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Delivery Exceptions: Meaning & How to Handle Them

Discover the meaning and typical causes of delivery exceptions. Learn about possible outcomes, ways to respond, and tips to prevent delivery exceptions.

In this post, you will read about the meaning of delivery exceptions and how to handle them.

You will learn about:

  • The importance of delivery exceptions
  • Typical shipping exception causes
  • Possible outcomes
  • Ways to respond to delivery exceptions
  • Strategies to prevent exceptions

Let’s get started!

What Is a Delivery Exception?

The delivery exception is when an unexpected event changes the delivery date of a shipment.

Even with the most advanced technologies and logistics procedures, issues can happen before the package is delivered.

Although unintentional, delivery exceptions can cause customer frustration.

Is a Delivery Exception a Late Shipment?

Receiving a delivery exception notice can be confusing or frustrating for recipients.

Some examples of such notices are:

  • Delivery Exception: Action Required, by UPS
  • Delivery Exception: Attempted Delivery, by DHL
  • Delivery Exception: Retrieved Shipment, by FedEx

However, a shipping exception’s meaning is that the package is stuck in transit, but it does not necessarily lead to a late shipment.

Delivery exceptions often result in just a brief setback.

Why Are Delivery Exceptions Important for E-Commerce?

Online shoppers have high expectations when it comes to accurate tracking information and delivery speed, and having their shipments stuck in transit is a frustrating experience.

If there is not proper shipment tracking in place, delivery exceptions lead to a high volume of calls where customers are asking about their orders. This can lead to product returns and a high churn rate.

83% of online customers are less likely to purchase from a retailer again after they’ve had a negative delivery experience.

Frustrated customers are also very unlikely to recommend your online store to others.

Ecommerce companies need to pay attention to the most common causes of shipping exceptions and be ready to efficiently resolve potential issues and delays whenever they happen.

7 Typical Causes of Delivery Exceptions

#1 Customs Delays
#2 Holidays
#3 Weather
#4 Damaged Items
#5 Missing Labels
#6 The Driver Can’t Find the Drop-Off Address
#7 Customer Isn’t at Home to Accept the Order

#1 Customs Delays

When you ship internationally, there is plenty of room for delays and delivery exceptions.

Packages are often held at customs longer than planned, and that leads to later delivery dates.

One way to improve the shipping process and prevent delays is to ensure that you have proper tariff codes at the product SKU level, and all the necessary documentation.

#2 Holidays

Shipping carriers normally do not operate on national holidays, and when they come back to work, they may have difficulties getting back on track because of a backlog of shipments.

If a national holiday occurs while your package is in transit, it may be delivered later than expected.

#3 Weather

Weather issues and natural disasters such as tornadoes, wildfires, hurricanes, and floods can obstruct delivery routes and cause delays.

Such delays are beyond human control and are usually regional.

If your business uses more than one fulfillment center, you may be able to ship the package from an alternative location that is outside of the zone affected.

Many carriers have developed contingency plans that help them resume delivery paths as soon as possible.

#4 Damaged Items

Although shipping companies have safety measures in place, accidents sometimes happen.

Whenever an accident happens during transit, carriers prefer to put the shipment on hold rather than proceed with delivery.

Damaged packages are then returned to the original dispatch station with a note that reads ‘damaged’.

To reduce the risks of damage in transport, make sure your products are carefully packed and protected. 

#5 Missing Labels


Incorrect, damaged, or missing labels lead to issues with delivery.

In order to avoid this, make sure a team member checks the shopper’s address before the order is shipped. You should also consider using weather-resistant labels to prevent damage to shipment labeling caused by inclement weather, which ensures the legibility of the delivery information under any conditions.

One small mistake such as a wrong number in the home address or in the zip code can cause problems.

When the label is missing or showing incorrect or incomplete information, carriers return the package to the logistics center or to the sender, which extends the delivery times.

#6 The Driver Can’t Find the Drop-Off Address

Sometimes the driver is unable to find the recipient’s address or the address listed for the scheduled pickup.

If the address on the shipping label is incorrect, incomplete or unclear, the driver will hardly be able to finalize the delivery. This commonly happens with international delivery.

When something like this happens, you can re enter all the information correctly and reschedule the delivery for another date and time.

#7 Customer Isn’t at Home to Accept the Order

A delay will also happen if the package requires a signature upon delivery, and there is no one home to sign and accept it.

When the recipient is not available, the carrier usually attempts the delivery again the next day.

There are some free delivery management tools that recipients can utilize to choose when and how the deliveries should occur so they would fit in with their schedules.

3 Outcomes of Delivery Exceptions

When delivery exceptions occur, they can result in three different outcomes:

#1 The order is delivered on time anyway
#2 The order is delivered late
#3 The order is returned

#1 The order is delivered on time anyway

Issues that cause delivery exceptions are not always severe, or they happen at the beginning of the shipping process, leaving enough room for timely delivery.

It can happen that a shipping exception is just a notice about a possible delay due to a specific reason, but in the end, the package is delivered on time.

#2 The order is delivered late

Delays caused by delivery exceptions are usually short and the package often arrives the following day. For example, if the recipient was not home the first time, the carrier will try the delivery the next day.

This also happens when the carrier does not manage to arrive at the drop-off location during his work hours.

#3 The order is returned

If the carrier is unable to deliver the order for any reason, the package may need to be returned to the sender.

Package returns are usually caused by incomplete or incorrect addresses.

Damage during transit, especially when it affects barcodes and shipping labels, also results in returns.

How to Respond to Delivery Exceptions?

Verify Package Status With the Tracking Number

The first step is to check the current status and location of the package using the carrier's tracking system. This is essential for understanding the reason behind the delivery exception, whether it's due to an incorrect address, a delay caused by weather, or any other issue. This information will also be useful when communicating with the customer.

This can be done through the carrier's website or customer service line.

Both you and the recipient should have the option to check online for the exact location of the package, and the reason for the exception in shipping.

Contact the Carrier


Upon reviewing the specifics of the exception, it may be necessary to communicate directly with the carrier for further details and potential resolutions. Depending on the nature of the issue, options may include rescheduling the delivery or adjusting the shipping details.

For example, to address a FedEx delivery exception, reach out to FedEx customer service and provide the details of your notification. Their representatives can offer a detailed explanation regarding the cause of the exception and advise on the necessary steps to resolve the issue. Often, despite a delivery exception, packages may still arrive on the originally scheduled date without further action needed.

Besides the basic tracking information, the carrier may add some additional details.

If the carrier’s problem is something you can solve, e.g. the package had the incorrect label, you can help the carrier complete the delivery on time.

Contact the Customer

In case the customer’s shipping address is incorrect or unknown, you should contact them to confirm the right mailing address for the delivery.

Whenever you find out about a possible reason for a delay, you should inform the customer about it. This communication should include details about the nature of the issue and the expected delay if applicable.

You can send an email to customers affected, apologize for potential delays, thank them for their understanding and patience. Namely, apologizing for the inconvenience and expressing appreciation for the customer’s patience can help maintain a positive relationship. Also, make sure to provide customers with the tracking number and instructions on how to track their package. This can also enhance transparency and trust.

83% of online shoppers in the United States expect businesses to perform regular communication about their orders.

It is always good to transform a negative situation into a positive experience with your delivery performance that a customer will remember for future orders.

Refund the Order or Resend It

Depending on the circumstances and your company's policies, you might need to offer a refund or an alternative solution to address any inconvenience caused. This is especially true in case the package was damaged during the transit, or it cannot be delivered for any other reason,

In the United States, 59% of online shoppers claim that they expect to receive notifications about their refund and its status.

When the package suffers damage in transit, the cost might be partially or completely covered, depending on its shipping insurance.

By adhering to these strategies, e-commerce businesses can better manage delivery exceptions, ensuring minimal disruption to the customer and maintaining a positive company reputation.

How to Prevent Delivery Exceptions?

Check Order Information

Before you call the shipping company and send the order, make sure you checked the order information.

Make sure your staff members understand the importance of every piece of information entered, and the damage every typo could cause.

If the customer is placing the order on the phone, it is always good to read the information back to the customer.

With online orders, double-check if the address section is completed correctly including a zip code. This will help you avoid sending shipments to non-existing addresses. For instance, you can use automatic address validation tools to confirm the accuracy of all address elements, which is crucial for successful delivery.

Another good idea is to email customers with the order information to check if all the shipping data has been entered correctly.

Implement a Tracking System

To robustly address delivery exceptions, start by implementing a comprehensive tracking system. Build a tracking page that provides your customers with real-time delivery updates.

This transparency increases the likelihood of customers being home to receive packages, thereby reducing the chances of exceptions.

Enable Shipping Notifications


Enable shipping notifications to keep your customers informed through updates and tracking links.

This proactive communication helps prevent delivery exceptions by allowing customers to keep tabs on their packages and adjust plans if needed.

Forward Inventory Stocking

Keep inventory stored closer to your clients with forward stocking locations.

Forward stocking locations or field stocking locations are smaller warehouses whose purpose is to ship the SKUs that customers that are geographically closer are buying.

With forward inventory stocking, orders can be distributed throughout the country of choice much faster than they do when the entire inventory is kept in one central warehouse.

Namely, when you optimize your logistics processes by distributing inventory across multiple fulfillment centers and employing strategic logistics planning, you enhance your supply chain’s agility and reduce potential delivery exceptions.

In-stock availability and fast delivery are mentioned by 43% of online shoppers as the two most important factors when deciding whether to order products online.

Analyze your supply chain data and figure out which SKUs could be stored in forward stocking locations to achieve faster delivery and avoid delivery exceptions.

This strategy can even help with issues out of your control such as the weather since it cuts the delivery path significantly.

Account for Delays in the Schedule

When you are planning a delivery schedule, you need to take potential delays into consideration.

This will help you to provide delivery times that are as accurate as possible.

53% of online shoppers in the United States are not willing to buy a product if they can’t see the delivery date.

Your delivery times must be calculated based on the expected transit time, and additional criteria that might disrupt or extend the delivery route.

Planning ahead means monitoring different factors that affect delivery times such as:

  • Emergency stocks
  • Expected weather conditions
  • The proximity of national holidays

Moreover, carriers normally offer specific pickup and shipping times, and if your packages are late, they won’t be able to pick them up on that day. To prevent delivery exceptions, stay one step ahead and consider preparing the orders earlier than scheduled.

If an unforeseen delay happens, make sure you notify the recipient about the change in the expected delivery time.

Route Vehicles with Software

Vehicle routing software is used to help businesses create and schedule the most optimal routes for each delivery.

The software will also help you:

  • Assign tasks
  • Reschedule tasks
  • Schedule pickups and drop-offs
  • Manage vehicle type and volume
  • Automate reports
  • and more

Vehicle route optimization systems are designed to consider all relevant factors and create efficient multi-route plans with several stops along the way.

These tools also offer additional help for couriers so they could successfully navigate different road conditions and deliver products faster.

Besides creating more efficient routes with lower chances of delivery exceptions, introducing vehicle routing and scheduling tools will allow you to maximize the use of labor, fuel, and other resources.

This strategic and comprehensive approach ensures that you can address delivery exceptions effectively, keeping your operations smooth and your customers satisfied.

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Merge Forward and Reverse Logistics

The difference between reverse logistics and forward logistics is in the directions that the product takes while moving through the supply chain:

  • Forward logistics: products are being delivered to customers
  • Reverse logistics: products are coming back to businesses

Since businesses experience product returns all the time, making use of reverse logistics is a logical step to take.

The number of ecommerce orders that were returned in the United States rose by 60% from 2016 to 2019.

So how do you combine forward and reverse logistics?

If a driver is already delivering an order at a certain location, it would be a waste of time and resources to send another courier to pick up a package in the same area.

Combining pickup routes from reverse logistics and drop-off spots from your forward logistics can shorten the travel time in half, which leaves less room for delivery exceptions and delays.

How Can You Manage Delivery Exceptions With eLogii?

eLogii, a route optimization software effectively manages delivery exceptions through its advanced technological systems. The software allows you to handle individual components of a single order separately. This includes separate proof of delivery/service if needed.

You can avoid delivery issues with eLogii's intuitive dashboard or via API. Namely, you can swiftly plan an unlimited number of orders for a single day. These capabilities enable eLogii to address and resolve any issues that arise during the delivery process, ensuring a smooth experience for merchants and their customers.


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