eCommerce Shipping Delays: How to Plan For and Deal With Them
Delays in eCommerce Logistics? How should we plan for and deal with them?
Katrina B. & Benedict L
November 20, 2018
Delays in eCommerce Logistics: How to Plan for and Deal with Them
Congestion, Blockages and Natural Disasters
Planning Contingency Plans for Delays
Shipping delays have all happened to us at least once. It’s finally the day that the new item our eCommerce customer bought online is supposed to arrive at his home. He’s been tracking the parcel’s movements for several days, eagerly anticipating the moment he’ll receive the parcel. The agreed delivery time arrives… but the parcel doesn’t arrive. Their anticipation turns to disappointment as they realise: ‘Another delayed delivery.’
Any eCommerce merchant would hate for that to happen to their customers. This experience would break the trust and reputation of any online store.
To prevent this from happening to your online store, you can begin preparing plans to prevent these delays and also have contingencies in place for when they do happen. Below are some of the most common reasons for shipping delays and how you can deal with them
Logistics constraints typically relate to the lack of capacity for processing or storing of goods. As they occur on the side of the shipping partner, eCommerce merchants don’t have control over such situations. These tend to happen in one of several common scenarios.
One is during peak eCommerce periods, such as holidays and major sales, that lead to a surge online demand. During these peak seasons, the number of parcels to be delivered may exceed the logistics partner’s current capacity.
More often though, the pile-up may happen during the last mile journey in the destination country, as some shipping partners may not have sufficient vehicle or manpower capacity to deliver all the goods on time. At other times, it may simply be a matter of inefficient utilisation of warehouse space.
Of course, these are just some of the most common examples—logistics being a complex process with many moving parts, there are numerous reasons why constraints exist.
How to deal with it
Plan ahead for peak periods by offering your online shoppers some discounts for advanced orders. By spacing out your sales and shipments during the peak period, you can avoid having your parcels fall victim to seasonal delays and bottlenecks.
When looking for an eCommerce logistics company, ask questions surrounding their responses to delays. See if they have set procedures for resolving different logistical problems, such as peak periods.
For instance, ask how they anticipate online delivery surges such as during major sales that happen simultaneously in different countries. Take for instance Alibaba’s recent record-breaking Singles’ Day sale, in which 180,000 brands and 200,000 offline smart stores participated.1 Some examples of preparations your shipping partners can do include renting additional warehouse space or hiring additional staff.
It’s good to establish strong, positive, long-term relationships with service providers, too.2 This can be done by setting expectations, maintaining clear and regular communication, and holding respectful discussions to solve issues. That way, you can negotiate with them to prioritize your shipments over others and to speed up your delivery if necessary.
Cultivate these relationships through clear communication. Speak with your service provider to understand the problems they’re encountering, and work together to find an alternative or a solution to problems both of you may encounter.
Congestion, Blockages, and Natural Disasters
Some causes of delays are beyond the delivery company’s control. The most common of these include airport or port congestion, accidents, bad weather, or roadblocks.
Plus, these days, you never know what weather disturbance to expect each month, especially in a region as geographically diverse as Southeast Asia.
The Philippines, for example, experiences an average of 20 typhoons a year. Some mountainous areas of Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand lie along a seismic belt, an area where most earthquakes occur.
Parts of the Philippines and Indonesia lie along the Pacific Ring of Fire, where a large proportion of the world’s earthquakes and volcanic eruptions take place. Tsunamis might even occur in this region, like the one that struck Sulawesi island in Indonesia in September, rendering many roads impassable.3
Pay attention to disasters occurring in countries where your suppliers are located, too. For instance, in September, tropical storm Mangkhut devastated Hong Kong and China, damaging buildings, disrupting power supply, and grounding airplanes and ships—thus delaying manufacturing and deliveries.4 In the aftermath of such storms, air and sea ports tend to be congested, creating bottlenecks in the transport of people and goods.
And despite their relatively calm climate, some countries experience sudden heavy downpours any time, sometimes causing trees to topple over or even flooding up some streets.
Vessel delays, be it by air or by sea, don’t need to result in serious delivery delays. Shipping partners can do their part by always keeping track of airport, port, and road conditions as well as weather conditions. Knowing this information helps logistics service providers plan alternative routes, schedules, or shipment modes ahead of time.
Ask your logistics partners to keep you updated on port and weather conditions and to notify you right away whenever plane or vessel delays occur, including frequent updates during severe weather like typhoons.
That way, you can adjust the delivery estimates that you provide your customers. This helps manage expectations on when your customers orders can arrive in light of the delayed delivery timing.
Meanwhile, see if your last mile fulfilment companies have planned alternative routes to avoid areas that tend to get flooded. This way, packages should still arrive at your customers’ doors on the day they expect to receive them.
On the eCommerce merchant’s part, you can send your customers advance warnings if their shipments are at risk of getting delayed You can also keep them updated of their packages’ delivery status via real-time tracking. Adjust expectations and clearly explain the reason for the delays to keep communications transparent.
We all hope this never happens, but there are times when the supplier would run out of stock for a particular product. Or maybe they have the product available, just not in the version the customer wanted.
How to deal with it
You can share data on sales estimates with your suppliers to help them better anticipate the stock they need for peak periods. For those who have been operating your online shop for a few years now, you’ll have noticed that demand for some products peak during certain months. If you’re newer to eCommerce, you can check industry data for benchmarks. It also helps to have an analytics software that can assess purchasing trends and predict demand for each product.
You can also anticipate periods when orders for certain items peak, such as during Chinese New Year and Christmas.
Another thing you can consider is setting up a system for your supplier to provide you real-time updates of product availability so that you can adjust your product listings. Assuming the contract with your current supplier is non-exclusive, you can also expand your network of suppliers. Having more suppliers allows you to split your sourcing between them. This way, you’ll still have a source of stocks in the event one of your suppliers runs out of a product.
Have you heard of the expression “the devil is in the details”? That’s a perfect way to describe how a single typo can cause major delivery headaches.
Documentation errors can be as simple as a typo in the delivery address or customs declaration. They could also come in the form of missing information or an incomplete documents.
Whatever the error is, it can delay deliveries due to the shipment being held up at customs. Even worse, the parcel may be sent to the wrong address.
How to deal with it
Fortunately, dealing with these errors can be quite simple. Being meticulous, such as re-reading a document before submitting it to the relevant authorities, can save everyone major headaches.
For your eCommerce website, add a step to your check-out page asking buyers to confirm that the details they’ve entered are accurate.
See, for example, the confirmation step used by e-Phamax, a Malaysia-based online seller of health supplements:
You can also set up an automated order confirmation email. If a customer replies to your confirmation email or contacts customer service to say they’ve made a mistake in entering their information, act quickly. Contact your logistics service provider to correct the details before the package is processed and delivered.
Contingency plans for delays
Despite everyone’s best efforts to prevent shipping delays, they can and do happen. So what can you do when packages can’t get to your customers on time?
First of all, communicate with your customers
Reach out to your customers and explain the reason for the delay. Give them a realistic estimate of when the package should arrive, and update them often. Have a dedicated customer service channel for following up on their deliveries. A channel as simple as Facebook Messenger will do, as long as you are able to respond promptly.
Provide alternatives to ease customers’ frustration
In cases of severe delays, offer your customer a way to ease their stress, anxiety, and disappointment.
For instance, you can offer a gift card or a discount on the customer’s next purchase. If the customer requests a refund, discuss the situation with your customer service team and provide the refund if necessary. Consider the refund an investment in customer retention, loyalty, and satisfaction.
Discuss the problem with your service partners
Investigate the reason for the delay. If it was caused by an inefficiency on the logistics service provider’s part, discuss the issue with them and make sure they implement systems to prevent the delay from happening again. For instance, if the problem was a lack of capacity during a peak shopping season, your logistics partner can plan ahead next time to ensure enough staff and equipment are available.
Keep in mind, though, that repeated delays by your service provider are a warning sign that you may need to switch to another delivery partner.
If the delay was caused by a typo or a miscommunication, design and implement procedures that will help prevent the same mistakes in the future. Even a simple checklist for quality and accuracy will help. And as mentioned above, implement procedures like having a confirmation page before check-out or sending out a confirmation email after the purchase.
Avoiding shipping delays
Shipping delays can be stressful—for the seller, the shipping partner, and most of all, for the customer. Assess your system and find out where shipping delays occur, or are most likely to do so. And when shipments do get delayed, it’s best to take proactive communication steps to understand the problem and the solutions your partners are implementing.
By investing time and resources into system efficiencies, as well as choosing the right suppliers and logistics service providers, you’ll be able to save your company the hassle and expense of dealing with delayed shipments.
After all, in today’s world, speed and trust are the lifeblood of online retail.