What is a Delivery Exception? Everything You Need to Know

A delivery exception that puts the arrival of a package up in the air is never ideal. This is especially crucial at a time when fast shipping times are key to customer satisfaction. It’s no secret that next-day/same-day delivery is becoming increasingly accepted as the gold standard for shipping, thanks in part to major retailers such as Apple and Amazon that have popularized it. Even if your ecommerce business does not offer next day/same-day delivery, shortened delivery times as fast as 2-3 days have become an expectation from most online shoppers

In addition to expedited shipping times, customers want clear communication. They want to know what’s going on with their package every step of the way. But no matter how hard your team works, sometimes things don’t go as expected. These unexpected, often uncontrollable situations that occur every now and again can cause unwelcome shipping mishaps known as delivery exceptions. 

In this guide to delivery exceptions, we’ll cover:

  • What delivery exceptions really are
  • What they entail
  • Why they happen

Most importantly, we’ll review how you can respond to delivery exceptions so that your customers still come away from the experience with a positive view of your company. Hopefully, they’ll even want to shop again!

What is a Delivery Exception? 

No one likes to see that their package has had a “delivery exception”, especially when it leads to a delivery delay or an unknown delivery date for a package. What’s worse, it sounds unnecessarily vague and often leaves the customer frustrated and confused. So, what does it really mean when a parcel has had a delivery exception? 

A delivery exception describes an instance where a package is temporarily held up in transit for a period of time due to unexpected reasons. These can happen to any ecommerce business, from the smallest digital brands to the largest retailer. Delivery exceptions can result in delayed parcels or even undeliverable ones. Put simply: it’s when an obstacle of some kind gets in the way of a package arriving on a customer’s doorstep

Note that a delivery exception doesn’t always mean a delayed or undelivered package. After a delivery exception, parcels may still arrive at their destinations on time; it just means that at some point during the delivery process, the progression of the package was halted and extra steps or attention was needed.

Despite the best efforts of shipping carriers to ensure that the last mile part of the delivery process is smooth, timely and clearly communicated, delivery exceptions can happen to any carrier at any time. But how?

How and Why Do Delivery Exceptions Happen? 

Delivery exceptions happen for a whole host of reasons. And since the COVID-19 pandemic, they have become more common than ever before. Major couriers from Canada Post to FedEx to UPS have all had to adjust their messaging around deliveries to reflect possible service interruptions due to the pandemic.

Here are a few of the instances that can lead to delivery exceptions, ones that are most often out of anyone’s control: 

One of the most common and unavoidable reasons for a delivery exception is the weather. Extreme weather can lead to impassible routes, making package deliveries dangerous or simply impossible. This can impact both on-the-ground deliveries by trucks and overseas deliveries by air or ship.  

2. Issues With a Recipient’s Address 

Trouble reaching a recipient’s address can happen when the delivery address given is incorrect, incomplete, unclear or unaccessible by delivery personnel. Internationally shipped items face this often.

And when it comes to internationally shipped items in general, there are a whole host of exceptions that can impact delivery times: packages can be held at customs for longer periods of time than expected, and extra paperwork may be required or missing. 

3. Lost or Damaged Orders

The most severe and concerning type of delivery exception is one where a parcel cannot be located by the carrier. Goods can also be damaged during the shipping process, requiring further investigation and thus, a delivery exception. 

No matter what, instances of lost packages and damaged parcels still occur every now and again. Most major couriers will cover the damages or losses up to $100 in value. You can also purchase additional shipping insurance for your parcels to ensure that you’re covered. 

4. Missed Hand-Offs

One of the most common incidents that can lead to a shipping exception is a situation where delivery personnel can’t hand-off a package due to an issue on the recipient’s end. This usually happens when a package requires a signature but the recipient cannot be contacted or they aren’t available during the delivery window. 

In this case, the delivery personnel will have to attempt another hand-off at a different date, or get in touch with the recipient to determine a new pick-up location. Situations like these are why communication efforts between your team and the customer are critical to a successful delivery experience!

5. New Delivery Roadblocks Due to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a sweeping impact on nearly every stage of the supply chain. This impact stretches across different types of goods and services.

It has also affected the actual delivery of goods and services. Physical distancing, facility outbreaks and more have all affected the amount of time it takes to deliver a package to a customer’s front door. 

6. Federal Holidays 

When federal holidays fall inside of a customer’s shipping window, delays can naturally occur. Delivery dates may be pushed to the next normal business day due to less staff working on holidays. Thankfully, customers can usually see this coming before it happens and are more understanding as a result.  

As previously mentioned, these delivery exceptions don’t necessarily lead to the worst-case scenario. Here’s what’s most likely to happen: 

  • The package still makes it to its destination on time
  • It arrives late by a few hours.
  • It arrives the next business day.

A package is lost or returned to the sender if nothing can be done to resolve the issue. 

Most times, these unexpected situations are resolved and the package is delivered successfully. Even though it most times ends in a delivery, customers aren’t thrilled when packages are halted due to a “delivery exception.”

It’s not an an ideal experience for your customers, even when resolved quickly. 

What Impact do Delivery Exceptions Have on Ecommerce Businesses?

There are a few major ways that delivery exceptions impact ecommerce businesses.

Solving Delivery Exceptions Requires Your Time and Resources

Firstly, when it comes to resolving delivery exception issues, requests have to go through your internal teams, including the customer support team, reverse logistics team and possibly others. This may not be as heavy of a burden for an ecommerce company with a team of 1000+, but when you have a small business or you’re operating as an individual, these issues become significantly more difficult for you to address effectively. As a small business operator, it may already seem like there are never enough hours in a day for you to manage everything. Not having time for customers who require assistance can lead to a negative experience for them.


Delivery Exceptions are Frustrating for Customers

That last note feeds nicely into this section – the frustration that customers experience over order delays. Delivery exceptions can lead to experiences that are less than ideal for your customers. Even when these incidents are not the fault of your company, customers can leave feeling displeased. This can reflect poorly on the

Let’s not forget to consider the increasingly significant role that customer reviews play in the ecommerce landscape. This includes the convenience of next-day/same-day shipping that larger competitors offer. Keeping customers satisfied — even through inconvenient delivery situations — is very important. 

What is The Best Way to Respond to Delivery Exceptions?

Despite your best efforts and organization, delivery exceptions can happen. Because of this, spending time and resources trying to completely eliminate these occurrences isn’t the best use of your time. What really counts is how your company responds to these situations when they do happen. A true delivery exception expert can turn any negative delivery situation into a positive one!

Here are the three key steps you can take to get an order back on track:  

Step 1: Provide Parcel Tracking

The first step to responding to delivery exceptions is a preemptive one. You want to provide your customers with a tracking number that allows them to track their package along its journey. 

In the most ideal scenario, their delivery tracking will be easy to access and follow with a user-friendly interface. This also includes continuous updates every single time the package changes status. This helps customers manage their delivery expectations and troubleshoot on their own where possible. 

Step 2: Open the Lines of Communication

When a delivery exception occurs, it’s important to contact the carrier directly as they will likely be able to provide additional context, helping you understand exactly what went wrong. You can determine what needs to be done to solve issues when you know what kind of delivery exception it the customer received.

For example, if there was something wrong with the recipient address, your customer service team can act fast to get the updated address from the customer. Think ahead as much as possible and come up with potential solutions to different delivery exception scenarios before they happen. 

Step 3: Be Courteous and Prioritize Your Customer Service Response

Regardless of what mishap led to the delivery exception, make sure your customer service team apologizes to the customer and thanks them for their patience while they attend to the issue. Communicate next steps clearly to the customer to quell any uncertainty they may have around what’s going to happen next with their package. They should leave the interaction feeling good, knowing that you’re doing all that you can to get the package into their hands. 

Final Thoughts on Delivery Exceptions 

Delivery exceptions are mostly unavoidable occurrences that will come up every now and then. And while certain situations will be out of your control, you do have control over how you handle the situation. Acting fast and prioritizing your customer response are your keys to handling delivery exceptions like a pro.