The widespread popularity of ecommerce is mainly due to its ease and speed of delivery. Shipping delays, therefore, disturb that sweet comfort of online shopping. They cause customer dissatisfaction and can threaten an ecommerce business's viability.
Despite seeming relatively harmless, shipping delays can hinder supply chain efficiency, decrease customer loyalty and hamper sales significantly. Sometimes shipping delays are inevitable, like in COVID-19 when entire manufacturing and distribution units came to a standstill.
But in most cases, shipping delays can be avoided through careful planning and forecasting. This guide deep dives into what shipping delays are, why they happen and how they can be prevented. We believe this information will help you solve the recurring problem of shipping delays.
What are Shipping Delays in eCommerce?
A shipping delay in ecommerce is an event where order fulfillment is not completed by the estimated delivery time promised by the seller at the time of purchase.
Delays can happen in transit or at the shipping dock, air, or rail hub because of congestion and longer turnaround times. Occasionally, orders can be delayed if carrier agents make fake delivery attempts. That is, they slate an order undelivered or delayed because of customer unavailability, whereas in reality, they didn’t attempt delivery. We’ll discuss the most common reasons below.
Whatever the reasons for shipping delays, online retailers must take note of them and work towards rectifying them quickly. Let’s examine how recurring shipping delays eat into business profits and why they must be stopped.
How Does Shipment Delay Affect Ecommerce Retailers and Shoppers?
41% of online shoppers expect to receive their orders in 24 hours, while 24% want them within 2 hours. This consumer expectation raises many logistical challenges, including delayed shipping. Faster delivery times have become so synonymous with online shopping that nearly 69% of customers say they won’t shop from a brand if it does not deliver within 2 days.
The problem worsens with order delays when dissatisfied customers post online reviews creating a negative image of the ecommerce store. Not only does this make it difficult for businesses to acquire new customers but also to retain existing ones. In short, it severely affects brand reputation.
Moreover, since the delivery information of delayed items is still on hold, it can lead businesses to understock or overstock their inventory. Surplus inventory often cannot be utilized or sold, leading to major losses for the retailer. Ultimately, shipping delays affect your profit margins by stripping down sales and loyalty.
6 Main Causes of Shipping Delays
Identifying problem areas brings us one step closer to solving them. The biggest reasons for shipping delays are:
1) Incorrect Customer Information
This is one of the most common causes of delays, but it’s also easily fixable, as you’ll soon figure out. When customers enter a wrong shipping address or phone number, it becomes difficult for the courier company to fulfill that order timely. Incorrect shipping information leads to last-mile delivery challenges and higher transportation costs.
2) Logistical Oversights and Labour Shortages
A lack of proper logistical infrastructure can cause order sorting and processing delays. Smaller businesses, which handle everything in-house, can have orders pile up as they make time to ship them. Inefficient warehouse and inventory management are major logistical challenges to be overcome.
Labor shortages or insufficient delivery vehicles at hubs or distribution centers can cause significant order delays.
3) Supply Chain Problems
If your brand handles everything from sourcing raw materials to manufacturing, selling, and shipping, you have a huge advantage. Why? Because supply chain disruptions lead to insufficient stock, which finally causes shipping delays.
Manufacturing delays from suppliers can cost retailers many valuable sales and also affect the speed at which orders can be shipped.
4) Weather Anomalies
Severe weather conditions are never good for order delivery. Deliveries due on a stormy or foggy day will be delayed because vehicles do not have clear visibility.
Perishable items or orders susceptible to extreme temperatures (hot or cold) may have to be postponed if weather conditions do not comply. Weather-resistant packaging or temperature-controlled vehicles are best used for such shipments.
5) Peak Season
Sales during peak season can often go up to 6x the normal value. Many ecommerce companies fail to catch up with this rapid acceleration in sales, creating all sorts of problems. Low stock, not updating inventory in real-time, and wrong orders are just some of the issues that crop up. Top that with courier companies overburdened with last-minute order deliveries. The result? Shipping delays.
6) Inadequate Planning
Except for a few, most of the causes listed above can be solved by some proactive planning. For example, a seller who does not know its highest-selling SKUs will be unable to prepare for its increased demand during the sale season.
A retailer must understand the manifold challenges that accompany order fulfillment and closely monitor each step to find gaps for improvement.
7 Ways to Prevent Order Shipping Delays
Listed below are some of the most effective ways of minimizing ecommerce shipment delays.
1) Update your Inventory
Not updating inventory in real-time leads to false or wrong orders, where a customer orders an item only to find out later that it is out of stock. This is more pronounced in the omnichannel approach, where store sales are not immediately reflected in websites or ecommerce platforms.
Irritated with this misinformation, such customers may abandon their carts or head to other stores for their purchases. For sellers, this means lost revenue, lower customer retention, and a bad brand reputation.
2) Display Accurate Estimated Delivery Dates
Showing accurate EDDs help customers manage their expectations around shipping and delivery. Most buyers find a 2-day delivery period acceptable. However, their satisfaction with the brand takes a hit if orders are delayed. Do not build higher expectations with a same-day or next-day delivery promise if you cannot realistically fulfill them. Overpromising and under delivering is a big no-no for any business.
3) Use Reliable Shipping Carriers
Partnering with shipping carriers equipped to handle orders swiftly and reliably is of utmost importance. When choosing carriers, set down SLA terms and ensure those are met at all times. Working with a trusted courier company will give you the assurance that all time-specific orders are correctly fulfilled.
Some of the best global carriers for domestic and international shipping are FedEx, UPS, Blue Dart, DTDC, etc. These carriers provide additional advantages like packaging, large fleet size for bulkier shipments, shipping insurance, customs management, and more.
4) Enable Real-time Order Tracking
First and foremost, keeping customers updated on delays in real-time makes them less inclined to cancel an order and more likely to order from you again. One of the best ways to soothe customer anxiety around order delivery is by providing real-time order tracking updates on every milestone.
In fact, most buyers today will not shop from a store again if it does not offer tracking updates via emails, SMS, or WhatsApp. Customers who feel valued by a brand will likely let a minor shipping delay pass as an oversight. Shipment tracking, in general, informs shoppers about any delays or congestion their package may have faced in transit and prepares them for somewhat delayed delivery.
5) Validate Customer Information
Since wrong customer information is the number one reason for shipping delays, businesses must find a way of validating this information. Using an auto-populate feature to verify customer data is a great way of ensuring typos do not occur. Asking buyers for an alternate phone number may also help ease delivery when the primary contact number does not work.
Having the right customer information also enables sellers to contact customers when a delay arises and sort the matter faster.
6) Invest in Shipping Software
It can be difficult for an ecommerce seller to manage all aspects of their business, from manufacturing or procuring goods to shipping. Shipping software can aid businesses in numerous ways, one of which is maintaining delivery times.
Through multi-carrier integrations, shipping software can pick the fastest and cheapest carrier for a destination. Plus, it can automatically send order status updates to customers, take feedback, and offer easy returns.
For merchants, this means timely order fulfillment, live shipment visibility, and more time and money. Being a SaaS model, shipping software offers rapid scalability. So, handling a sudden surge in order volumes is no problem at all.
7) Plan Ahead for Increased Demand
No retailer is ever truly prepared for peak-season sales. This is why it’s important to plan in advance! Sale forecasting is essential for any business that wants to come up the holiday season smiling.
You must have a clear idea of how much of each item you need to stock so that your suppliers can give you that. Otherwise, your store’s favorites will be sold out while lesser-sold items pile on. Remember, planning for higher sales needs to start at least a couple of months in advance.
How to Handle Order Delays in eCommerce
Despite our best efforts, sometimes shipping delays are unavoidable. In such cases, ecommerce businesses must work fast to mitigate the damage done and contain customer dissatisfaction. Let’s find out how.
1) Transparent communication with customers
Most of your customers are already familiar with shipment delays. Clearly telling your customers why their order may be delayed helps them understand the situation. Transparent communication reassures customers that their orders are in safe hands. If an order is delayed, businesses must share a revised expected delivery date to relieve customer anxiety.
2) Follow up with service providers
If most of your shipping delays happen post order processing, i.e., packing, loading, trucking, or distributing, it’s time to talk to your service provider. Find out why SLA terms are not being met and figure out ways to smoothen out the snags. In case of repeated delays, we strongly recommend opting for a better 3PL or shipping service.
3) Offer discounts or gift coupons
One of the best ways to keep loyal customers from turning away is by showing how much you value them. If you’ve not started a loyalty program yet, now is the time to do it. You can also share gift cards, offer significant discounts on the next buy, and free shipping. A token of appreciation goes a long way in reinstating that trust in your brand.
Online retailers work very hard to ensure customers have a seamless shopping and shipping experience. While eliminating shipping delays entirely may not yet be possible, there are ways to minimize and manage them.
As e-commerce grows, so will the challenges of timely fulfillment and delivery. Retailers must now focus on building better third-party partnerships that help them achieve those goals. Since customer acquisition is costlier than retention, businesses must find innovative ways to keep customers happy.
We hope this guide will help you do just that. All the best!
1) How to inform customers about shipping delays?
Ecommerce companies can inform customers about shipping delays by sending order notifications via SMS, email, and WhatsApp. Keep your customers updated about their order status in real-time to avoid Where-is-my-order calls.
2) How to track a delayed shipment?
Tracking a delayed shipment is the same as any other. Customers can track their delayed shipments by clicking on the tracking link sent to them or by entering their Tracking ID, Order ID, or Consignment number on the courier company’s tracking page.