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How to Handle a Delivery Exception in Ecommerce

Deliveries drive customer satisfaction for eCommerce businesses. Shipping delays, otherwise known as delivery exceptions, will be talked about by your customers far more often than deliveries that make it on time, regardless of who caused the delay.

Delivery exceptions are inconvenient for the sender, the carrier, and the customer. Knowing that your overall customer satisfaction can hinge on delivery exceptions even more than successful deliveries, it becomes essential to know what they are, how they happen, the effects they can have, and what your business can do about them.

What is a Delivery Exception?

In eCommerce, delivery exceptions occur when deliveries cannot be completed on time after the product has already been shipped. Ideally, the carrier will get in touch with the store to explain why the shipment was delayed. Reliable carriers are essential to an efficient fulfillment process since you won’t know about the delay or how to handle the situation until they contact you.

Staying informed about delivery exceptions is essential for eCommerce stores, even when nothing can be immediately done about the product’s travel time. For example, while some delays occur because the recipient’s business was closed or the package was mislabeled, they can also happen due to weather conditions.

As opposed to a shipment exception, which generally involves customs or import delays, delivery exceptions refer more to domestic packages that were on their way but failed to make it to their destination on time.

This creates a complicated situation for an eCommerce store involving their customer service response, their communication with the carrier, and their resolution strategy.

Common Results of a Delivery Exception

When a package has been delayed, no matter who is at fault, a few things may happen. Depending on the scenario that unfolds, a company’s response should change to address the situation. Here are the most likely results of a delivery exception:

1.      The package is returned to your store

This is essentially the worst-case scenario in a delivery exception situation because it causes the most delay. Possible causes of this could be an illegible address on the package or a package that gets damaged in transit. If barcodes are incorrect or damaged, they can prevent carriers from scanning the deliveries, resulting in them being returned to the sender.

2.      The package is delivered late

If a delivery exception is solvable by the carrier, a package may still make it to its destination after a delay. Common causes of this delivery exception scenario include a locked front gate at a house that prevents delivery completion, a closed business, or a carrier who is behind schedule. If no one is available to sign for the package when the delivery truck makes its rounds, this can also lead to a late delivery. These packages eventually make it to their destination.

3.      The package is delivered on time

On-time delivery is a fortunate possible result of a delivery exception. For example, severe weather conditions could cause transports to be grounded, but the carrier might respond by doubling the deliverers when it clears up to get back on schedule. If delivery exceptions happen early enough in the shipment and the problems can be circumvented, they may not result in an overall delay on shipping at all. In this case, the customer would never know the difference.

What is “Delivery Not Attempted?”

In addition to a delivery exception, a carrier may not even attempt the delivery, which also causes a delay. Getting this notice as a business owner can be frustrating since the cause of the delay is likely out of your control, though the result will be perceived as your fault.

To be prepared for this possibility, understand that “delivery not attempted” notices go out when an external factor prevents a carrier from making the delivery on time. This could be due to a mislabeled package, inclement weather, local events, or a national holiday. If a business is closed, the delivery driver may not even attempt to deliver the package until business hours on another day.

Even a guard dog on a customer’s property can cause an item labeled properly, shipped on time, and ready to be delivered on the dot to be marked as “delivery not attempted.”

The Main Causes of Delivery Exceptions

Delivery exceptions can be caused by many extenuating circumstances, some of which we have already mentioned. As an eCommerce store, you should know the possibilities intimately. The better you understand the causes of delivery exceptions, the more you can do about them when they occur.

1.      Mislabels

Incomplete, damaged, or incorrect labels can delay delivery while your carrier tries to find the recipient. If your business mislabels the package and causes the hang-up, the package may be returned to you at your expense. However, if the carrier damages the package or misdirects it, you will likely receive a refund from them.

Mislabeling can also apply to the documentation that routes packages to the proper destination, particularly across oceans. Managing inventory over extended periods is difficult and delays can occur if barcodes, labels, or documents are not in order.

2.      Local interference

Sometimes, packages reach their destinations on time but cannot be delivered due to local problems. For instance, shippers that do not deliver on holidays may receive the package on time but deliver it late. This is why your store should be aware of holidays in other countries if you ship internationally.

Other types of local interference include adverse weather conditions that delay deliveries. Tornado warnings, hurricanes, hailstorms, earthquakes, or even a solid rain can ground planes or stop carriers from making their rounds. Unfortunately for your store, these events are out of the carrier’s control, making refunds for your delays unlikely.

Even animals can hold up a delivery. We mentioned guard dogs, but a carrier can be waylaid by less glamorous obstacles. A stray animal could block their delivery. A swarm of hornets could be in the area and prevent them from making their stop.

3.      Customs

If your eCommerce store ships internationally, delivery exceptions can result from delays due to package reviews, import procedures, tariff codes, and more. As we mentioned, these are usually referred to as a “shipment exception,” but they are generally the same thing. A third-party fulfillment company skilled in importing merchandise to your shipping destinations can be a huge help.

4.      Security concerns

If your packages contain hazardous materials, the quality of the packaging, labeling, and permits can determine its status as a security concern when it arrives at its delivery location. If the local carriers or port authorities are unsatisfied with the quality of the packing or labeling, you can receive a delivery exception with no refund.

Delivery Exceptions by Company: FedEx vs USPS vs DHL vs UPS

Different mail carriers handle delivery exceptions in their own way. Ecommerce businesses can adjust their response by knowing the differences.


FedEx’s name for a delivery exception is a “status exception.” They contact you with a code explaining the reason for the exception and the estimated delivery date, if applicable. They refresh this information with the most recent cause for the exception.


A USPS delivery exception usually occurs due to federal holidays halting deliveries or mislabeled addresses. You can sign up through their website to receive text or email updates on your exceptions.


A DHL delivery exception will be registered as put “on hold.” They usually resolve their exceptions within a week, depending on what caused the interference.


The UPS network is accustomed to handling delivery exceptions. They send businesses updated tracking information, including revised delivery estimates. Note that UPS may send you an update that requires an action on your part. This can mean that the carrier needs the correct address or updated information to complete the delivery.

How to Respond to Delivery Exceptions

Delivery exceptions can happen without being your fault. But your response to the carrier and customer will determine how much damage they cause. These are the main factors to keep in mind when responding to exceptions:


Communication is paramount. Contact the carrier right away to determine if they require information from you to complete the delivery. Find out the location of the package and try to get an updated ETA.

The customer should be contacted as well, either to get the correct address or to apologize to them for the delay.

Manage refunds

When delivery exceptions result in extra shipping charges or returned merchandise, you may need to issue refunds. If customers no longer want the merchandise, you may have to front the extra costs. Make sure your shipping insurance compensates your business for products damaged by carriers.

Resend merchandise

If customers still want the product even after the delay, you can resend it with a new delivery time. This can require extra shipping costs, but the price of getting the item delivered is likely worth it to resolve the customer service issue.

How a Fulfillment Company Helps Manage Delivery Exceptions

Delivery exceptions are inevitable in an eCommerce business of any scale. A fulfillment company can prevent exceptions, insure them, track them, and respond to them effectively. Though you would prefer to avoid delivery exceptions entirely, how you deal with them from both a logistical shipping angle and a customer service angle determines how much real damage they can cause. Delivery exceptions are sometimes unavoidable, but a third-party fulfillment company can help identify and resolve exceptions when they occur.