Including estimated delivery dates at checkout adds credibility to your store. But there’s a lot involved to get it right.

Estimated delivery dates are “estimated” for a reason.

There’s simply no way to predict everything that will happen when a package leaves your hands to get to your customers’ doorstep. 

Maybe a massive rainstorm blows into town and floods the streets for a couple days.

Or that chicken scratch you call your handwriting makes Barry at the local transportation hub shake their head in confusion (i.e. they have no idea where it’s supposed to be delivered).

Even the definition of “Next Day Delivery” becomes a giant question mark when it comes to weekends or holidays.

You can only plan for so much, so it helps to have advanced knowledge of what situations might arise and what you might do to circumvent these problems. 

Below are a handful of ways your estimated delivery dates are impacted and what you can do to stay ahead of this otherwise unpredictable world.

1. Inclement Weather

Yep, plain ol’ weather could simply get in the way. 

The Postal Service may say they deliver no matter rain or sleet or snow. But they are not going to risk sending out one of their workers during a tornado or hurricane so your customer can get their Harry Potter throw pillow on time. 

There is just some weather that is unfeasible to deliver in.

Back in 2014, the entire city of Atlanta was frozen solid during a storm dubbed Snowmageddon. People were stranded on the streets for hours, some for almost an entire day. Emergency workers couldn’t even reach the injured. 

As you can imagine, delivering packages was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind. In this case, that “estimated delivery date” was thrown out the window.

2. Strikes

Wage disputes are a tale as old as time, or at least as old as labor unions have been around. 

These disputes sometimes involve people who deliver our packages from coast to coast. 

Unless you have the phone number of every union (which, if you do, way to stay ahead of the game), you might not know when one starts up.

Reading the news is helpful, of course, but you might not hear about it if you’re an online seller in Hoboken, New Jersey and a strike starts in Topeka, Kansas. 

Suddenly your customers aren’t getting their packages and they probably don’t know why.

3. Security or Regulatory Delays at Delivery Location

Sending most items through the mail doesn’t normally cause any raised eyebrows regarding security or regulation. But occasionally this issue pops up.

State lines can cause some funny situations, and you should be aware when something could potentially cause trouble.

Remember all those funny videos of people sending “glitter bombs” in the mail? 

Legally, explosives are not allowed to be sent through the mail. But glitter bombs are not technically an explosive so companies have gotten away with it. 

However, there are cases of people being prosecuted for “glitter attacks,” so the idea of a state suddenly not allowing them is feasible.

What happens if you own one of these companies and suddenly an entire state is taken out of your equation?

4. Illegible Address and Label

Now for something a little more mundane: unreadable print. 

You send out hundreds of packages each day and you try to verify each one. However, some seep through the cracks, and one of your package’s labels gets printed funny. 

It ends up in the hands of a poor delivery worker who just can’t read it.

After some debate amongst the team, they finally figure it out, but the plane has already taken off for the evening. 

This has already put the little package behind a day, and that’s in the hopes the workers actually get the right address from the smudge.

5. Person to Sign Not Available

A customer has finally ordered one of your custom-made Beatles inspired china sets. 

They’re so excited, in fact, they have ordered it with Next Day Shipping. Plus, they want it so bad they’ve added Customer Signature Required so they can verify only they touch their brand-new dishes.

The day comes – and the customer isn’t there when the delivery person arrives. What gives? 

Who knows, they could be in the bathroom. They could’ve been called for an emergency. Or perhaps they just didn’t hear the knock or doorbell. 

In any case, the delivery person can’t stand around waiting all day, so “Next Day” is now at risk.

6. Borders

Sending items internationally could be its own list. Basically take everything mentioned above and add the layer of an entirely new set of laws. 

Every country has their own customs rules and restrictions for imports and exports. For example, ballpoint pens and wheelbarrows are banned in Nigeria. 

So if you’re an office supply store in Europe and a customer in Abuja wants to order a pack of fancy pens for the school year, you better have processes in place to prevent that item from being shipped to them at all.

The last thing you want to do is set yourself up for trouble with customs, especially for something that’s preventable like creating shipping rules and restrictions for your products. Do you really want to deal with fees and returns (plus very confused and unhappy customers).  

Again, most merchandise is not going to raise any eyebrows, but occasionally something pops up where you least expect it. 

How to Plan Ahead for Accurate Estimated Delivery Dates

Life happens in spite of preparation. 

Just when you think you’ve got everything in your business figured out and working like a well-oiled machine, one of the situations above occurs. 

Can you do anything about it while it happens? No.

However, you can take steps to stay ahead of the game when it comes to shipping.

Below are a few ways for you to avoid a disaster. While again they aren’t 100% effective (or not needed because of what you sell), they can minimize the time you spend putting out fires.  

1. Provide Tracking Info for Delivery Date Estimates

Obviously, not getting the item they want is the most frustrating thing to your customers.

But a close second is just not knowing what is going on. Is it just a few miles away or across the country still? 

It becomes just a little more tolerable when you can see where on planet Earth a package may be. If your customer is especially excited about the item, then they can plan on being nearby if it’s out for delivery.    

These days you can track everything, and even ordering a pizza comes with a little delivery tracker. Giving your customers the option to watch their package is a huge deal and cut back on customer service calls from buyers just wanting an update.

2. Add a Shipping Policy Page

So what happens if your customer doesn’t get their package at all?

It’s frustrating for customers when they can’t track down what you are going to do about it to remedy the situation.

You’re bound to get some irritated messages wondering what restitution the customer can expect now that you couldn’t deliver your promises.

The more documentation you have on your site or store, the better. 

Consider adding a shipping policy page so everyone knows what to expect in certain cases. And while this may seem redundant, add a FAQ page as well.

This way your customers have two places to go and get the answers they want (and so there’s less confusion).

3. Offer Buy Online/Pickup In Store (BOPUS)

Remember the scenario above where the customer wanted their Beatles china set but were unavailable when it came time to sign? 

What if the backup option was to ship the item to a locker, partnered store or other location? Somewhere they could safely pick it up rather than leaving it on their doorstep where it could get stolen or damaged?

Having the option to buy online/pickup in store can be very convenient for your customers. 

Maybe they want to stop by on their way home from work and grab their package. Or they just like the comfort of knowing a trusted employee has eyeballs on it.

In general, the more options you can provide, the better.

4. Offer Free Shipping with Longer Times

It’s true that so many customers want their items instantly these days. It’s become a bit of an expectation. 

What’s the point of ordering something online if you have to wait days for it to arrive? We’re in the instant gratification age, after all.

The reality, though, is most items don’t need to be next day deliveries. 

Would it be fun to have those new shoes the second you order them? Sure. 

Is it life-threatening to not have them? No.

Give your customers the option of free shipping, if they are willing to get the item in a nice leisurely time frame. 

It’s much easier to meet, and even exceed, a customer’s delivery expectations when you give yourself some breathing room.

Plus, there are a few other clever ways to offer free shipping to your customers without hurting your shipping costs.

5. Quality Control

While running a business, it’s easy to get a little too into the weeds and become blind to common issues that impact estimated delivery dates.

As mentioned above, something as simple as an address label being printed with a smudge can goof up your nice and smooth process, leading to upset emails from customers. 

Combatting this blindness can often be as simple as having another pair of eyes.

If you can afford it, consider bringing on an employee for quality control, or at least having someone in your warehouse perform spot checks. 

Having someone checking for address label mishaps, improper packaging, broken merchandise, and other issues can stave off multiple problems. And I’m not just talking about shipping woes. 

Plus, this could lead to better reviews, which could lead to more sales, meaning your quality control expert has paid for themselves.

6. Set Up Cut-off Times

There are only so many aircrafts to cart your merchandise across the world.  And if your item misses said plane, it will put it behind schedule. 

To help combat this confusion, set cu-toff times for orders. Something like, “Orders after 3:00 PM ET will be packed the next business day.” This sets the right expectations for your customer, especially when it comes to same day and next day delivery.

Setting blackout dates will also help. This especially comes in handy if you know you won’t be able to deliver any items during a specific time frame. 

For example, say your warehouse is closed on Sundays. You can automate your shipping date and time settings to note that no items will be packed and readied on this day.

Final Notes on Estimated Delivery Dates

In the case of a true emergency like some of the issues listed above, you may be able to contact the carrier and request a refund. 

Each provider will have its own rules regarding this, so you’ll have to look and see what they offer. Or, hire a company like 71lbs to do it for you.

Another great idea is to sign up for ShipperHQ! We can help you provide accurate estimated delivery dates to your customers (and answer any questions you have about it). 

Plus, we can calculate your ideal shipping rates and options for a ton of different situations. 

  • Only want ground shipping for light-weight items? Check.
  • Want to run a free shipping promotion during Valentine’s and Mother’s Day? Done.
  • Need to add a shipping surcharge for items that are dropshipped? You got it.

There’s a lot you can do with our shipping software to customize your checkout experience. This includes the ability to give your customers the best deal with the most up-to-date delivery information.

While you can’t plan for every unforeseen circumstance, you can plan ahead and narrow the possibilities for disaster.

Get started by signing up for a 30-day free trial of ShipperHQ. We’re available on all top eCommerce platforms.