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ASCM Insights

How to Avoid the Dreaded Delivery Exception


Fulfillment and operations leaders spend each day tackling risks and threats, preparing shipments and orders to reach their destinations without a hiccup. Unfortunately, sometimes a delivery gets stuck with a status update that throws much of that hard work out the window. A delivery exception notice means a potential miss or delay, and it shifts teams into high gear to try to address the issue. You as a sender can prevent or limit some causes, while other exceptions require direct action with carriers. Following are some strategies for a smoother delivery experience.

What is a delivery exception?

In simple terms, when a shipment or parcel gets the delivery exception status update, it has encountered some kind of delay in transit on the carrier side. This affects the delivery date under carrier projections. Typically, carriers use this status for interruptions outside of their immediate ability to address. With the e-commerce boom, these codes often mean an issue with a label that’s become unreadable or unscannable. The driver is stuck with a package on their truck that they can’t deliver. You also may see it for weather-related delays, damage to a truck, accidents on railways or other infrastructure issues.

Clear directions yield reliable deliveries

Considering that label issues are a top cause for delivery exceptions, there are steps a sender can take to prevent shipping issues. For organizations that need to send large volumes of shipments or parcels, robust labeling and address verification processes can be a game-changer. Automated processes for address verification and document and label generation can help avoid incorrect or incomplete addresses and other label errors and make it easier for packers to spot-check for errors.

In addition, order management systems that enforce label scanning before and after packing help identify incorrect labels and ensure that packers check that the label is securely on the parcel. Although these additional checks take time, they are important for reducing the top cause of delivery exceptions and ensuring that your parcel or shipment gets to where it needs to be on time. Plus, avoiding delays for important clients or not having to pay for a second round of fulfillment costs can quickly recoup your investment.

For international shipments, missing documentation can result in shipping delays too. Approach this issue as an extension of the address verification and label printing process described here, and work with your shipper, forwarder and partners to ensure all of your boxes are checked. 

Plan for the risks beyond your control

Some delivery exceptions, including those for inclement weather and accidents, are out of your control as a sender. But you can bet that they will still happen, so you need to have a risk management — and maybe even a public relations damage control — plan in place. Shipping delays harm relationships between companies and customers, whether they are an individual, a retailer or another type of business. A delivery exception can instantly cause frustration. To keep tensions from getting too high, you should have a communication strategy.

First, build out your order and delivery management tools to actively track orders and automate calls to your team for status updates and changes. Also, configure systems to immediately alert your operations or fulfillment teams when exceptions are detected. Generally, you can accomplish this with specific monitoring tools or by using application programming interfaces that carriers offer to make calls and update dashboards within your existing platforms.

Then, your operations and account management teams need a plan they can set into action when any exception occurs. In many cases, carriers or forwarders will try to contact you when these issues occur. Training your team on how to respond with the correct information can speed up resolution. These team members will need access to your order and delivery management tools to reconcile an address or barcode.

Once you are aware of the delivery exception, alert the recipient. Sometimes being on top of the issue and communicating what the recipient can expect next is enough to minimize frustrations. In fact, sometimes it’s better to be even more proactive. For example, some exceptions pop up but then are removed before delivery because it turns out to be a non-issue. Contacting your recipient as soon as these problems pop up and again when they are resolved shows that you care about fulfilling their order.

Prioritizing carrier relationships

You may also be able to reach out directly to your carrier through an existing relationship to help tackle exception issues. Direct intervention here is more common for freight and container moves, but it’s a good practice to put into place to support the last mile of any delivery. Prep and learn how to respond so that one team can give carriers the correct information for any exception.

The delivery management plan must specify who has the responsibility when. Individual stores, warehouses or other locations may be accountable for tracking last-mile success in some operations. In these cases, you’ll have teams working through carrier helpdesks and more generalized customer support channels. If you’ve centralized delivery management across your footprint, then you may have a team with a more direct relationship with a carrier and a specific representative.

There’s no clear path for which is better. Local tracking may speed up getting relevant information to the carrier or driver. Centralized management typically ensures a better understanding of the cause of the exception and more reliable delivery of information if it’s a bar code or label issue. You’re most likely waiting for parcels to move back to processing stations. Shipping direct to consumers means these issues can happen later in the day, while snags with business-to-business shipments tend to happen earlier. You will want to balance locations and methods to ensure people are in-house when a problem is reported or that you’ve adequately outsourced to address these.

Schedule for delays

Even the most buttoned-up order preparation and shipment strategy will not be able to prevent all delivery exceptions. One of the best, and possibly easiest, approaches is to build more lead time into your inbound and outbound deliveries. This means adding time to the delivery guarantees you offer for customer deliveries. Three-day delivery in two days is a big win, but customers aren’t happy paying for two-day deliveries that take three or four days. Structure the nature of how you discuss deliveries to give yourself more time.

Similarly, when moving shipments between facilities you control, direct both sides to look for delays and carrier notices. Then, when your teams are aware of an exception, they can move to adapt operations, especially the labor needed for receiving. Also consider increasing resupply points so there’s extra leeway and little risk of stockouts due to a short delay.

As we’ve all learned during these uncertain times, it’s hard to know exactly how much safety stock to have on hand and how long to expect each stage of the supply chain to take. Exception delays are just another wrench in this planning. These tips can offer some guidance, but really they are just a bandage.

But you can’t go wrong if you put your customer first. Think about how they would want an issue to be addressed. Create your plan, execute it, and always communicate. Putting customers first helps protect your operations and ultimately ensures more flexibility with overall delivery management and operational planning.

About the Author

Geoff Whiting Senior Writer, Red Stag Fulfillment

Geoff Whiting is senior writer at Red Stag Fulfillment, an e-commerce third-party-logistics company focused on supporting heavy, bulky and high-value products. He may be contacted at

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