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Shipping delays part two: Tips for handling late deliveries

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Shipping delays are a massive undesirable all across retail, but especially in ecommerce. As consumer expectations grow for two-day or even same-day delivery, there is less and less room for error in the shipping and fulfillment process.

After a year that has been blighted by disruptions to supply chains and the economy as a whole, it’s never been more important for merchants to manage delivery delays effectively. Because even though there are steps you can take to avoid some of the causes of late delivery, there will always be circumstances beyond your control.

If you haven’t read ‘Shipping delays Part One: How to avoid late delivery’ we recommend that you check out our insights on the most common reasons for delayed shipping and how to pre-empt them. 

Here in Part Two, we’re going to look at how to effectively manage customer expectations surrounding late delivery, and a few other strategies for avoiding the sting of delayed shipments.

1. Set the right delivery expectations

If you want to avoid customers getting frustrated by delayed deliveries, the best place to start is before orders have even been placed.

By setting clear expectations for your customer, they can make an informed decision over when and how they want to shop with you.

For a very current example, we only need to look at the disruption that COVID-19 has caused for retailers and carrier networks. For sector-wide slowdowns like this, it’s essential to preface any customer interactions with proactive disclaimers about possible shipping or order processing delays.  

Consider placing an information banner at the top of your website that redirects your customers to a dedicated page outlining the reasons for delays, and that you’ll endeavor to get orders to them as quickly as possible. It’s also a good idea to repeat this information on your order confirmation emails, as shown here by Sephora:

When setting timeframes for delays, it’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver. That way, if a parcel does arrive ‘early’, your customers are going to be extra impressed by your prompt service during such challenging circumstances

2. Provide ongoing updates after an order has been placed

You don’t want the first time a customer hears from you post-purchase to be you notifying them of a problem. This is a huge, missed opportunity to build a rapport through ongoing touchpoints that promote trust in your brand after their order has been placed. 

For example, after you’ve sent that initial order confirmation, it’s a great idea to send a follow-up to inform them when their order has started the fulfillment process. You should also send out a shipping confirmation and notice of when their order is out for delivery so customers can prepare for its arrival, as shown here by American Eagle:

3. Communicate with your customers promptly

As soon as a late delivery is identified by your team, it’s important that you step up to the plate from the very beginning. Your acknowledgment of the delay should do the following:

  1. Take full responsibility
  2. Apologize for the inconvenience
  3. Explain the reason(s) for the delay
  4. Tell them how you’re going to handle the situation

If the delay is due to an issue with the shipping carrier, explain this to the customer and give them the most up-to-date information you have. It’s important not to make any false promises as to when their order will arrive, as this could only worsen the situation by making your brand look as though it’s trying to mislead customers.

Instead of your customer then receiving radio silence, tell them when you’re going to give them another update. There’s nothing more likely to inflame delivery anxiety than patchy communications after an issue has been identified. 

4. Have a viable solution to the problem

When a delivery issue occurs, most consumers aren’t interested in lengthy explanations. They just want to know how you’re going to fix it. 

This is usually the make or break for whether you can retain your customer; if you play your cards right, exceptional customer care can build brand loyalty even in adverse circumstances like late delivery. But if this is handled poorly, you’re unlikely to see that customer again. 

Depending on the nature of the delay, there might not be a great deal you can do directly. Especially if the parcel is in the hands of a shipping carrier. However, you can offer your customer several options to alleviate their frustration. You can offer a discount on their next order, or gift them a product in apology. In every situation, there should also be a full refund on the table if the customer wants it.

By giving your customer multiple solutions, you’re allowing them to claim back control in a situation where they feel pretty powerless. This is the key to restoring their faith in your brand and giving them the confidence to make a repeat purchase.

5. Offer real-time tracking capabilities

It’s never a good idea to keep your customers in the dark. Order-related inquiries can easily swamp your customer care team, making it more difficult for them to resolve issues in a timely manner. You can pre-empt this by offering your customers a real-tracking service so that they can check the status of their order from processing right through to delivery. 

In fact, a study by IBM found that 88% of consumers would prefer to shop with a retailer that allows them to track orders via email or SMS.

Order tracking helps to alleviate delivery anxiety by providing a continuous flow of updates that customers can check as often as they’d like to. You can also use this as a valuable post-purchase branding opportunity by directing your customer to a customized tracking page for a more cohesive brand experience.

Top tips for smoother shipping

Use multiple carriers

As the old saying goes, it’s not a great idea to put all of your eggs in one basket. If you rely on one carrier to handle the bulk of your deliveries, any disruption to their network will end up affecting the majority of your orders. By spreading your orders across multiple carriers, you can help to mitigate storewide delays that could overwhelm your customer care team.

Encourage customers to shop early/pick slower delivery methods

When delays are more likely to occur, it’s a good idea to give your customers a heads-up to place their orders earlier to avoid potential slowdowns. 

For example, you can set a cut-off date during the holiday season, after which point you won’t be able to guarantee delivery before Christmas. This removes liability from the retailer and also helps to spread out orders across a longer time period for faster processing, as shown here by Billabong:

Another strategy is to offer your customers multiple delivery options. This enables them to make an informed decision over how quickly they want their order to be delivered, rather than just a ‘standard shipping option’ which might not fit their needs. 

For example, adding an expedited shipping service for an extra fee allows you to meet expectations for rapid shipping, whilst also minimizing the impact on your profit margins.  

Don’t make delivery promises you can’t keep

This might seem obvious, but many online retailers find themselves under immense pressure to keep up with Amazon-esque delivery timeframes by promising one-day or even same-day capabilities. This might help you to attract customers, but unless you can actually deliver (no pun intended) you’ll be faced by some very upset customers. Instead, focus on offering a consistent and reliable shipping service – even if it takes a little longer to arrive 

Partner with an ecommerce fulfillment provider

Managing shipping delays can be costly and complex – especially during busy times of the year when you’ve already got a lot on your plate. Fulfillment providers can help to ease this burden through their advanced technological infrastructure and relationships with major carriers which enable them to handle late deliveries effectively on your behalf. 

You can get the full measure of a brand by seeing how it performs in difficult circumstances, rather than when all is well. While it isn’t possible to avoid all shipping delays, you can still turn a less-than-ideal situation into a positive one by showing your customer that you want to remedy their late delivery as quickly as possible. If you are able to do this effectively, your brand will gain long-term, loyal customers who know first-hand how much you care about ensuring a satisfying shopping experience.

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