Guest Article: How to Adapt Shipping During COVID-19

A shipping carrier delivers a package with COVID-19 precautions.

Ecommerce businesses are facing unique challenges created by the spread of COVID-19. Apart from cautious buyers worried about these uncertain times, ecommerce brands have to worry about social distancing guidelines, as well as carrier delays and increased surcharges. Staying on top of best practices and understanding which restrictions and guidelines are in place can help gain customer satisfaction and create a sense of clarity that can be hard to come by these days. In this article, we discuss how online sellers can adapt their shipping to best serve customers during COVID-19. For resources about how COVID-19 is impacting ecommerce, check out ShipStation’s COVID-19 Resource Page.

Keep Up With Changing Customer Expectations

If companies like Amazon set trends for consumer expectations, there’s finally a silver lining. Since Amazon has had to delay shipping and delivery times, this gives the average merchant more wiggle room too. However, these delays in FBA shipping are no mystery. As such, your customers need to be looped into delays as well. Properly communicating any shipping delays you face is key. It may be best to remove certain express shipping options or to reconfigure their estimated delivery time frame. This can be done in the Shipping Method Rules within Miva.

Additionally, this information should be included in your shipping confirmation email with your customers. Because of the global scope of this catastrophe, customers are generally more forgiving than usual. So, keeping them informed during the delivery process can create a sense of clarity that is hard to come by right now.

Offer Next-Day Shipping

Next-Day shipping (or 24-hour shipping) does not mean the same thing as next-day delivery. It just means you will ship out an in-stock order by the following business day. Finding ways to reduce the timeframe between an order being placed and shipping out can be very incentivizing to customers. As such, you can offer a quicker turnaround time on getting items out the door.

Automate Your Shipping

Automating your shipping process is an effective way to reduce fulfillment time and minimize confusion. This, in turn, reduces the need for face-to-face interactions between workers, thus reducing the risk of COVID-19 infection.

Look into automating the following: 

  • Assign orders to specific pickers
    • Base this on item location in your warehouse
  • Apply shipping service and package type based on what was selected in cart or by order weight
  • Apply any specific shipping confirmation email, or packing slip to the order
  • Batch print all labels and stick them on the box

Shipping Delays and Policy Changes:

Domestic Shipping

COVID-19 has impacted domestic delivery times less harshly than it has international shipments. However, there are still some holdups to be aware of. Predominantly, standard and 2-day delivery options take longer to reach their final destination. Ultimately, the best bet for you as a merchant is to suspend express shipping for impacted services. If a customer pays for express shipping and it doesn’t make it in time, it would lead to you paying out of pocket until carriers reinstate them.

USPS

USPS has the infrastructure to deliver to every address every day already, so, despite their current financial concerns, their domestic delivery delays are based more on the overall impact of increased volume and social distancing. For example, USPS Priority Mail may usually take 2 to 3 days to deliver. However, it is much more likely to arrive within 3-4 days. Express 1-day and 2-day services are continuing to run as usual. Signature confirmation has also been disallowed in favor of drop-off to avoid potential spread.

FedEx

To minimize contact and potential contamination between drivers and customers, FedEx has also suspended signature confirmation during delivery. Money-Back Guarantees have also been suspended until further notice, effective immediately. This impacts all FedEx Express, FedEx Ground, FedEx Freight, and FedEx Office services. Ultimately, FedEx cannot guarantee that your packages will arrive within the typical timeframe for standard services. As with USPS, they are making exceptions for their more express overnight delivery options.

UPS

As of March 26th, 2020, UPS has also suspended its UPS service guarantees until further notice due to COVID-19. Shipments created during this time are not eligible for service refunds.

International Shipping

International shipping has been hit particularly hard by COVID-19. When you look at the amount of air travel that has been reduced during COVID-19, it’s more than travelers and their luggage that aren’t flying. FedEx, UPS, and DHL don’t always make final delivery. Instead, it’s likely that parcels travel in the cargo area of commercial planes. When these planes run less regularly, packages to countries like Djibouti or Armenia are impacted too.

In fact, countries with suspended services for DHL, FedEx, UPS, and USPS are too many to list. It would be easier to list countries not impacted. For the most part, services to western Europe, China, and Australia are carrying on with delays. However, Central & South America, Africa, parts of mainland Asia, parts of Oceania, and eastern Europe are experiencing temporary suspensions of services. If you have customers in these regions, check individual carrier websites for information about suspensions of services.

Conclusion

Due to how confusing everything is currently, setting proper expectations for your customers is crucial. Providing clear communication with them and making sure that they receive their order in a timely manner is always key. But these new obstacles require a little more finesse than usual. With this in mind, you can craft better verbiage and create the best customer experience during this pandemic.

About the Author

James Messer is a writer for ShipStation—a shipping software company that helps ecommerce retailers import, organize, process, and ship orders efficiently no matter their size. This is also the goal of his writing.