What is a Delivery Exception & How to Deal With One as an Ecommerce Business

We live in a society where online shoppers expect to get what they want, when they want it. If an order is incorrect or delivery delayed, people are not exactly pleased.

Maybe you’ve even checked your tracking status before and saw that it was marked as an exception with an impacted delivery date.

While shipping carriers will make every effort possible to ensure that packages meet their delivery dates, there are many instances where the ability to deliver on time is outside of everyone’s control. It happens — that is life, after all.

But being prepared for such events and responding to customers when it does happen can affect whether they shop from you again in the future.

Let’s talk about delivery exceptions and how they affect ecommerce shipping.

What is a delivery exception?

A delivery exception is when a package is temporarily stalled in transit for an unforeseen reason and could affect when it arrives at its destination.

Note: A delivery exception does not necessarily guarantee a late shipment, but there was a roadblock (sometimes literally) that halted progression or required attention somewhere along the journey.

Why are delivery exceptions important for ecommerce businesses?

Even with the most reliable ecommerce order tracking, a lot can happen to a package while it’s in transit. Delivery exceptions may result in delayed (or undelivered) packages and frustrated customers.

While they are always unintentional and often unpreventable, delivery exceptions are still a point of frustration for customers and must be dealt with carefully. As such, ecommerce businesses need to be prepared and have a system for dealing with delivery exceptions.

5 common causes of delivery exceptions

While the overwhelming majority of online shoppers receive their packages on time, it’s still likely that you will encounter delivery exceptions. Here are the typical culprits.

1. Customs delays

International shipping does not come without its challenges. Packages often get held up at customs longer than expected, which can result in missed delivery dates. By ensuring you have the proper tariff codes at the SKU-level can help make for a more seamless shipping process.

2. Federal holidays

Packages may be delivered late if a national holiday occurs — either in the country of origin or the destination country — while a package is in transit. If it is a federal holiday, shipping carriers will not be operating. Because of the day off, it is not uncommon for carriers to be further delayed from needing to play catch up due to a backlog of shipments.

3. Weather conditions

If there is a weather issue or natural disaster (e.g, hurricane, tornado, wildfire, or flood) that renders a delivery route unpassable, the package will likely be delayed. These type of unpredictable delays beyond anyone’s control, known as “acts of God,” are usually regional.

If you use multiple fulfillment centers, you may be able to ship the order from a different location as long as it’s outside the path to avoid. Safety is a top priority but so it customer service. Many carriers will have contingency plans in place and the shipment will arrive as soon as it can be resumed in the affected area.

4. Damaged or missing labels

If the shipping label on a package is damaged and the carrier cannot read the delivery address or scan the shipping barcode, the package may be delayed. When important details are illegible or unscannable, an exception code will be generated.

Similarly, if the label contains an incorrect address (undeliverable, unrecognized to carriers, incomplete, etc.), then it can get stuck in a delivery exception.

5. No one was home to receive the package

Packages may be delayed if they require a signature upon reception and no one was home to accept the package. When a recipient was unavailable, delivery is reattempted the next day in most cases.

Customers can use free delivery management tools (provided by some carriers) that let the recipient decide how, where, and when home deliveries occur to fit their schedule, such as UPS My Choice®.

3 outcomes of a delivery exception

Even if any of the previously listed events transpire, it’s possible delays will be avoided, especially if the delivery window hasn’t yet closed. Here’s what may happen.

1. The package is delivered on time anyway

Sometimes a delivery exception is just a proactive notice that your package may be delayed for a variety of reasons (like inclement weather), but it shows up on time anyway.

2. The package is delivered late

Delivery exception delays are usually relatively short; Oftentimes, delivery exceptions arrive the next day (for instance, if no one was home on the first delivery attempt, the carrier will try again the next day).

3. The package is returned

If the carrier cannot deliver the package (e.g., because of an incorrect address or label damage), then it may have to be returned to the sender.

How should ecommerce businesses respond to delivery exceptions?

Depending on the cause of a delivery exception, you may need to take certain actions. Here’s what to do if you notice an exception while a package is in transit.

1. Contact the carrier

You should be able to look online for the exact location of the package and reason for the delivery exception (as can the customer if you give them the ability to track shipments).

Beyond what is provided on the status tracking, the carrier may share additional context. Find out if the problem can be resolved (for instance, if the package had the incorrect address or label, then provide them with the correct address).

2. Contact the customer

If the customer’s shipping address is unknown or incorrect, you’ll want to reach out to them to verify the accuracy of the mailing address and make any needed corrections.

If you know of any delays and the reason for it (e.g., poor weather conditions that closed down the shipping location or caused the carrier to halt operations), be sure to inform the customer of the delay and the reason for it.

Email those affected, apologize for the potential late shipment, and thank them for their patience.

Any opportunity to turn a suboptimal situation into a positive experience will be remembered for another sale and future delivery.

3. Issue a refund or resend the package

If the package cannot be delivered or if it was damaged in transit, then speak with the customer about either issuing a refund or resending the package.

If the package was damaged in transit, then the cost may be completely covered depending on the shipping insurance for that package.

How ShipBob manages delivery exceptions

ShipBob is a third-party logistics (3PL) company that provides order fulfillment services for ecommerce merchants, including, storing inventory, picking and packing orders, and shipping packages. Through our technology, there are several measures you can take to prevent and handle delivery exceptions with ease.

Preventing delivery exceptions

Sometimes customers make mistakes when entering address details. ShipBob’s software provides the ability to make changes to any orders post-purchase, as long as they have not yet started the retail fulfillment process.

You can edit the recipient address and information, order items and quantities, shipping option, add insurance, and even create new orders manually.

Responding to delivery exceptions

We understand and realize that in the world of shipping, damages and losses happen. ShipBob handles claims processing for our customers at no extra cost. All claims can be filed quickly and easily through ShipBob for packages lost or damaged in transit.

Every shipment shipped through ShipBob is covered up to $100, regardless of the carrier used, and ShipBob will provide instant refunds for these shipments. You can create a reshipment in the system and ship out the item to the recipient again by copying the order, and modify it if needed.

“Our old 3PL didn’t file claims for damaged shipments for us like ShipBob. We were still a small company and had no time to do that ourselves. We became too frustrated with the other 3PL and knew we had to partner with a company that met our needs.”

Lindsay Louise, Fulfillment & Retail Manager at Synchro

ShipBob also has contact management features that make it easy to notify any affected customers that meet certain criteria. Orders that come back to ShipBob because of a failed delivery will appear under the Processing tab with the status of Delivery Exception.


Some delivery exceptions can be prevented but many are unavoidable. Having the right partners in place can help you reduce tension with customers and resolve issues quickly, especially when orders are time-sensitive. If you need help with ecommerce fulfillment, check out ShipBob. Request a pricing quote below.