As an online shopper, nothing’s more frustrating than when a package doesn’t arrive on time. They’re waiting for your product right now, and most of us are so familiar with fast shipping that we plan to start using a purchase on the day that it arrives.

Delays in shipping, sometimes called “delivery exceptions,” can ruin those plans. If not handled right, they can also ruin your reputation.

Red Stag Fulfillment works with ecommerce and growing businesses to manage your shipping, get goods to customers on-time, and reduce the chance that there’s a carrier issue. Unfortunately, we can’t do anything about hurricanes or earthquakes, or some of these other exceptions. So, let’s dive into what they are, how they impact your business, differences among carriers, and some ways Red Stag Fulfillment helps reduce the likelihood of delays.

What is a delivery exception?

A delivery exception status is when a carrier cannot complete a delivery because the package or freight is temporarily stuck in transit. In many cases, carriers will provide details about the nature of the delay, though this isn’t guaranteed.

Delivery exception delays can occur with the package itself (such as being damaged in transit) or with the destination itself (a business was closed, no one was available for a signature, etc.). There are also cases where delays involve moving the package to the destination, such as inclement weather that can ground planes.

Ecommerce companies need to stay on top of these notices to help you understand the issue with any delivery to your customers. Delays to your freight may mean you need to adjust your warehouse staff — 3PLs like Red Stag Fulfillment can help you avoid that headache by managing inventory for you — or notify customers of potential delays.

Sometimes we get this question as “what is a shipment exception” because people come from the angle of shipping. In general, that’s another way of asking the same question (every shipment has a delivery to it). However, this may indicate that the exception was more of an issue of shipping and transit instead of final delivery. Something labeled as a shipment exception is more likely to focus on issues such as being held up in customs or at a port.

What happens when your package has a delivery exception?

Delivery exceptions aren’t always a big concern for your operations. Sometimes they may cause a minor delay for customers while others cause no delay at all. Unfortunately, there are a few different scenarios where delivery exceptions can cause a headache because they lead to packages heading back to the sender. 

Here are the most likely scenarios for what will happen when your shipment has a delivery exception:

  • No overall delay. The delivery is still made on time, often because the issue wasn’t as severe as expected or happened early on in the shipping process, so the carrier had time to adapt. Accidents that cause packages to change delivery vehicles and severe weather are two of the common reasons here.
  • A late but successful delivery. Some events will push your delivery to the next day or multiple days after, but the carrier ultimately makes a successful delivery. For B2B sales, the most common issue is when there’s no one available to sign for a package or the gates to a location are locked. Another common cause for these and residential deliveries are when delays cause the driver to return with packages in their truck because it’s gotten too late for deliveries.
  • Returned to sender. In some unfortunate cases, an exception error will lead the carrier to return the package. Elvis had it right here because incorrect or unreadable addresses can often cause a package to be returned. Damage in transit, especially to labels and barcodes, can also lead to returns.

Typically, the carrier will update package information when these situations occur. However, you won’t always get proactive notifications if you rely on a traditional order management tool. Working with a 3PL like Red Stag Fulfillment can help ensure that you receive status updates as soon as they happen and prepare to address concerns.

8 common causes of delivery exceptions

  1. Missing, damaged, or unreadable labels: When labels don’t have all the information needed, your shipment can be delayed while the carrier tries to verify the recipient’s address. If you cause the error, such as forgetting or making a mistake on the ZIP code, you could have a delay or returned package without being able to recoup any cost. If the carrier damages the label so that it cannot be delivered, price and delivery guarantees will usually cover a refund for your costs.
  2. Missing documentation: In this case, your shipment doesn’t have all of the required information to get the package to its destination. This happens less often with local and ground freight but can occur for ocean freight that requires a variety of documents to manage inventory and custody. These errors can also include when the label you create does not have the appropriate barcode on the package.
  3. Recipient not available to receive a package: If packages require a signature, someone must be home to receive it. If no one is home, the business is closed, or no one who can sign is available, the carrier will take the package back to its fulfillment location and then reattempt the delivery the following day. When possible, help your customers use carrier-delivery management tools to get the package delivered when they know they’ll be home. 
  4. Inclement weather: A wide range of weather conditions can cause delays in shipping. These include anything that will make a delivery route unpassable or generate significant delays on interstates and highways. Such unpredictable delays include hurricanes and tornadoes, rain and hailstorms, flooding, wildfires, earthquakes, and more. Most are treated as acts of God, meaning you won’t get a refund from a related delay.
  5. Federal and other holidays: Shipping carriers generally don’t operate on federal holidays. So, you can experience a delay if your products are shipped on or around these holidays. For international shipments, you’ll want to be wary of holidays in both countries.
  6. Delays due to customs: Speaking of international shipping, you can see a variety of delays (including delivery exceptions) if there is an issue with a package in customs. These can range from delays at ports and package reviews, lacking paperwork, incorrect tariff codes, and more. There’s a lot of prep work your 3PL partner can help you perform to prepare for this.
  7. Security or regulatory delays: Your shipment may be delayed or even returned if it is refused or improperly shipped. This can include trying to ship hazardous materials illegally or if there’s a security concern at the recipient location. If you don’t meet their standards for labeling or other information, not only might your package be delayed, but you’ll likely not get a refund or credit for the transportation charge.
  8. Animal interference: Your shipment can be delayed if the carrier was in danger of attack by an animal by delivering your package. This could be your pet, a stray dog, a wild animal, a swarm of bees, or any type of animal immediately blocking delivery.

Why was delivery not attempted?

One of the more frustrating parts of a delivery exception is when you get a notice of “delivery not attempted.” In these cases, a delivery exception caused the carrier not even to attempt the delivery and means your package would be delayed by at least one day.

This delivery status occurs for a variety of reasons mentioned above. The more common statuses are due to broader issues around delivery, such as a national holiday or a local event like severe weather. Delays may also cause the driver to arrive after a business is closed, preventing delivery and getting a signature.

Sometimes a carrier may provide a related update to explain the process. These differ among carriers, such as these for FedEx, including a “PMX” designation that can cover when a package is returned to a delivery station because an incorrect address made it temporarily undeliverable.

Carrier differences for delivery exceptions

Some of the most frequent questions we get at Red Stag Fulfillment cover the differences between major U.S. carriers. While we often cover elements such as the different ways to ship via FedEx, UPS, and USPS, there are also essential distinctions and similarities for how they handle your products while in transit.

So, let’s look at how each carrier approaches the use of delivery exceptions.

What is a UPS delivery exception?

When it comes to delivery codes, UPS is very standard. Delivery exceptions are used when there is a delay for a package that is in the UPS network. You’ll get updates within the tracking status to reflect new delivery dates when the company expects to attempt the delivery. What’s most vital for you to know is the “Exception: Action Required” status because this means you or the sender needs to provide additional information such as the shipping address.

UPS says that it will provide you with a detailed explanation of the shipment information whenever a UPS delivery exception occurs.

What is a USPS delivery exception?

For the postal service, the most common exceptions are federal holidays and incorrect addresses. The service says that it will provide updates directly to you, and people can sign up for email or text updates to get a notice as soon as the exception occurs. 

What is a FedEx delivery exception? 

FedEx typically calls delivery exceptions a status exception and will provide you with a code for more information. It’s important to note in the tracking details that a status exception explains the most recent exception in the scan activity section. Not only will the information contain the code, but it should give you an explanation. For example, if you “PMX,” you’ll also be notified that the package is returned because it could not be delivered before the evening, and it’s likely that a reattempt will happen the next delivery day.

How can Red Stag Fulfillment help with delivery exceptions?

Red Stag Fulfillment works with these and other carriers every day to minimize the impact of exceptions and even reduce the likelihood that they’ll occur. We do this with thorough processes for maintaining proper addressing and labels, training our team on how to print and apply them to minimize the chance for damage or scuffing that obscures the label or barcode.

Our efforts cover:

  • Proper addressing and barcoding
  • Verification of order information before shipping
  • Automation of tracking numbers and other details as soon as they’re generated
  • Continually updating shipment status information within our system
  • Reaching out to carriers and to you as soon as problems are detected

We’re also designed to prevent some of the pickup issues that can lead to exceptions. Say one of your team pays for a delivery but doesn’t notify the carrier that you need a pickup that day. This can cause an exception delay that makes all your packages take at least one day longer. A 3PL like Red Stag Fulfillment automates carrier notifications, so we’ve always got someone coming to us when any orders are ready to go.

When there’s a delay or issue — whether it’s a delivery exception or something else — we contact the carrier and review online information to determine the status and reason for delivery exceptions. If it’s an issue we can solve, such as providing the address again, we take that step. You’re also contacted with detailed information as soon as this occurs. 

Our team can help you determine if the best course of action is to wait for delivery, contact your end-customer, or start the process of a replacement. You get to offer stellar customer service and help manage the situation that would usually be beyond your control.

A lot can happen when it comes to deliveries. Red Stag Fulfillment is here to help you understand and learn about these exceptions and issues, then overcome them as you grow your business and build a roster of satisfied customers. Through a mix of top talent, automation, and demanding work, we help your business minimize shipping issues while meeting your customers as fast as possible, guaranteed.

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