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3 Ways COVID-19 Is Sinking Your Shipping Logistics before the Holidays (and How to Stay Afloat)

Oct 20, 2020

You’d be hard-pressed to find an aspect of daily business operations that hasn’t been in some way shaped by the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to brick-and-mortar locations either closing their doors or drastically capping the number of people allowed in their stores, ecommerce retailers are also navigating new challenges and hurdles brought on by a changing social landscape, especially as they relate to shipping and logistics.

Lengthy and unpredictable delays, hangups throughout inventory pipelines, shortages of people to carry a package from one stop to the next. These are all factors chipping away at the speedy fulfillment and shipment of people’s purchases that you had once perfected—especially with the holiday shipping surge on the horizon. Every logistical cog that had been running smoothly and delighting your customers is now struggling to keep in any sort of synchronized motion. 

In short? The whole shipping process you’d built is now kaput‚ and that could toss a big heckin’ wrench into the customer experience this holiday season

So, as you evolve your business strategy to maintain positive customer relationships and boost revenue in the throes of a global pandemic, it’s important to be mindful of the following major shifts in post-outbreak shipping logistics.

1. Major Carriers Are Tacking on Surcharges 

COVID-19 has affected nearly every aspect of the supply chain, and major shipping carriers are not immune. For example, to comply with social distancing guidelines, many shipping and delivery services are foregoing a signature requirement on most packages. They’re also prioritizing the shipping of essential items, which may cause shipping delays. And the changes don’t stop there:

  • FedExStarting already this October and running into the new year, FedEx is tacking on a variety of surcharges that are applied depending on package type, size, and volume threshold. These surcharges run anywhere from $1 for SmartPost packages, $4.90 for US ground services, to $52.50 for oversize packages measuring longer than 96 inches. Additionally, work and travel restrictions have caused FedEx to place a temporary suspension on its money-back guarantee.
  • UPS: Like FedEx, UPS has also tacked on additional surcharges for certain deliveries and has likewise suspended its service guarantee, meaning, until further notice, the company will no longer guarantee the date and time of their deliveries. As far as the price tag for shipping? International surcharges vary depending on country and weight, while standard UPS Ground Residential shipments will see a relatively modest surcharge of $1 to $3 depending on volume.
  • US Postal Service: Like other carriers, the USPS is reducing in-person contact with its delivery people, while also suspending deliveries in regions shut down by the coronavirus. As far as surcharges go, though, shipping through the USPS could be the answer to cutting costs. Surcharges range from just 24 cents all the way up to $1.50. 

What this means for ecommerce stores: Shipping costs, especially on items being shipped internationally or are large in size, are goin’ up. Many of these surcharges are taking effect October 2020 and running through the holidays, which means now is the time to explore options for offsetting these shipping surcharges where you can. This could look like simply increasing shipping costs on your site or working costs into the prices of your goods.

2. Delivery Times Are up in the Air

As noted above, major carriers are no longer guaranteeing the date and time of delivery of packages marked non-essential. Stay-at-home orders mean fewer people in the warehouse and fewer drivers on the road. Per the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, fulfillment services are also encouraged to stagger working hours for their employees, meaning they’re often working at a diminished capacity, which translates to less output and more delays in shipping.

For example, non-essential Amazon Prime deliveries can expect a delay as short as five days and as long as 30 days. And while other carriers have been unable to provide a specified range for their delays, they are at least encouraging customers to sign up for text or email alerts updating them on the status of their package.

But while malnourished workforces and coronavirus precautions are the culprits of ambiguous delivery dates, that doesn’t mean retailers are off the hook. When deliveries don’t go as expected, 94% of customers blame the retailer. And that means that if a delivery is delayed, especially if it’s someone’s kid’s dream present that doesn’t make it under the tree in time, online stores could face bad reviews and customer churn. 

What this means for ecommerce stores: Barring personally delivering gifts this season, online shops can stave delivery anxiety and uncertainty by being as transparent as possible every stp of the post-purchase experience. Keeping them in the loop with real-time notifications or premium package tracking may not ship their desired items any faster, but it will preserve their confidence in you when you deliver, leading to a better relationship and more repeat purchases.

Add a big ol’ announcement to the top of your home page and product pages that remind shoppers to start their holiday buying early. With the unpredictability of the coronavirus pandemic and its ever-moving hotspots across the US and globe, it’s a matter of better safe than sorry if people have a no-budge deadline to get gifts. 

Or give your customers the power to spot their packages at any time post-purchase. Add Route Visual Tracking to your checkout process and make it possible for people to watch their purchases move from warehouse to doorstep in real time on a real map. Not only does Visual Tracking provide the delivery transparency your customers need for the holidays, but it also cuts down on how many people come asking “Where’s my order?!”, saving your team time and money.

3. Package Thieves Are Having a Heyday

More packages are being sent. More high-demand purchases are just being dumped on doorsteps, nimbly dimbly. Fewer signatures are being attained in order to keep a safe distance. 

Ahh, yes. It’s the perfect holiday storm for your neighborhood porch pirate.

Even during non-pandemic holiday seasons, 81% of homeowners have been victims of package theft during the holidays. One of the consequences of fewer people physically signing for packages means an increase in unattended packages left on doorsteps and loading bays. And as much as we hate to see it, that means an increased risk of package theft. Cities across the country are seeing an uptick in porch piracy, with some areas seeing package thefts increase by double since March 2020.

But the sticker price of the stolen package (an average of $109) pales in comparison to the cost of potential business loss. Because while your business is not at fault when a package is stolen, your customers will still rely on you to make things right. 

Short of ditching their Zoom meeting and becoming a vigilante chasing down thieves day and night, your store is going to be where people turn to for help in retrieving their stolen goods. And if you can’t deliver with seamless support, refunding or replacing items, or at least offering a discount for a replacement, it’s your brand’s reputation on the line (not the thief’s). 

What this means for ecommerce stores: Customers need to know that their packages are safe even when they can’t physically meet the delivery driver at the door. Consequently, package tracking and delivery protection have never been more vital. Customers need to know when their packages arrive and have safeguards in place in the event of a theft.

You could start mandating signatures for every shipment, no matter what. Good & Well Supply Co. is doing just that as one strategy to ensure that their customers get the goods they order and that their store will have predictable inventory and minimal claims.

Make the Most of Shipping Uncertainty 

If we haven’t beaten this horse dead, these are uncertain times. Businesses across the spectrum, online and brick-and-mortar alike, are bearing the burden of a global pandemic in different ways. 

Anticipating delays in transit and increases in shipping costs can help keep your company’s head above water. However, big opportunities await stores that see the silver lining of these shipping woes ahead of the holidays. 

Now is the time for agility and flexibility when it comes to your shipping strategies. While you may have had a perfect system in place last holiday season, now is the time for adaptation. Tracking and protecting customer purchases can help maintain high customer confidence moving forward, spread a good reputation far and wide, and ultimately stand out and compete with a primo post-purchase customer experience. 

One solution that empowers merchants to solve their customers order tracking and delivery issues is Route. Route is free to merchants and provides a premium post-purchase experience with Visual Tracking, premium package protection, and effortless claims.

The pandemic has forced everyone to make difficult decisions, but swapping outdated shipping, tracking, and package protection measures with ones that bolster customer loyalty and drive even more repeat purchases could be exactly what your store needed. Maybe these are the changes to cause your shop to scale even bigger than it would have if the coronavirus had never forced change. 

While that may be us trying to look on the bright side, we don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Shopping online might look a li’l different this year, but with the details in your hands and Route on your side, you can make it better than those easy, boring holiday seasons of yore. 😉

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