both a better understanding and the resources for your ecommerce business to offer your customers a superior delivery experience. Specifically, I’ll discuss the devastating effects of delivery exceptions on your business and examine the various types of exceptions to help you gain a better understanding on how to prevent them. Most importantly, learn how to scrutinize your shipping data to sidestep such exceptions and discover the appropriate responses when they inevitably occur.

The Impact of An Delivery Exception On Your Ecommerce Business.

Delivery exceptions can have a major impact on your ecommerce business. Not only do they cause customer dissatisfaction, they also result in lost sales and increased costs. To minimize the impact of delivery exceptions, it’s important to understand the root cause of the problem and put measures in place to prevent them from occurring in the first place. 

What Is A Delivery Exception?

Jim Casey, Founder of UPS - Deliver What You Promise - avoid delivery exception
Deliver What You Promise

First, let’s talk about promised dates. A delivery exception is predicated on when the shipper promised that the shipment would be delivered. So if you promise delivery in two days and it arrives late, this is a delivery exception. Now on the other hand if you give a longer estimate and it comes on time, there is no exception. It is unfortunate that many shippers solely rely on the carrier’s promised date. In most cases, shippers will just regurgitate to their customers the promised date provided by the carrier. Be mindful of doing this as many delivery exceptions are not the carrier’s fault.

As a delivery exception is not totally the fault of the delivery carrier, I think it is important to clearly define what a delivery exception is. To explain, the definition below encompasses both the eCommerce operation as well as final-mile delivery. Again, delivery exceptions are not always caused by the carrier. Additionally, this definition does not automatically assume that a delivery exception results in a late delivery. Especially for a proactive shipper and carrier, a delivery exception does not need to result in a disappointed customer. So here is my definition of a delivery exception: 

“A delivery exception is a shipment status event that when it occurs may delay the transit of a shipment. This in turn, may prevent on-time delivery or even may prevent delivery at all.”

3 Major Ways That Delivery Exceptions Can Affect Your Business.

One bad customer delivery experience leads to 3 disastrous results: both now and in the future. Indeed for eCommerce businesses, many think customer delivery as an afterthought and they leave it up to the delivery carriers. However, here’s the thing: poor delivery experiences can have a serious cost to your brand. Specifically, 1) poor customer retention; 2) increased costs, reduced operational efficiency; and 3) negative reputation, loss sales. To help you understand the consequences of a bad customer delivery experience, click here for a detail explanation of the 3 major costs to your business.

“The key is to set realistic customer expectations, and then not to just meet them, but to exceed them—preferably in unexpected and helpful ways.”

Richard Branson

Shipment Delivery Exception Types and How To Avoid Them.

Delivery exceptions can be caused by a number of factors, including incorrect addresses, delivery delays, and damaged items. To reduce the number of delivery exceptions, it’s important to have processes in place to verify customer information and ensure that items are shipped on time and in good condition. Just do not assume that all delivery exceptions are the fault of the delivery carrier. They are not. Below is a rundown of delivery exceptions, who causes them, and who can prevent them.

“Never promise more than you can deliver, and always deliver what you promise.”

Jim Casey, Founder of UPS

1. Delivery Exceptions Caused By The Shipper.

Shipper caused delivery exceptions occur when the shipper makes an error that results in a delayed or failed delivery. The primary shipper-caused exception is incorrect address information and bad barcode labels on packages. This should not happen. Other issues caused by shippers include poor packaging and inefficient order fulfillment operations. For international shippers, a major shipper-induced exception is incomplete customs paperwork at the receiving country. 

If a shipper keeps historical records on these types of delivery exceptions, it is very easy to identify actions to minimize these exceptions in the future. Surprisingly, many shippers do not keep historical shipment status data. In many cases, this results in the same type of delivery exceptions happening over and over again. Also in many cases, it is the same delivery address or the same type of package. In other cases, it could be because of poor maintenance on a shipping label printer that is causing problems with many, many shipments. As a minimum, shippers should consider using automated address verification tools to ensure accuracy. Additionally, a shipper needs to follow the carrier’s labeling and packaging guidelines.

2. Last Mile Delivery Exceptions.

Last mile delivery exceptions occur when the delivery driver faces an issue at the final stage of delivery. The most common examples include business closed, driver cannot access delivery location, no one to sign for the package, or customer refuses delivery. Also in some cases, shippers do not take into account regional holidays in calculating promised date for their customers.

Especially for your repeat customers, there are things you can do to avoid these delivery exceptions. The easiest delivery exception to avoid is “business closed”. In this case, have your systems up-to-date with customer’s delivery hours. In particular, don’t send an expensive next day express 8 a.m. package to a business that does not open till 9 a.m. Also, if you are getting a lot of last-mile delivery exceptions for a given location or even a postal code, consider changing the delivery location to an access delivery point or even change delivery carriers.

3. Shipment Exceptions Due To The Fault of The Carrier.

Carrier exceptions occur when a carrier makes an error that results in a delayed or failed delivery. Common examples include late or missed pickups, incorrect routing, mechanical failures and just plain-old mismanaged shipments. In some cases, parcel carriers will issue you a service guaranteed refund when the late delivery occurs. This may help offset costs, but it is still a delivery exception where you did not meet your delivery promise.

To avoid carrier exceptions, work with your carriers to see what can be done to minimize shipment exceptions. This can include working with parcel carriers to optimize the latest pickup times at your facilities. Also, review delivery exceptions to find patterns where a carrier has low on-time performance. Many times this can be isolated to a specific postal code or even a specific type of package. In some cases, another transportation carriers may be able to do a better job. For example, USPS may have a better delivery service for a rural area or for a package that can fit in a mailbox.

4. Weather and Uncontrollable Delivery Exceptions.

Weather and other uncontrollable delivery exceptions occur when the delivery is delayed or failed due to conditions beyond the control of the shipper or carrier. Common examples include bad weather, natural disasters, or civil unrest. Additionally for international shipments, this can include select countries where they have slow and burdensome customs processing. 

In the case of uncontrollable delivery exceptions, there are still things you can do. First, be proactive and set expectations with customers that shipments will take longer in certain situations. If you have flexibility on when to ship, then in some cases you could just delay shipping until the situation clears up. For example, if there is flooding in east Texas, then just delay shipping packages until things clear up and carriers operations are back to normal.

Data analytics is essential for identifying delivery exceptions. For more tips on identifying delivery exceptions and taking actions to resolve them, see my article, Data Analytics You’ll Need For Unsurpassed Carrier Delivery Results.

So A Delivery Exception Occurs, How To Handle It.

If a delivery exception does occur, it’s important to take steps to rectify the issue quickly and efficiently. This can include offering a refund or a replacement item, as well as providing customer service and support to ensure that the customer’s concerns are addressed. Additionally, it’s important to document the incident and use the data to improve processes and prevent future delivery exceptions. 

Remember, All Delivery Exceptions Do Not Result In A Late Shipment.

All delivery exceptions do not result in a missed delivery. Below are the following scenarios that can occur with a delivery exception.

  • No Delivery Delay. Sometimes a delivery exception occurs, but the carrier is able to overcome the issue and still deliver the package on-time. So in this case no action is required.
  • Return To Sender. In this situation you need to process the physical return package. More importantly, you have a customer service issue where you need to address the needs of your customer. This could include reshipping the item, process a refund for the customer, and possibly take other actions to appease the customer.
  • The Shipment Is Delayed And In Most Cases Gets Delivered Late. In this case, be proactive to prevent the shipment exception from actually being delivered late. Once it is late, you need to have effective procedures in place to address customer concerns in regard to late shipments. See below for more details.

What To Do If Shipment Is Going To Be Delayed Or Is Late.

Here are some steps to take when you identify a delivery exception.

STEP 1: Call The Carrier.

By doing this, you may be able to get more information and even work with the carrier to still get the package delivered on-time. For example, you could provide a corrected address to the carrier, When contacting the carrier, you will need to know the tracking number and possibly the delivery location. Below are telephone numbers of major parcel carriers in the U.S.

  • FedEx: 1-800-GoFedex  (that’s 463-3339)
  • UPS: 1-(800) 742-5877
  • USPS: 1-800-ASK-USPS® (that’s 275-8777)
STEP 2: Contact The Customer.

It is best to be proactive, so call the customer early. In some cases, you may have enough information to work with the customer to avoid or minimize the adverse impact.

STEP 3: Decide The Best Course of Action When Package is Late. 

You should have a policy in place on what to do when a shipment is late. This would be followed by your staff and include topics like when to contact a customer, how to work with a carrier, when to offer credit or some type of good will compensation to the customer.

For more on how to handle delivery exceptions and work with your customer after the fact, see Extensiv’s Delivery Exception: The Ultimate Guide and Simplfulfillment’s  What Is a Delivery Exception and How to Handle It as an eCommerce Store Owner?

“Anybody can deliver packages – from the small boy in the neighborhood on up to the most extensive delivery systems in the land. The one thing we can have to offer that others will not always have is quality.”

Jim Casey, Founder of UPS

Analyzing Post-Delivery Exception Data to Improve Service Performance. 

SC Tech Insights’ The Horrific Delivery Exception: Exploit Shipment Data To Eliminate, Make Your Customer Experience Better has 4 insightful tips for eliminating delivery exceptions. Specifically, these tips will help you to gather and analyze post-delivery exception data in order for you to effectively reduce delivery exceptions.

Tips include:

  • Understanding the Impact of Delivery Exceptions on Customer Experience.
  • The Need to Measure, Diagnose the Root Cause of a Delivery Exception.
  • Every Shipment is a Gold Mine of Data But Where Do You Get the Data From?
  • Who Can Help You Eliminate Delivery Exception Problems?


The Horrific Delivery Exception: Exploit Shipment Data To Eliminate, Make Your Customer Experience Better. You may not know it, but your eCommerce fulfillment center and last-mile delivery operations are not cost centers. In fact, eCommerce businesses are beginning to recognize logistics and transportation are critical for a delighted customer experience. That is why if any of your shipments have a delivery exception, it is a horrific experience for both your business and your customer. Click here, to explore four tips for using your shipment data to eliminate every delivery exception in your control. This will assure your supply chain is delighting your customers.

For more ideas and references on reducing your delivery exceptions, see Bringg’s How To Handle a Delivery Exception For Greater Efficiency and Customer Satisfaction, Project44’s Delivery Exceptions: What They Are And How To Handle Them, and Optimoroute’s What the Heck Is a Delivery Exception? (And How to Avoid It). Also, for more on how a shipping data analytics company can help you, see ShipMatrix. Lastly, see SC Tech Insights’ The Horrific Delivery Exception: Exploit Shipment Data To Eliminate, Make Your Customer Experience Better for more on eliminating delivery exceptions.

For more from SC Tech Insights, see articles on transportation.

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