Delivery Exception: Meaning, Causes, and How to Prevent it

keyKey Takeaways:
  • A delivery exception refers to any unforeseen event preventing a package’s scheduled delivery.
  • Common causes of delivery exceptions include address problems, receiver unavailability, documentation errors, delays due to holidays, and severe weather conditions.
  • Efficiently managing delivery exceptions involves address verification, optimizing routing plans, diversifying carrier partners, providing tracking, and leveraging delivery management software.

No one likes waiting around all day for an eagerly anticipated package only to be disappointed as the delivery encounters unexpected hurdles. These hurdles, often referred to as “delivery exceptions,” encompass a myriad of challenges that can disrupt the smooth flow of shipments.  

But these failed or delayed deliveries are an all-too-common occurrence in e-commerce. 

In fact, studies show that a staggering 11% of online orders encounter delivery exceptions, leading to missed delivery dates and frustrated customers.

With over 2.64 billion people shopping online worldwide, getting your customers’ packages into their hands smoothly is more important than ever. 

According to Statista’s research, 41% of worldwide buyers expect to receive their order within 24 hours.

This means a single poor delivery experience due to an exception can erode trust in your business and lose your sales. 

Herein we’ll explore the ins and outs of e-commerce delivery exceptions. You’ll learn what delivery exceptions are, what causes them, and, most importantly, strategies to help avoid exceptions and delight your customers. 

Let’s dive in!

What is a Delivery Exception?

A delivery exception means your package is temporarily delayed while in transit due to unavoidable circumstances. The reason can be weather issues, natural disaster, or a vehicle issue like a flat tire, or other conditions.

In simple words, when a delivery exception occurs:

  • The carrier cannot complete the scheduled delivery due to circumstances outside of their control, and 
  • The package does not reach the recipient’s address as planned.

Some common examples of delivery exceptions include incorrect addresses, weather delays, customs holds, failed delivery attempts, and lost or damaged packages. 

In most cases, when a delivery exception happens, the shipping company or courier service logs the issue, and both the sender and recipient are notified. 

Then, the logistics company usually attempts to resolve the issue and complete delivery if possible. But in some cases, the delivery may be returned to the shipper, re-routed, or significantly delayed.

9 Common Causes of Delivery Exceptions

Delivery exceptions can happen for a variety of reasons. By understanding the most frequent causes and different delivery exception scenarios, you can take steps to avoid many exceptions and minimize disruptions.

Here are some common causes and types of delivery exceptions:

1. Address issues

Address-related problems are a significant cause of delivery exceptions. Ensuring accurate and complete address information is crucial for successful deliveries. Here are some common address issues:

  • Incorrect address provided: An incorrect address occurs when the sender or recipient provides outdated, inaccurate, or improperly formatted address details. Carriers rely on precise information for successful deliveries, and any deviation can lead to exceptions.
  • Incomplete address: Incomplete addresses lack essential details required for accurate delivery, such as apartment numbers, floor information, zip codes, or street names. Carriers can face challenges in delivering packages to destinations with incomplete addresses.
  • Non-existent address: This exception happens when the provided address does not correspond to a valid or existing location. It could be due to a typographical error or outdated information.

2. Receiver unavailable

When it comes to delivery exceptions, the availability of the recipient is necessary. Here are some specific scenarios related to the receiver being unavailable:

  • Not home at scheduled time: If the recipient is not available during the scheduled delivery window, it results in a missed delivery attempt, and the packages may get returned to the sender.
  • Refused delivery: Customers might refuse delivery for various reasons, including damaged packages, changed circumstances, or simply a decision not to accept the delivery. Understanding and addressing the concerns of customers who refuse delivery is essential.

3. Access issues

Navigating through the delivery process is not always straightforward, especially when faced with access-related challenges. Here are some instances of access issues:

  • Road closure: External factors that make a delivery route unpassable, like road closures, often due to construction or events, can disrupt the planned delivery route. Carriers need to navigate these changes, and customers may experience delays during such events.
  • Incremental weather: Severe weather conditions, such as storms, snowstorms, or hurricanes, impact transportation and can lead to delayed deliveries. Carriers must adapt to weather-related challenges during transit.
  • Gated community/business: Delivering to locations with restricted access, such as gated communities or secure business premises, requires additional coordination. Clear instructions or access codes facilitate successful deliveries.

4. Package status issues

The condition of the package is a critical factor in the delivery process. Here are some scenarios related to package status issues:

  • Damaged package: Packages can incur damage during transit due to mishandling, accidents, or inadequate packaging. Damaged packages often cannot be delivered as-is and require returns or replacements.
  • Lost package: Occasionally, packages go missing during the delivery process due to sorting errors or theft. A robust tracking system and clear communication channels are crucial for locating lost packages and initiating resolution procedures.

5. Documentation issues

International shipments require specific documentation for customs clearance. Missing or incorrect paperwork can lead to delays, especially in customs processing. You need to guide customers on providing accurate documentation for smooth international deliveries.

6. Damaged or missing labels

Labels containing missing or unreadable information hinder the sorting and routing process in logistics operations. Proper labeling guidelines and secure attachment are essential to prevent complications in the delivery process.

7. Delays due to federal holidays

During federal holidays, shipping carriers may experience delays due to increased shipping volumes and disrupted logistics operations. Holidays, especially federal ones, are times when shipping carriers are less likely to be operating. So, it’s not uncommon for carriers to be further delayed, needing to catch up on a backlog of shipments.

8. Animal interference

Though uncommon, a shipping exception can be caused by animals interfering with the delivery process. Shipments can be delayed if carriers face the danger of an animal attack during delivery. This could involve any type of animal immediately blocking the delivery path.

9. Security or regulatory delays

In cases of hazardous materials or security concerns at the recipient’s location, shipments can be delayed or even returned if they are refused or improperly shipped. Failure to meet standards for labeling or other information might result in both delayed packages and a lack of refund or credit for the transportation charge.

In What Ways Do Delivery Exceptions Impact Businesses?

The impact of delivery exceptions can be multifaceted, affecting both customers and businesses. Here are some key aspects to consider:

1. Say goodbye to customer satisfaction

There’s nothing that deflates a customer’s excitement over an order faster than a delivery that doesn’t show up on time. Even minor delays can lead to major frustration.

And there goes your 5-star review! 

Nobody wants to write glowing package reviews for a business that neglects to provide reliable shipping. Your reputation for stellar customer service goes right out the window.

2. Brand reputation takes a nosedive

Frequent delivery exceptions can tarnish a company’s reputation. The reliability of timely deliveries is a crucial factor in building trust with customers.

You know how quickly bad news travels, right? 

Well, thanks to social media, negative reviews and complaints related to delivery issues spread faster than ever. Before you know it, your brand recognition sinks as disappointed customers fill online portals with terrible stories of delivery experiences.

3. Increased customer service workload

The minute your customers encounter delivery hiccups, you can bet your customer service team will be flooded with questions. 

Where’s my order (WISMO)? Why is it delayed? When will it arrive? 

Your reps will be stuck playing defense, putting out fires from upset online shoppers. 

Handling these inquiries requires additional customer service resources, both in terms of personnel and time, putting a strain on the overall support system.

4. Potential loss of business

With so many ecommerce options at their fingertips, today’s consumers won’t hesitate to jump ship when deliveries go wrong. 

In fact, according to Flexe, 62% of customers say delivery speed impacts their purchase decision, and 85% will shop elsewhere if a business’s delivery delays are too long.  

So if your customers are continuously facing delivery problems, then you are at a risk of losing repeat business and potential long-term customer relationships.

The potential for word-of-mouth recommendations turning negative can further contribute to a loss of business.

5. Operational costs

Managing delivery exceptions incurs operational costs. This includes the resources dedicated to investigating issues, addressing customer concerns, and potential re-shipments.

So, between return shipping, replacement items, and staffing extra call center reps, you’ll be bleeding cash if exceptions get out of hand.

These additional costs impact the company’s budget and can diminish overall profitability if not managed efficiently.

6. Supply chain disruptions

When orders face unpredictable delays or disappear, your entire logistics operation gets thrown into a loop. 

In such a situation, shipments sit idle, your inventory numbers fall out of sync, and production schedules go haywire. Before you know it, your well-oiled supply chain is creaking and screeching from the lack of fluidity.

7. Compliance issues

International shipments, in particular, require strict compliance with customs regulations. Just one issue in your international shipping paperwork can spark massive delivery delays, fines, or even shipments getting returned to the sender.

Say you classify a product under the wrong tariff code. Or you distort some valuation details. That wrong information could let your shipment sit gathering dust in customs for days or weeks. 

By the time the issue gets resolved, your customers will have already canceled their orders.

Delivery Exceptions Associated With Major Carriers

In shipping logistics, each major carrier has its own unique set of challenges and processes when it comes to handling delivery exceptions. Understanding these nuances is vital for ecommerce merchants and consumers when selecting the most suitable service provider for their needs. 

So, let’s explore the distinctive aspects of delivery exceptions associated with some prominent carriers.

1. FedEx delivery exception

FedEx, renowned for its reliability in overnight and express shipping, encounters exceptions primarily attributed to external factors. Weather conditions or even a simple flat tire can be cited as common causes for delays. 

However, it’s essential to note that a delivery exception doesn’t guarantee a late arrival.

FedEx employs a comprehensive tracking system, providing detailed information on exceptions, such as the code “PMX.” It signifies a return due to an evening delivery constraint.

Additionally, FedEx may attempt a second delivery or redirect the FedEx shipments to a secure holding location, like a FedEx Office or Walgreens store. To manage FedEx delivery exceptions effectively, proactive tracking and prompt communication with FedEx are recommended.

2. UPS delivery exceptions

UPS, known for handling larger and more valuable products, faces exceptions related to unknown addresses, damaged goods, or a lack of signature upon delivery. In some cases, animal interference, ranging from urban dogs to rural cows, can disrupt the normal delivery process.

The “Exception: Action Required” status is vital for UPS delivery exceptions, indicating the need for additional information, often related to the shipping address. 

Timely and detailed communication with UPS is essential for resolving issues promptly and minimizing the impact on operations. To stay up to date on your shipment movement information, you can check UPS tracking status.

3. USPS delivery exceptions

Operated by the United States federal government, USPS commonly experiences exceptions during national holidays or due to incorrect addresses. A distinctive feature is the acknowledgment of animal interference, with almost 5803 reported dog attacks on postal workers annually.

Customers receive timely updates or delivery exception notices when they track their packages, allowing them to manage orders effectively. 

Addressing USPS exceptions involves verifying correct addresses and managing delays caused by national holidays, reinforcing the importance of accurate information for smooth deliveries.

4. DHL delivery exceptions

DHL, with its focus on international shipping, often encounters exceptions related to customs clearance. Termed as shipment exceptions, delays may occur due to issues such as missing documentation, inclement weather, or national holidays.

If faced with a DHL delivery exception, merchants and customers receive notifications, such as “DHL Shipment is on Hold.” 

The swift resolution, typically within a week, is the norm. Providing accurate address information and staying informed are crucial steps in managing DHL delivery exceptions.

5. Common themes across carriers

While each carrier has its unique challenges, common themes emerge. 

Address-related problems, weather-related issues, damaged goods, and customs delays are recurring factors contributing to exceptions. 

Proactive tracking, timely communication, and adherence to carrier-specific guidelines can help navigate and mitigate the impact of delivery exceptions across various carriers.

What Outcomes Can You Expect After a Delivery Exception?

When facing a delivery exception, businesses and customers may wonder about the potential outcomes. 

Despite the challenges outlined earlier, it’s essential to recognize the various scenarios that can unfold, influencing the ultimate impact on your shipment.

1. On-time delivery despite exceptions

Certain issues may not result in an overall delay, especially if the problem is less severe than anticipated or occurs early in the shipping process.

In such instances, adaptable carriers can still make timely deliveries despite unexpected events.

2. A bit late, but successful deliveries

Some events might postpone deliveries to the next day or beyond. During such events, packages arrive shortly after the initially projected time. 

For instance, if a recipient is unavailable or there is some access restriction during the first delivery attempt, the carrier might try again the next day.

3. Exceptions leading to returns

In unfortunate situations, the severity of the exception may prompt the carrier to return the package to the sender. Factors such as incorrect addresses or damage to shipping labels can contribute to this outcome.

11 Tactics to Manage and Prevent Delivery Exceptions

Efficiently managing and preventing delivery exceptions before they impact the delivery process is a proactive approach that enhances reliability and customer satisfaction. 

So, here’s how you can navigate and mitigate the challenges associated with delivery exceptions.

1. Verify addresses using technology

Wrong addresses lead to failed deliveries, no doubt about it. 

So why rely on error-prone manual address entry? Employing technology to automatically import and verify addresses for accuracy in real-time. This way, you can identify and rectify discrepancies upfront and significantly reduce the occurrence of delivery exceptions.

2. Allow customers to specify delivery instructions

Allowing customers to provide specific delivery instructions adds a layer of flexibility to the process. This can include guidance on where to leave packages or special considerations for the delivery personnel. 

By allowing customers to communicate their preferences, you can proactively address potential obstacles and enhance the chances of successful deliveries.

3. Enable delivery date/time selection

Rather than playing delivery roulette, let customers choose their preferred delivery date right from the checkout. 

Providing customers with the option to choose delivery dates or time windows aligns the delivery process with the recipient’s schedule. 

This feature not only reduces the chances of missed deliveries due to the recipient’s unavailability but also helps offer a personalized delivery experience to customers.

4. Improve delivery driver training on exceptions

When delivery exceptions pop up on the road, you need drivers who know what to do.

Provide training on navigating unavoidable issues like inaccessible locations, refused deliveries, or damaged packages. Well-prepared drivers transform obstacles into quick problem-solving wins.

5. Optimize routing plans

The best-laid plans keep deliveries on track, while inefficient routes lead to late shipment arrivals. Optimize delivery routing by considering factors such as traffic patterns, delivery locations, and potential obstacles. 

Identifying and planning the most direct and efficient routes for drivers allows you to avoid unnecessary delays during transit. 

Plus, streamlined routing equals fuel and cost savings! 

It’s a win-win for your bottom line and customer satisfaction.

6. Add contingency time for traffic delays

Sitting in traffic builds frustration, not customer loyalty. So, schedule deliveries with some contingency time. 

This proactive approach ensures that even if there are unexpected delays due to traffic congestion, the drivers have buffer time to bypass jams and keep the delivery process on track. It helps maintain customer expectations and satisfaction.

7. Diversify carrier partners

Is bad weather slowing FedEx deliveries? No problem; you’ve got UPS packages covered.

Collaborating with multiple carrier partners provides flexibility and a backup in case one carrier faces challenges. Diversification mitigates risks associated with carrier-specific issues, such as strikes or operational disruptions, ensuring a more resilient and reliable delivery network.

8. Provide detailed tracking pages

Transparent and real-time tracking information is crucial for keeping customers informed.

There’s no room for wondering, “Where is my order?” when customers can check the status themselves anytime.  

Real-time updates on the package’s journey allow customers to anticipate potential delays and understand the delivery status. 

Delivery transparency = Happy customers and fewer headaches all around.

9. Set up customizable shipping alerts

Offering customizable shipping alerts allows customers to receive notifications at key stages of the delivery process. This includes updates on package dispatch, estimated delivery times, and delivery confirmation. 

Always get the right message to the right customer at the right time. It is because getting delivery updates when and how they want it leaves customers feeling in control.

10. Enable automated redelivery schedule

Missed the first attempt? No worries; auto-reschedule for another delivery day.

Implementing an automated redelivery schedule simplifies the process for customers to reschedule deliveries. Customers can easily adjust delivery timings according to their convenience, contributing to a smoother overall experience.

11. Leverage delivery management software

Get an all-in-one tech solution to streamline and optimize delivery operations. 

Advanced delivery management software streamlines various aspects of the delivery process. From route optimization to real-time tracking and analytics, such software enhances operational efficiency. By leveraging data-driven delivery insights, you can benefit from improved decision-making, reduced exceptions, and an overall optimized delivery ecosystem.

Prevent Delivery Exceptions with an All-in-one Software!

Streamline shipments with Upper- the ultimate routing solution to manage delivery exceptions.

Explore the Power of Upper, Offering:

  • Advanced Route Planning and Optimization
  • Quick Import and Verification of Addresses
  • Inclusion of Specific Delivery Instructions
  • Priority and Time Window Settings
  • Real-time GPS Tracking for Ultimate Visibility
  • Customizable Customer Notifications

How Can You Respond Effectively to Delivery Exceptions

Despite the best precautions, delivery exceptions are bound to occur. How you respond to these situations can significantly impact customer satisfaction. 

So, here’s a comprehensive guide on how to effectively respond when delivery exceptions occur:

  1. Notify customers proactively: Once aware of an exception, contact the customer immediately with an explanation and expected resolution timeline. Apologize for the inconvenience. Transparency builds trust and sets realistic expectations.
  2. Investigate and gather information: Conduct an internal review to understand the root cause of the delivery exception. Identify whether it’s related to wrong address issues, weather conditions, damaged goods, or other factors.
  3. Contact the carrier: Contact the relevant carrier as soon as possible. Obtain detailed information about the exception, its cause, and potential solutions. Collaborate with the carrier to expedite the resolution process.
  4. Provide options to customers: Depending on the nature of the exception, offer alternative solutions to customers. This may include rescheduling delivery, redirecting the package, or providing refunds or credits where applicable. The idea is to give customers control over resolving the issue.
  5. Provide real-time updates: Keep customers informed about the progress of resolving the exception. Regularly update tracking information to reflect the current status of the shipment.
  6. Customer support engagement: Ensure that your customer support team is easily reachable. Address customer inquiries promptly and professionally. Clear communication can alleviate concerns and frustrations.
  7. Address root causes: Based on the investigation, implement measures to prevent similar exceptions in the future. You can use the preventative measures that we discussed in the previous section.
  8. Learn and adapt: Treat each exception as a learning opportunity. Continuously refine and adapt your shipping processes based on the insights gained from handling exceptions.


The majority of delivery exceptions are handled in under seven days. However, the duration of a delivery exception can vary based on the specific circumstances. While some exceptions might cause only brief delays, others may take a bit longer to resolve. The timeframe largely depends on the nature of the exception, such as weather-related delays, address issues, or other unforeseen events.

In terms of delivery, an exception refers to any unexpected event or issue that occurs during the shipping process. This could include factors like inclement weather, incorrect addresses, damaged packages, or other unforeseen challenges that can disrupt the normal delivery flow.

Start by checking your tracking number for details on the delivery exception. Contact the carrier for more information. Depending on their guidance, communicate with the customer, and consider actions like resending the package, issuing a refund, or adjusting the delivery date if necessary.

If your package has a UPS delivery exception, it’s advisable to check the tracking details for specific information on the reason for the exception. Depending on the nature of the exception, you may need to take action. For instance, if it’s an “Exception: Action Required,” providing additional information, such as the correct shipping address, might be necessary.

If your FedEx package shows an exception status, don’t delay – immediately contact the carrier at 1-800-Go-FedEx (1-800-463-3339). The carrier can offer insights into the reason for the delivery exception and potential resolutions. Keep in mind that many times, the package will still arrive as scheduled without significant delays.

Not necessarily. While a shipment exception signifies a deviation from the normal delivery process, it doesn’t automatically mean the package is lost. Exceptions can arise from various issues, and carriers often provide information on the nature of the exception.

A pickup exception occurs when there is an issue or unexpected event related to the scheduled pickup of a package. This could involve difficulties in accessing the pickup location, documentation issues, or other factors that hinder the smooth execution of the pickup process.

While the terms are often used interchangeably, a delivery exception typically refers to an issue or event that occurs during the final delivery leg of the shipping process. On the other hand, a shipment exception encompasses a broader range of issues that can occur at various stages of the shipment, including pickup, transit, and final delivery.

The most common types of delivery exceptions include address issues, weather-related delays, damaged packages, and documentation problems.

Delivery Exceptions – Master Them, Don’t Let Them Master You

When it comes to ecommerce delivery, effectively managing delivery exceptions is crucial for sustaining customer satisfaction. By proactively addressing common causes, collaborating with reliable carriers, and leveraging advanced delivery technologies, you can minimize disruptions in the delivery process.

But when exceptions do strike, transparency is the key. Notify customers, offer quick resolutions, and continue updating them until issues are fully resolved. A well-managed response not only resolves immediate issues but also contributes to long-term customer loyalty.

All in all, staying agile, customer-centric, and continuously learning from exceptions ensures a smoother and more reliable delivery experience.

Author Bio
Rakesh Patel
Rakesh Patel

Rakesh Patel, author of two defining books on reverse geotagging, is a trusted authority in routing and logistics. His innovative solutions at Upper Route Planner have simplified logistics for businesses across the board. A thought leader in the field, Rakesh's insights are shaping the future of modern-day logistics, making him your go-to expert for all things route optimization. Read more.