What is a Delivery Exception & How to Deal With One as an Ecommerce Business


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What is a Delivery Exception & How to Deal With One as an Ecommerce Business

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We live in a society where online shoppers expect to get what they want when they want it. If an order is incorrect or delivery delayed, people are not exactly pleased.

Maybe you’ve even checked your tracking status before and saw that it was marked as an exception with an impacted delivery date.

While shipping carriers will make every effort possible to ensure that packages meet their delivery dates, there are many instances where the ability to deliver on time is outside of everyone’s control. It happens — that is life, after all.

But being prepared for such events and responding to customers when it does happen can affect whether they shop from you again in the future.

Let’s talk about delivery exceptions and how they affect ecommerce shipping.

What does delivery exception mean?

A delivery exception is when a package is temporarily held-up in transit for an unforeseen reason and could affect when it arrives at its destination.

Note: A delivery exception does not mean a late shipment, but there was a roadblock (sometimes literally) that halted progression or required attention somewhere along the journey.

Delivery exceptions are one reason why carriers like DHL, DPD, and Royal Mail will provide you with a tracking number for your package(s).

Why are delivery exceptions important for ecommerce businesses?

Even with the most reliable ecommerce order tracking, a lot can happen to a package while it’s in transit. Delivery exceptions may result in delayed (or undelivered) packages and frustrated customers.

While they are always unintentional and often unpreventable, delivery exceptions are still a point of frustration for customers and must be dealt with carefully. As such, ecommerce businesses need to be prepared and have a system for dealing with delivery exceptions.

5 common causes of delivery exceptions

While the overwhelming majority of online shoppers receive their packages on time, it’s still likely that you will encounter delivery exceptions. Here are the typical culprits.

1. Customs delays

International shipping does not come without its challenges. Packages often get held up at customs longer than expected, which can result in missed delivery dates. By ensuring you have the proper tariff codes at the SKU-level can help make for a more seamless shipping process.

2. Public holidays

Packages may be delivered late if a national holiday occurs — either in the country of origin or the destination country — while a package is in transit. If it is a public holiday, shipping carriers will not be operating. Because of the day off, it is not uncommon for carriers to be further delayed from needing to play catch up due to a backlog of shipments.

3. Weather conditions

If there is a weather issue or natural disaster (e.g., snow, heavy rain or floods) that renders a delivery route un-passable, the package will likely be delayed. These types of unpredictable delays beyond anyone’s control, known as “acts of God.”

If you use multiple fulfillment centers, you may be able to ship the order from a different location as long as it’s outside the path to avoid. Safety is a top priority, but so is customer service. Many carriers will have contingency plans in place and the shipment will arrive as soon as it can be resumed in the affected area.

4. Damaged or missing labels

If the shipping label on a package is damaged and the carrier cannot read the delivery address or scan the shipping barcode, the package may be delayed. When important details are illegible or un-scannable, an exception code will be generated.

Similarly, if the label contains an incorrect address (undeliverable, unrecognised to carriers, incomplete, etc.), then it can get stuck in a delivery exception. This is not uncommon when it comes to international shipments. With postal address formats differing by country, address lines can often be cut-off (missing vital information required for delivery).

5. No one was home to receive the package

Packages may be delayed if they require a signature upon reception and no one was home to accept the package. When a recipient is unavailable, delivery is re-attempted the next day in most cases.

Customers can use free delivery management tools (provided by some carriers) that let the recipient decide how, where, and when home deliveries occur to fit their schedule, such as DPD or DHL’s ability to change delivery times and destinations with the parcel already in-flight.

3 outcomes of a delivery exception

Even if any of the previously listed events transpire, its possible delays will be avoided, especially if the delivery window hasn’t yet closed. Here’s what may happen.

1. The package is delivered on time anyway

Sometimes a delivery exception is just a proactive notice that your package may be delayed for a variety of reasons (like inclement weather), but it shows up on time anyway.

2. The package is delivered late

Delivery exception delays are usually relatively short; Oftentimes, delivery exceptions arrive the next day (for instance, if no one was home on the first delivery attempt, the carrier will try again the next day).

3. The package is returned

If the carrier cannot deliver the package (e.g., because of an incorrect address or label damage), then it may have to be returned to the sender.

Delivery exception by Carrier

All major carriers have a delivery exception process in place and the consumer has the benefit of choosing a carrier that best meets their needs.   

DPD delivery exceptions

DPD is arguably the most reliable of the major carriers, specialising in next-day, timeslot and express shipping. The DPD website cites external factors such as weather or even a flat tire being the cause of most delays. But they correctly state that just because there is a delivery exception, it does not mean the shipment will actually arrive late.  

Royal Mail delivery exceptions

Royal Mail is well-known for shipping all manner of parcel types and sizes across the UK. According to the Royal Mail website, unknown addresses, difficulty accessing delivery addresses, damaged goods, or lack of signature upon delivery are common reasons for an exception. 

DHL delivery exceptions

DHL also refers to their delivery exceptions as shipment exceptions, and since DHL is a high volume cross-border carrier, oftentimes a delay is due to customs. Check out their page oncustoms compliance

How should ecommerce businesses respond to delivery exceptions?

Depending on the cause of a delivery exception, you may need to take certain actions. Here’s what to do if you notice an exception while a package is in transit.

1. Contact the carrier

You should be able to look online for the exact location of the package and reason for the delivery exception. Have the tracking number readily available so you can track the shipment and share it with the customer (if you want to give them the ability to track shipments).

2. Contact the customer

If the customer’s shipping address is unknown or incorrect, you’ll want to reach out to them to verify the accuracy of the mailing address and make any needed corrections.

If you know of any delays and the reason for it (e.g., poor weather conditions that closed down the shipping location or caused the carrier to halt operations), be sure to inform the customer of the delay and the reason for it.

Email those affected, apologize for the potential late shipment, and thank them for their patience.

Any opportunity to turn a suboptimal situation into a positive experience will be remembered for another sale and future delivery.

3. Issue a refund or resend the package

If the package cannot be delivered or if it was damaged in transit, then speak with the customer about either issuing a refund or resending the package.

If the package was damaged in transit, then the cost may be completely covered depending on the shipping insurance for that package.

How ShipBob manages delivery exceptions

ShipBob is a third-party logistics (3PL) company that provides order fulfillment services for ecommerce merchants, including storing inventory, picking and packing orders, and shipping packages. Through our technology, there are several measures you can take to prevent and handle delivery exceptions with ease.

Preventing delivery exceptions

Sometimes customers make mistakes when entering address details. ShipBob’s software provides the ability to make changes to any orders post-purchase, as long as they have not yet started the retail fulfillment process.

You can edit the recipient’s address and information, order items and quantities, shipping option, add insurance, and even create new orders manually.

Responding to delivery exceptions

We understand and realize that in the world of shipping, damages and losses happen. ShipBob handles claims processing for our customers at no extra cost. All claims can be filed quickly and easily through ShipBob for packages lost or damaged in transit.

Every shipment shipped through ShipBob has insurance included, regardless of the carrier used, and ShipBob will provide instant refunds for these shipments. You can create a reshipment in the system and ship out the item to the recipient again by copying the order, and modify it if needed.

“Our old 3PL didn’t file claims for damaged shipments for us like ShipBob. We were still a small company and had no time to do that ourselves. We became too frustrated with the other 3PL and knew we had to partner with a company that met our needs.”

Lindsay Louise, Fulfillment & Retail Manager at Synchro

ShipBob also has contact management features that make it easy to notify any affected customers that meet certain criteria. Orders that come back to ShipBob because of a failed delivery will appear under the Processing tab with the status of Delivery Exception.


Some delivery exceptions can be prevented but many are unavoidable. Having the right partners in place can help you reduce tension with customers and resolve issues quickly, especially when orders are time-sensitive. If you need help with ecommerce fulfillment, check out ShipBob. Request a pricing quote below.

Delivery exception FAQs

What do I do if my package has a delivery exception?

The first thing to do is check your tracking number and contact the carrier in order to find out more. Depending on what information the carrier gives you, you can reach out to the customer and issue a refund or change the delivery date if necessary. 

How do I fix a delivery exception?

Contact the carrier and relay the information you received, they can give you better insight as to why there was a delivery exception, and what can be done. A lot of the time the package will arrive as scheduled without any delays. 

Why does my package have a delivery exception?

Delivery exceptions occur for several reasons, from issues with the carrier, weather delays, holidays, or incorrect address. Contacting the carrier and the customer are your first steps in case you receive a delivery exception.

Written By:

Kristina is the Director of Marketing Communications at ShipBob, where she writes various articles, case studies, and other resources to help ecommerce brands grow their business.

Read all posts written by Kristina Lopienski