How to Communicate Shipping Delays and Transactional Updates to Your Customers | Coronavirus Series
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on April 8, 2020. It’s been updated to reflect the most current data and insights.
Among the many anxieties ecommerce business owners and marketers are facing now, perhaps one of the most pressing concerns is how you can maintain an exceptional customer experience when your supply chains are impacted, demand is higher than ever, and timelines with third-party logistics (3PLs) companies are uncertain.
Although it may be a confusing time for consumers and businesses alike, that doesn’t mean that shoppers should be confused about when (or if) they’re going to receive the items they ordered from your business.
To appease customers’ questions, there are certain strategies that you can implement before, during, and after they place their order. These will ensure that you’re providing complete transparency and that your customers are well-informed of when they can expect their shipment to arrive.
Find out exactly how to communicate shipping delays and transactional updates with your customers. Additionally, discover how you should prepare for Cyber Weekend and the holiday season with insights from the team at Southern Tide.
Regardless of the operational, logistical, and supply chain challenges your business is currently dealing with, you can still make this experience exceptional.
1 | Address known issues on your website
If you know there are going to be shipping delays, the first thing you can do is update your website to reflect this information. Many brands are using a bar at the top of their website or other callouts on their homepage to communicate any shipping delays, backups, or irregularities.
For example, Clif Bar has a banner that informs shoppers that they’re experiencing higher than average order volume and they may experience delayed deliveries as a result. In this message, Clif Bar includes a link that shoppers can go to and read more information about ordering, as well as customer support contacts in case they need to get in touch.
Alternatively or additionally, some online stores are choosing to display notifications farther along in the buyer’s journey. Sephora informs shoppers who are taking a last look at their cart that delivery times may be longer than normal. By doing so, they’re making shoppers aware of any delays they may experience right before they place their orders.
Even if you don’t have any expected shipping delays at this time, it doesn’t hurt to convey to your customers that they can expect to receive their orders on time, as well. Why not promote the fact that you can offer timely deliveries where competitors may not be able to do the same?
Milk Bar makes it immediately evident to browsers that they can still expect shipments of their favorite treats on time so shoppers with a sweet tooth can place their orders with confidence.
By addressing any shipping concerns upfront, you let your customers know what to expect when they order from you and ensure they aren’t in for any surprises.
2 | Update your transactional emails
A general rule of thumb for this time? No email automation should go out without a second look—including transactional emails.
If you have campaigns or automations scheduled and you haven’t updated them since the beginning of the year, now’s the time to review them and confirm that these messages include all the information you wish to convey to your customers right now.
The two main emails you make sure you update are your order confirmations, which are usually triggered as soon as a customer makes a purchase to let them know they’ve successfully placed their order, and your shipping confirmations, which alert customers when their order has shipped (this is usually triggered a few hours or days after they make their purchase).
Typically, there are certain details you’ll want to include in your shipping and order confirmations, such as a receipt, estimated time of arrival, and shipping address, for example. And given the current circumstances, you may want to communicate additional details.
You might want to update these emails to include information about how your team handles the items and your shipping partner’s process for contact-less delivery. For example, whereas many carriers would previously require a signature, it may be worth noting in transactional communications that this will no longer be required.
Additionally, you may want to consider adding another transactional email to your normal communications if you don’t have it: the order delivered email.
An order delivered email notifies your customer when their order has actually reached their doorstep or mailbox. Your customers will appreciate receiving a notification when their package arrives, especially if they’ve been patiently awaiting them while your supply chain or shipping times have been unpredictable or delayed.
Clothing brand Smash + Tess has done an excellent job with their emails by including an order confirmation, shipping confirmation, an out-for-delivery notification, and an order delivered communication as part of their suite of transactional emails. Additionally, all these messages feature all the typical information you should include in a transactional email, such as return and exchange information and an easy way to contact support.
You can never over-communicate with your customers when it comes to their purchases, especially now. Providing transparency along every step of the way ensures your customers will never question the status of their orders.
3 | Communicate any delays customers may experience
If your customers are likely to experience delays, add one or two more messages to your suite of transactional emails to acknowledge the backup and let customers know their order is still on the way.
Having this extra communication will be meaningful to customers who are dealing with long wait times. It will assure them that their shipment is in progress, even if it’s scheduled to arrive with a delay.
“People usually understand that carriers make mistakes, so when brands acknowledge that with transparency, consumers are less likely to get upset and reach out to their brand—or worse, tell their family and friends how terrible customer support was,” said Yaw Aning, co-founder and CEO of Malomo, a shipment tracking platform for ecommerce businesses.
“Brands can put a message in their shipping confirmation email acknowledging the delays and issues that could arise with the package, while using their unique tone and voice,” he said.
One brand that’s been doing this well is Chewy. Even though they’re experiencing high demand and corresponding shipping delays, they’ve been communicating with their customers about the status of their orders with normal transactional emails, plus they used additional emails to apologize for any delays and to let the customer know that their order is still on its way.
Business operations are changing from day to day, and as hard as you try to plan ahead, sometimes it’s just not possible to avoid complications with your 3PLs. But your customers will likely be understanding so long as you’re transparent with them about the issues you’re seeing and you communicate changes as they occur.
4 | Add or adjust post-purchase automations
While this is an uncertain time for brands, it’s also an opportunity for you to optimize your ecommerce shopping experience and win over customers who are shopping more online in order to turn them into lifelong shoppers.
Think about the touchpoints in your customer’s journey where you could make small tweaks to improve every encounter with your brand. You can use post-purchase automations to strengthen brand affinity with first-time buyers to make up for any unusual delays or distractions.
If you’re in the financial position to give back to your community in any way, whether that’s by donating your products to front-line workers or using your manufacturers to create masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE), you highlight some of these recent efforts. New shoppers may not know what your brand is up to behind the scenes, but communicating which causes their money’s helping to support gives them a good reason to come back for more.
Alternatively, you might want to use a post-purchase email as an opportunity to introduce new customers to your brand. When shoppers are making quick decisions and shopping online from different brands, your post-purchase email gives you an opportunity to effectively communicate with your new customers who haven’t experienced your normal welcome series.
Thrive Causemetics nailed this post-purchase email, which helps shoppers see how a purchase from their store helps women in need.
Shoppers may lose track of all the new brands they’re buying from now that they’re shopping online for the majority of their purchases, but no matter how brief your interaction is with your customer, it’s an opportunity to put forth an exceptional experience and show customers why they should come back.
What to avoid
While the post-purchase email is a great way to build your brand voice, you also want to avoid sending marketing emails that pertain to your customer’s order if the item hasn’t arrived yet.
Imagine receiving an email asking you to rate your purchase or provide feedback when you haven’t even received the product you purchased—this isn’t the experience you want to create for your customers.
Especially if you’re relaying minimal communication to inform your customers of the status of their shipment during the process, these kinds of emails will come across aggressive and uninformed—not to mention, it’ll be extremely frustrating to anyone who is still waiting on their purchase to arrive.
For example, in this scenario, you should trigger the post-purchase email a few days after the customer’s order has arrived or after an order delivered email is sent out to avoid inappropriate timing with your follow-up messages.
Additionally, if you send out an order confirmation or shipping confirmation email and then your customer receives nothing and hears nothing from your brand after weeks, it creates a frustrating experience for people who want to know an accurate status of their shipment.
If your shipping times are unpredictable, consider setting up an automation to that sends to customers if an order confirmation has sent out but the customer doesn’t receive a shipping confirmation in a week, or if a shipping confirmation is sent but they don’t receive their purchase in a week, letting them know their package is on its way.
One last piece of advice: if you’re aware of shipping delays, be as transparent as possible throughout the customer journey and make sure it’s evident to shoppers before they order. Receiving an email that says “Orders are taking longer than usual” a week after the order is placed with no other warning doesn’t create a good experience for customers who are patiently awaiting their items.
How to communicate shipping around Cyber Weekend and the holidays
This year, brands are going to have to plan ahead of time to avoid shipping delays and ensure their customers receive the gifts they order in time for the holidays. And a lot of it comes down to setting customer expectations.
Bess Welch, senior ecommerce manager at Southern Tide, a southern apparel brand, shared a few ways their team plans to get ahead of shipping issues that may arise this holiday season by making the process as transparent as possible to customers.
“We typically add a holiday shipping calendar to our shipping information page. This shows customers how long they can wait to receive their package. We’ll definitely be padding in time due to the delays customers are already experiencing,” said Bess.
They also plan to hold some of their sales earlier, promote gift cards earlier, and won’t be running expedited shipping promotions close to Christmas, as they usually do. “The risk is too high and we don’t want to cause any frustrations. Making a promise we can’t keep is not an experience we want for our customers,” she said.
From a logistical standpoint, Bess notes that they’re working with their warehouse and fulfillment teams to prepare them for an increase in orders so they get out in a timely manner. They’re also talking to their shipping partners to try to make sure they have adequate support and time allotted to their account.
“You really have to think through every department that touches the customer’s order and try to prepare everyone as much as possible for what could happen this season. Don’t assume anything,” said Bess.
Additionally, Bess emphasized that brands will have to be more forgiving this year when it comes to accommodating returns and exchanges, especially if customers’ orders are delayed. She said that they plan to extend Southern Tide’s return policy to alleviate any frustrations for packages that arrive too late and can’t be gifted.
When it comes to advice for other brands for the holiday season, Bess’s is pretty simple: over-communicate with your customers at every touchpoint.
“Communicate everywhere possible because you never know where someone is actually going to read your message. Don’t assume they’ll go to your shipping page. If possible, include a note at the top of the site and in order confirmation and shipping emails. Arm your customer service team with all the details and possible solutions for the customer,” she said.
Communicate promptly amid delays
It’s an unprecedented time for business owners, marketers, and consumers alike, but there are certain communications you can use to ease your customers’ anxieties and display empathy, even in moments as small as your checkout process or transactional email automations.
Optimizing your buyer’s journey and transactional communications to reflect the current climate is not only essential for your customers’ peace of mind, but also for you. Once you’ve optimized your transactional communications, you can focus on more ways to improve your customers’ experience for the time being and for the future.
Looking for more information to help you adjust your marketing strategies as you navigate the coronavirus crisis? These resources may be helpful.