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As supply chain issues continue to ripple across industries, retailers are facing unfortunate challenges when it comes to getting goods to customers on time. From order backlogs to delivery driver shortages to supplier delays, there are any number of reasons retailers may be late delivering purchases.
It’s ideal to avoid delays by staying in touch with suppliers and shipping carriers (and expediting orders when necessary), but sometimes it’s out of your hands. When delays happen, you need to focus on what you can control: Staying in customers’ good graces by communicating effectively about the problem.
“People are much easier to deal with when they’re informed about what is happening,” Ron Busby, president and CEO of U.S. Black Chambers, Inc., told Square and Forbes in a roundtable discussion on managing supply chain delays.
“Most customers, if they have decided to buy your product and/or service, have a commitment there,” Busby says. “The key thing is not to lose them because of the time delay.”
Unprecedented supply chain challenges
Retailers are facing down a difficult supply chain environment, and should not expect it to improve any time soon. A full 77% of the world’s major shipping ports have experienced above-average wait times this year, for example, and Moody’s Analytics warned in October 2021 that supply chain disruptions “will get worse before they get better.”
The challenges come at a time when customers have come to expect quick deliveries. The most popular delivery window for online shoppers is two to three days, for example (as 46.2% of consumers prefer it) and 15.1% of consumers want same or next-day delivery.
When retailers fail to meet those preferences and expectations for fast delivery, they risk frustrating (or even losing) valued customers. The best way to mitigate that risk is to communicate promptly and proactively about delays — helping customers feel informed and respected while they wait for their orders to arrive.
Delivery-delay communication best practices
Incorporating the following efforts into your customer communication strategy can help you maintain strong customer relationships despite fulfillment and shipping challenges.
Give customers guidance in advance.
Assess the state of affairs with your supply chain and adjust your overall marketing to align with reality.
If customers need to place orders early for the holidays, for example, use your email marketing and homepage copy to provide them with clear ordering deadlines. Include deadlines on the product pages and in popular item pages/descriptions so customers can make purchases in advance as needed.
Be clear with customers throughout the buying journey.
Once those ordering deadlines have passed, it’s important for you to (still) be straightforward. If deliveries will be delayed no matter what, customers deserve to know that while shopping.
Use messaging on your website homepage to communicate likely wait times, and update your shipping policy to address your current circumstances. Adjust your website so that when someone selects a back-ordered product, they see an estimated delivery time frame. Also, add copy to your “place order” page that reminds customers of the potential for delivery delays at checkout, before they complete their purchases. Consider encouraging customers to buy gift cards (or eGift cards) if the items they’re ordering won’t make it in time for the holidays.
Post-purchase, continue to provide updates (and options).
Leaving customers hanging — by simply sending an order confirmation email and letting them wait indefinitely — can lead to frustration and an abundance of incoming service inquiries that may be difficult for your business to keep up with.
Keeping customers informed by touching base regularly about their orders, and providing self-service tools for them to check on orders themselves, shows customers you care about their situation. For example, EasyShip — an app that seamlessly integrates with your Square Online store — can help your business provide customers with continuous visibility into their orders through automated messages, dedicated tracking pages, and branded tracking features. If customers respond negatively to your communications and updates, provide options for them to cancel their orders.
Make support channels readily available and easy to find.
If delays are unavoidable, be prepared for customers who may need support. Clearly explain how customers can reach you for support, whether it’s via email, phone, chat, or a support Twitter account. Beef up customer support or invest in AI chatbots that can provide customer service. When customers have no way to reach you directly, they may turn to social media to publicize a bad experience, and that’s something you’ll want to avoid.
Consider apologies and offers to make up for the trouble. Saying you’re sorry goes a long way toward appeasing disappointed customers. Even if an unexpected delay is not your business’s fault, communicating a sincere apology via email or SMS shows customers that your business takes responsibility for the issue and has empathy for the trouble it may have caused.
In addition, providing a discount code (or eGift card) for a future order can not only help you show customers you care and ease their frustration, but also encourage return purchases. Consider following up post-delivery with an offer to keep customers engaged with you in a positive way.
It’s about the customer relationship
Ultimately, shipping delays are an unfortunate reality in these unprecedented times. But, by being as transparent, proactive, and communicative as possible, your business can keep customers around in spite of supply chain challenges.
“Be proactive versus reactive; keep people in the loop,” Busby advises. “I think customers understand and really work with you the more you have them involved in the process.”