How to Talk to Your Customers about Shipping Delays: A Simple Guide

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If you order something online, there’s a good chance you know when you’ll receive it. And if there are shipping delays, that’s bound to cause frustration. You could even break ties with the company you purchased from.

You understand the disappointment from a customer’s point of view. Now imagine the impact shipping delays could have on your business.

In this article, we’ll talk about what causes shipping delays and how to talk to your customers about them.

Let’s go!

Why It’s Important to Talk to Your Customers About Shipping Delays

No one likes being left in the lurch, and customers are no exception.

You risk losing customers if you handle a shipping delay poorly. In fact, 69% of customers are less likely to shop with you again if they don’t receive their item within 2 days of the estimated delivery date.

That’s a big percentage! And the reason why transparency regarding shipping dates and tracking is so crucial.

There’s only so much you can control as a business owner. But you can prepare for how to react to different situations. And in this case, there are a lot of opportunities to prepare.

But first, let’s talk logistics. What causes shipping delays and where do the delays begin?

5 Common Causes of Shipping Delays

There’s a long list of answers to the question, “What causes shipping delays?” It could be anything from a global pandemic, a natural disaster, a traffic jam, incorrectly noted addresses, and more. We’ll cover some of those below.

First, let’s acknowledge that where your items come from impacts delays. National shipping delays typically impact your business differently than international ones.

It’s likely your local shipments will be a bit less delayed than shipments from overseas.

1. Weather and natural disasters

It’s possible for your products to fall behind schedule in cases of extreme weather like blizzards, hurricanes, or other natural disasters.

Of course, there isn’t much you can do to prepare for a change in the weather. But stay tuned for how to communicate regarding its impact further on.

2. Software mishaps and human error

Sometimes the software and tech that updates us on a product’s whereabouts can be faulty. Or a worker could forget to update when they shipped an item or when it reached a specific checkpoint. Or maybe the customer’s address was entered incorrectly into the system accidentally.

Whether it’s technology or human error, mistakes do happen, and they can impact shipping speed.

3. Regulatory checks

If your shipments are inbound from overseas, they’ll likely have to pass through Customs before continuing on to your customer’s address. In this case, there could be delays.

If the Customs office is already overwhelmed with inventory to review, it could delay your company’s products from passing through swiftly.

4. High volume in shipments

At times, carriers can become overwhelmed by the amount of products to process and ship. According to SCORE, there were 52 cargo ships waiting to unload at a Los Angeles port in October 2021.

During the holiday season, this problem tends to be more prevalent. It often takes carriers longer than expected to process and deliver shipments.

5. Supply chain issues

In the midst and wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain issues are widespread. To put it simply, for a product to get from your online store to your customer’s door, there are many steps.

As a result of the pandemic, various industries are impacted by a smaller workforce, temporarily shut down sites (both manufacturers and ports), and limited resources to get products from point A to B.

Unfortunately, the supply chain blockages are just one of many ways business owners have been impacted by COVID-19. So what are your options?

Communicating About Shipping Delays to Your Customers

As we touched upon earlier, transparency can make a huge difference when building relationships with your customers. What we didn’t mention: You could lose 17% of customers after one late shipment.

That’s why it’s important to have a communication plan set up around shipping delays. It’s crucial to let your customers know where their products are and when they are expected to arrive. And if you can help, include what you may be able to do about it.

Of course, just as every business is unique, so are their customers. That means that they’ll likely be open to different types of communication as well.

Further along, we’ll discuss how to communicate with your customers if you have a contracting business versus an online store.

Handling Shipping Delays for Contractors

Contractors are hit in unique ways by supply chain issues. Instead of customers ordering something and experiencing a delay, the delay happens to the contractor waiting for materials to arrive.

Many of the materials needed to complete certain contracting jobs are currently affected by a supply chain blockage. This impacts the price of materials, like lumber and steel, which of course can trickle down to your customers.

Here are some materials with increased prices due to supply chain delays:

  • Aluminum — up by 33%
  • Steel — up by 88%
  • Copper — up by 61%
  • Wood — up by 101%

If you’re actively talking to customers about their projects, then this topic may come up. If you aren’t in touch with all your customers about the supply chain impact, it may be wise to contact them.

Here are some ways you can approach the communication:

1. Put messaging on your website and/or storefront.

If your business has a website, then consider putting messaging on your homepage. Alternatively, you could choose to put the messaging on another page, like one about your services and the type of work you offer.

It’s up to you how detailed you want to get in your explanation. What’s important to communicate is that the delays are outside your control.

Let your customers know that as a result of the supply chain delays, the materials needed to complete their project may take longer to arrive — not to mention they will cost more.

2. Build this information into your project estimates.

You can note on the estimations that your prices reflect the increase in material prices. That way your customers have insight into the potentially higher cost of a project.

In fact, even without a supply chain issue impacting materials, it can sometimes be helpful to include these details in [project estimates] (/simply-u/articles/2020/10/free-project-estimate-template/). Transparency is often appreciated by a customer and helps to increase their trust in your business.

3. Spread the word the old-fashioned way.

Many contractors work within tight-knit communities. If you’re active in your community and shipping delays come up in conversation, spread the word. You can discuss delays and any material price increases with customers, vendors, or other small business owners in your area.

Handling Shipping Delays for Ecommerce

Ecommerce business owners face different challenges with delays from contractors. You aren’t typically able to communicate with your customers face-to-face about roadblocks.

So how can you let them know how they may be impacted and what you’re doing to help them along the way?

1. Use email marketing.

Here are 3 types of emails that you can set up if your product delivery is slowed by shipping delays:

The preshop email

If you know your product shipments may be delayed, notify your customers ahead of time. This relates back to the transparency that we talked about at the beginning of our article.

You could send a general email to your customers about the upcoming shipping delays. You could use the email as an opportunity to nudge your customers to shop earlier to avoid receiving their items late.

Be sure to provide an email address or phone number where they can reach you with any follow-up questions.

The post-shop email

Once a customer has placed an order, send them an email specifying that you’re experiencing delays. This is a great opportunity to show your customers that you empathize with their situation and are doing everything you can to alleviate the situation.

Take a look at Chewy’s email below for a great example on how to communicate a delay to your customers:

chewy email example

Credit: Chewy via Klaviyo

Later, we’ll discuss website alerts. This is a good opportunity to remind them of the delays, even if it’s noted on your website. Remember that your customer is focused on buying their item, so it’s understandable they may forget that detail.

The repeat customer email

In this case, the email wouldn’t be in anticipation or response to a purchase. This email is for your tried-and-true customers — patrons who have shopped before and who you hope will shop again.

Send them an email to let them know the situation with product fulfillment and that if they do place an order, it may be delayed. This is also a great way to motivate them to shop your online business if they’ve only been thinking about it. Now there’s a sense of urgency!

2. Post about delays on your website.

Be upfront about delays on your website. Your virtual storefront can help you get the word out to customers. Let them know they can expect delays on their purchases.

Poppy's image

Credit: Poppys via Klaviyo

You can see a great example in the image above. By putting this on their homepage, customers are alerted. They know what to expect at the beginning of shopping.

Sure, they still may be disappointed later on if they don’t receive their item on the date expected. But you can have peace of mind knowing you tried to alert them of delays.

Note: See how the alert is highlighted in red? That helps drive the user’s eyeline to that language, so they’re more likely to pay attention and read the statement.

How Insurance Can Help Protect Your Business

Shipping delays can be a stressful situation. That’s because you don’t want to lose potential customers or impact relationships you have with your current customers, either.

But let’s be real — you can’t control what’s happening either overseas or statewide. After all, thousands of small businesses like yours are also facing unprecedented shipping delays.

Let’s consider what you can control: how you financially protect your business. You may think that business insurance is unnecessary. But think again!

There are liability coverages that protect contractors and ecommerce business owners. Below, we’ll review how both types of business owners can protect themselves.

General liability insurance

General liability insurance, also known as commercial liability insurance, is a type of coverage that can protect your business in the event of certain occurrences.

We’ll talk about how it applies to online businesses and contractors.

General liability insurance for contractors

General liability insurance typically protects your business from financial claims resulting from third-party property damage, third-party accidents, bodily injury, and more.

Think of it like this — say you’re a carpenter and a customer comes to your workshop to pick up something they ordered several weeks ago. As a result of the delays in receiving the necessary materials, you only just finished completing their item.

Walking into your store, the customer misses the “wet floor” sign, slips, and breaks their wrist. They sue you for the cost of their medical bills.

Without general liability coverage, you could face paying the claim and legal costs out-of-pocket. And that could be a hefty sum. The average customer injury claim is $30,000. Imagine if you owed a sum like that, on top of your other business costs.

With general liability coverage, though, you could have peace of mind, knowing that your policy could cover your claim’s cost and legal bills, up to your policy limit.

Fortunately, searching for liability coverage is fast and easy. In less than 10 minutes, you can see your policy options using our free quote comparison tool here.

General liability insurance for ecommerce business owners

Online business owners also face financial risks, but they’re different from those a contractor faces.

When it comes to your online business, general liability insurance can help protect against claims involving product liability and advertising injury.

Product liability is a very helpful type of coverage for online business owners to have. When you have ecommerce business insurance with general liability coverage, your business can be protected in instances where your product causes damage.

If someone gets hurt or property is damaged as a result of your product, your business can be financially protected.

For example, a woman orders an item from your shop. Excited to open the package, she does so quickly. She cuts her hand badly on your product when pulling it out of the box and needs stitches. She sues your business for the cost of her medical bills.

If your business had a general liability policy protecting it, you could be covered for the cost of the claim and legal fees, up to your policy’s limit. Without that protection, though, you could face paying those costs out-of-pocket.

The average product liability claim costs $35,000. Imagine being responsible for such a large claim. That’s an amount that could easily put financial stress on most small businesses.

Even if you could prove your business wasn’t at fault, you would still likely need to pay the lawyer who helped defend your case. You could be saddled with a hefty legal bill.

Another common claim for ecommerce businesses is advertising injury. Advertising injury can include claims like slander, libel, copyright infringement, and more.

For example, what if one day on social media you posted that a competing online store had faulty products? In that case, your competitor could sue you and claim your libelous post cost them to lose potential business.

Without ecommerce business insurance with general liability coverage, you could face paying the claim and legal costs out-of-pocket.

The great part about shopping for ecommerce business insurance is that it doesn’t take long — less than 10 minutes. You can find the best coverage for your business by using our free quote comparison tool here.

Get Insured in Under 10 Minutes

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Control What You Can with Communication

As business owners, we work hard to ensure that things go according to plan. But there’s only so much in our control. That’s why we take steps like getting business insurance and setting up communication plans. Because you never know what could happen down the road.

For more information to help prepare you for the unknown, visit Simply U, our blog for business owners.

Allison Grinberg-Funes

I’ve told stories since I learned to talk and written since I could hold a pen. As a small business owner myself – I’m a freelance writer and yoga teacher – I love contributing to the entrepreneurship community in different ways (including writing for Simply Business!). When I’m not drafting articles for SB, I can be found on my yoga mat, perusing an indie bookstore, and writing (with my cat nearby of course).

Allison writes on a number of topics such as small business leadership, business structures, and employee training.