The global recovery following the early stages of the Pandemic has increased the demand for shipping. It has also disrupted supply chains, leaving many businesses in the uncomfortable position of trying to cope with irate customers whose deliveries were delayed.
During the Pandemic, many consumers changed their purchasing behaviors because they were uncomfortable shopping in stores, and began to rely more on online purchasing and delivery for their needs. Now businesses need to adjust as best they can to the shifting environment.
What Causes Delivery Delays
Delays in deliveries can have many causes, but some causes impact many shippers at the same time.
Global events, such as the current Pandemic’s impact on increased shipping demand coupled with supply international chain disruptions provide a vivid example. As the economy in the United States recovers from the initial impact of the pandemic, demand for imports has surged along with consumer spending. At the same time, the world’s supply of shipping containers was dislocated amid the pandemic shutdowns, stranding surplus empty containers in North America and Europe, creating one type of bottleneck simply for want of something within which to ship goods.
Ports along the West Coast of the United States have also been swamped by the increased volume of goods moving through them, with cargo ships waiting in line to dock for days or weeks. Both at ports and throughout the country, an ongoing labor shortage of dockhands, truckers and train operators has been exacerbated by the waves of increased sick days and quarantines.
Disruptions similar to those being felt internationally can also occur regionally due to wildfires, hurricanes, and severe winter storms, and can cause real difficulties domestically, especially when they overlap with the rhythm of holiday seasons and other peak periods of traffic. October is traditionally the beginning of a period of logistical strain that extends through the holidays, tipping shipping carriers into operating beyond their peak thresholds.
Beyond acts of God and generalized difficulties such as labor shortages, human error also contributes to blown delivery deadlines. Poor coordination and documentation between warehouses, freight carriers, and shippers can lead to slowdowns and cargo damage in transit.
Unfortunately, a lack of urgency among carriers due to a lack of competition can also play a role. Problems can also arise at the last mile of the delivery if shipping companies lack sufficient vehicles or workers.
The Impact of Delayed Deliveries
Customers whose item is not delivered on time, or for whom delivery is inconvenient, are unlikely to order again from the same company. According to Voxware’s 2020 fifth biennial consumer holiday shopping and shipping survey, more than one in seven customers say that up to half the items they’ve ordered online have arrived late. In 2016 one in six customers said that they would be less likely to order again from a company that failed to deliver on time.
In 2018, one in four said the same; by 2020 it was one in three customers, with half of all customers strongly agreeing that their delivery expectations were even higher during the holidays. In the 2020 survey, more than four in ten consumers responded that they would be very likely to share negative experiences as reviews online, up from two in ten in 2016.
Eight Ways Businesses Can Handle Delivery Delays
- Some U.S. companies are now attempting to return to North American manufacturing suppliers in order to reduce the vulnerability of shocks to their supply chains, but that will take time.
- Order ahead of time wherever possible. Do not rely on estimated transit times, as the frequency of delays has increased. Some businesses attempt to do this by offering early deals to incentivize orders outside of peak shipping times.
- Consolidate shipments going to the same location in order to reduce the risk of damage and delays.
- One of the more easily remedied sources of delay involve incomplete or inaccurate documentation by shippers. Make sure the weight and dimensions of freight are measured carefully, and that it is labeled without misspelled addresses,or incomplete information. Clear labeling – black on white, labels on all sides so it can be seen no matter what else is stacked around it – can avoid numerous problems.
- Pack freight properly. Roughly $1.7 billion dollars worth of goods are damaged during shipping annually, and 11% of packages arriving at distribution centers with some level of damage, much of it preventable with proper packing. Businesses using LTL shipping should review best practices for packing and palletizing freight.
- Set realistic expectations, and make realistic commitments. Some businesses are offering free shipping in order to implicitly lower customer’s expectations about quick delivery times.
- Establish relationships with regional carriers, who may be able to make delivery guarantees that national carriers can’t. Regional carriers are smaller, but run shorter routes with greater efficiency, and can sometimes offer more delivery options.
- Communicate with customers proactively if something goes wrong. Contact the customer before they contact you, by phone if possible. Keep giving updates. Offer the customer options, so that they feel they have some degree of control. Offer them special deals, such as free shipping or a percentage off on their next order. Make it visible to the customer that you care, and that you’re working on their behalf.
The White Glove Last-Mile Delivery Option
Some businesses are coping with delivery issues by lowering customer expectations and expanding time windows for delivery. However, meeting and exceeding customer expectations is critical for building customer loyalty and a good reputation.
ExpressIT is a white-glove delivery service that specializes in last-mile delivery; on-time, after hours, with urgency. Their services are optimized to reflect positively on the brands they are delivering, and for proactive communication with warehouses, freight shippers, and end customers in order to handle difficult situations with attentive professionalism.