Delivery Fail: Top Delivery Problems Retailers Face and How to Overcome Them

Packages Sitting in a Warehouse with Delayed Delivery Phone Notification

It’s gonna happen. No matter how highly rated your couriers are, some deliveries will fail. Failed deliveries are one of the biggest retail delivery problems these days, and with the sheer delivery volume that we now call The Holiday Season, combined with pandemic-level supply chain shortages, shippers are bound to experience delivery exceptions.

But like anything, it’s how you handle them that matters. 

As a retailer, you know that delivery is a critical component of your business, so how can you overcome your retail delivery problems? If you haven’t yet thought about how to overcome your retail delivery struggles this holiday season, you’re officially behind the snowball. To make it easier for you, let’s quickly name the top retail delivery problems, then look at solutions.

1. High Cost or Hidden Fees 

Retailers are at the mercy of courier and shipping costs, especially for that last mile. Expensive retail delivery struggles are real, and top of mind for companies like yours. 

While courier and shipping costs are often not in your control, you can control your operational costs, by improving efficiencies and optimizing your last mile through automation.

2. Time and Delivery Expectations Not Being Met 

If your customers are experiencing delayed deliveries and inaccurate ETAs, it can be crushing to your bottom line. A customer might only tolerate one late delivery — if that — before moving on. 

Real-time tracking is a last mile delivery fulfillment must-have, and not providing that to your customer is a major delivery fail.

3. Rigid or Inflexible Delivery Schedules or Policies 

Your customers want choice in delivery. Not being able to schedule delivery or enforcing restrictive policies not only make for an inflexible supply chain, but also damages your chances for repeat business. Your workflow must have a way to communicate accurate delivery data and be able to make adjustments on the fly. 

Looking at the bigger picture, you need to be able to balance demand during peak seasons while juggling customer demands. If you rely too heavily on your technology, you miss out on the human touch that often keeps customers coming back.

Now that we know the common retail delivery struggles, let’s offer up some retail delivery solutions.

During our recent Parcel Pinch webinar, an attendee asked how to win back customers:

When a shipper fails on a delivery, especially during the holidays, what are the most effective ways that shipper can make it up to the customer?

Here’s what our panel of supply chain experts had to say:

1. Communicate Everything

The way you respond has the ability to save both the day, and your customer’s loyalty.

First, own up to the delay. Let your customer know that due to unforeseen activities, the package is delayed. However, don’t just send an update and move on. Make it personal.

Many retail delivery solutions provide personalization throughout the last mile delivery journey. Providing end-to-end visibility tools, such as live tracking through SMS and/or email updates, will keep the customer in the know — and perhaps still in your good graces.

I would say communicate, communicate, communicate. Talk about it, own up to it, and step up to solve it.


Neil Ackerman, Global Supply Chain Executive, Johnson & Johnson

Every step along the way, your customers will want to know what’s being done to correct the issue. That’s where enhancements like live tracking come in.

When a delay occurs, for example, live tracking links can at least help put a customer at ease with accurate delivery times. You’ll want to consider the entire customer experience. A simple update to confirm delivery is no longer enough.

In fact, it’s no longer just a nice feature to notify the customer the second a package leaves the warehousing facility and the minute it hits the doorstep. It’s essential.

Shipping Tracking

Even when a package is on time, customers want detailed visibility.

Hopefully, you’re also thinking through what happens next after you’ve communicated the delivery status to the customer. Maybe that means incurring the incremental cost to get the item there faster — something that shows the customer you care.

2. Evaluate Your Capabilities

For any retail delivery service, a sound customer service response protocol must include evaluating your capabilities. Overpromising leads to disappointment. You need to be honest with yourself, as well as your customers.

Supply chain shortages have affected everyone, so finding the source of any delays is a good start.

This year, you’ll be looking at which products you have inventory on and which you can continuously supply to your clients during Q4. These may not be your top-moving SKUs; you may have to focus on the ones you can deliver on.


Chris Cashin, CEO & Co-Founder, IndyShip

Shippers should contact their vendors and suppliers to understand any retail delivery problems that could occur during the holiday rush. As Johnson & Johnson’s Neil Ackerman says, you should be all over your in-stock plan.

Shippers should ask their vendors and suppliers questions like:

  • Where are the items in the network?
  • Are they distributed correctly?
  • Do I have enough stock?
  • How can I get more?
  • What is my messaging when I run out?

Another method shippers should consider is shifting their SKU focus. Q4 has traditionally been a time for shippers to focus on their most popular SKUs — however, amid the shortages, the focus has shifted.

Many shippers have started focusing on items they do have in stock. While the current state of the supply chain may not be ideal, this gives shippers the opportunity to position the slower-moving items they know they can continuously deliver on.

Know that customers will get retail delivery service no matter what product availability looks like, no matter your carrier availability. The reality is you can’t service everyone. So make sure you’re disappointing the right customers when it comes down to it.


Bill Hancock, Chief Supply Chain Officer, US Foods

After evaluating your capabilities, it’s time to set the right delivery expectations.

3. Set Realistic Expectations

It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver. Setting proper expectations can avoid major disappointment from a customer.

For instance, if you know shipping is going to take an extra five days, advertise that prior to checkout. Let the end-consumer know their package will take longer than normal. By communicating that important information, it puts the ball in the end-consumer’s court. Then they can make an informed decision based on that delivery knowledge.

Retailers are even letting customers know to order before this date or expect a 2-3 day delay — messaging that ensures their customers are aware of any delays.

Most customers want the same three things: a wide selection, an easy process and the lowest price. Part of that easy process is making it up to them when things don’t go as planned.


Neil Ackerman, Global Supply Chain Executive, Johnson & Johnson


4. Don’t Allow History to Repeat Itself

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” You know the saying.

We have a saying of our own: “A little delay goes a long way.” A bad delivery experience will be burned into a consumer’s brain, so don’t make your customer regret their decision when they give you a second chance.

When a customer gives you a chance for redemption, think of it as your opportunity to ensure that what happened once does not happen again.

Once you have evaluated your capabilities, you will hopefully be able to determine your gaps. A great start is determining a contingency plan. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Find a backup to your backup plan. If you had a really rough Q4, consider that the same things will likely play out this year. Then be glad if it doesn’t get as bad as that.


Bill Hancock, Chief Supply Chain Officer, US Foods

Many companies have begun sourcing retail logistics solutions as backup plans to their daily operations, both on the vendor side and the courier side. When that option fails, the hope is that their operations will still be covered.

Such examples of this include building multiple partnerships or sourcing a delivery network for elastic capacity to help scale to demand when delivery supply fails.

5. Go Above and Beyond

At the end of the day, we are all human. We are understanding, but we also want to be understood.

Delivery delays are frustrating — especially when it comes to the holidays. When presents don’t make it in time for Christmas, it’s such a major disappointment, even Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick would mutter, “Bah Humbug.”

Show your customer you care. Perhaps one of these solutions will spark some ideas for going above and beyond:

  • Reach out to dissatisfied customers: Don’t just send a 15% coupon and call it a day (and some shippers don’t even do that!). The customer wants to be heard. Personalize the message and really take the time to acknowledge their feedback.
  • Give the customer a sense of control: If a shipper has the ability to offer optionality, it will speak volumes to the end-consumer. Whether it’s providing a refund or providing a bigger discount on the next purchase or including a VIP giveaway, offering consumers a choice will go a long way.

Close the loop. In today’s CRMs, shippers can create data-driven retail delivery solutions when customers experience certain levels of dissatisfaction. It might be a gift card, other discounts or free shipping for a while to regain trust.


Bill Catania, CEO & Founder, OneRail

Just because the supply chain is volatile these days doesn’t mean your customers’ experience has to be. As a shipper, you can’t give up when things get rocky.

OneRail offers retail logistics solutions specifically for retailers like you — solutions that keep costs down while delivering efficiency and price predictability to your customers. To see last mile delivery solutions for retailers through the lens of your current workflow, request a demo today.

And if you’re a specialty retailer going after a niche market, head over to our specialty retail solutions page to see a case study on natural pet food retailer PetPeople, and how OneRail has delivered dependability, capacity and cost savings to their consumers.

At all times throughout the corrective measure process, refer back to problem-solving strategy #1 on this post. Communicate everything, and you can never go wrong.

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