Ecommerce shipping errors - the struggle is real

How to Handle Picking or Packing Errors

For years we had a lot of packing errors a high percentage of our customer service efforts were "damage control". The tips that follow are helpful bits we learned along the way. More recently we've added a fulfillment quality control system (GroovePacker!) and prevented 99.92% of our shipping errors, but I'd like to share some of the tactics we previously used to make our many errors less damaging and less costly.

Takeaway 1: Make it easier for customers to report shipping mistakes

A customer should not have to navigate your website to let you know you botched their order. What will your customer be looking at when they realize there has been a mistake? Often they are staring into their box with their packing slip in hand. So give clear instructions on how to reach you if anything is wrong right on the packing slip. An easy support URL is a must. YourDomain.com/support and support.YourDomain.com are pretty standard.

It's also possible to give a direct email address, and you can certainly do so. The downside is that very often you won't receive enough information in the email to resolve the problem. For example, was it the blue widget or red widget was missing? Should the replacement be sent to the same address or will they be at another location? You can verify by email but if you're able to solve a request with one email rather than two you are effectively cutting your inbox workload in half. The support page can lead them to a form that will get you exactly what you need to help them. In some markets the direct email may be such a benefit to the customer that it's worth the extra time and email.

The URL or email should also be on the email confirmation receipt that they receive right after making the purchase along with a kind message urging them to double check that their shipping address is perfect and that everything they thought was ordered actually appears in the order.

If they give the incorrect shipping address it may not be your fault but it still hurts the shopping experience. The order confirmation email provides an opportunity for this double check. If the customer is able to catch the error before it ships it's a huge win for you and your customer. If you're thinking that there may be a bunch of often overlooked ways to utilize your order confirmation email, you're right. Take a look at How to Send a Great Shipping Confirmation Email by Jimmy Daly for some great ideas.

If they miss the packing slip and don't see the receipt email, your support page should be 1 click from your homepage and easy to find. On the support page "Report a damaged or incorrect order" should be easy to find. This is where your custom form can be used to gather the info you'll need to solve their issue. Depending on your support system you may be able to give an auto-response tailored to the issue. For example: "I"m sorry to hear that something was missing from your order. We will be in touch shortly and make this right. In most cases we can have a replacement shipment out the same or next business day." The customer feels heard quickly and already has an idea of how the situation will likely be handled.

An easy to find contact button that sticks to the edge of the screen is now standard among support desk apps. We chose FreshDesk because it allowed us to create categories so customer requests could be directed to the right department and their automation features allowed an autoresponse to be sent based on the type of request. The system also tracks the number of each type of request so you can tweak your site and system to eliminate, prevent or optimize for your most popular service requests.

Takeaway 2: Make it right with style.

This takes some care. Shipping out a replacement is easy enough. Of course the time and money required to do so are just the beginning of the error related costs. There are less concrete costs, like the cost of possibly loosing one or more future sales from the customer. Or even the cost of the referral or positive word of mouth which that customer is not likely to provide.

For us the most difficult challenges revolved around customer urgency. For example, let's say your customer needs your product for an event. They order it 3 day air to be sure it's there in time. When the incorrect order is delivered they insist that you ship the correct item Next Day Air. The cost of Next Day Air is 4 times the gross sale. You loose big if you do it, and in your customers eyes (and in the eye's of their facebook followers) you're a monster if you don't. Instances like these clarify just how damaging a single shipping error can be.

In most cases promptly sending out replacement shipment is a good start. Also including a gift that shows you appreciate the customer and an apology asking for another chance to serve them better are also pretty standard. Shipping errors should not be "business as usual" and your response should make that clear. The less frequent your errors, the more you can afford to really go above and beyond for the customer. At some point your response can be so good it can outweigh the inconvenience and become a net positive. At the end of the day though, the customer really just wants to get what they ordered. It goes without saying that a small gift to show appreciation goes much further when it's not a peace offering.

You may already have a system in place to follow up with your customer after their order arrives to be sure they received their order in good condition. This post delivery follow up is another prime place to give your customer a link to your support page. This transactional email can often be triggered when the package is marked as delivered. If your workflow for sending replacements differs from your regular workflow, the follow up may or may not be sent automatically. If it will be sent in a separate process you can vary the email, making it a confirmation that the replacement arrived in order. You might also thank them for their understanding and patience.

In addition to transactional email canned responses can be a great tool if used correctly. Everyone has received generic canned messages before and knows how bad they can be. On the other end of the spectrum you can take time to write out a perfect response for each of your most commonly sent responses. It helps to write them to a specific customer, then tweak it slightly so that it can more easily be re-used. It's rare that the canned response will be used as-is with no customization. Instead leave areas that can be filled with items specific to their situation and make them obvious so they are not overlooked when sending the response. Unlike one-off emails these well crafted messages allow you to convey your best possible message every time. They don't change when new staff is hired and they are clear and concise even if the sender is tired or rushed. Help desk systems like FreshDesk have a searchable repository for canned responses making them easy to use and organize. Gmail supports canned responses as well. It also possible to use a Macro utility like KeyText (PC) or Keyboard Maestro (MAC) to save responses as macros and trigger them with a phrase like: " #missing " Typing this string will automatically paste in your pre-written response.


Thank you for contacting.
I feel awful that the [PRODUCTNAME] was missing from your order.
I know how frustrating it is to wait patiently on an order only to learn you have to contact customer service and continue waiting.
Looks like everything was ordered and set to be packed but a human error in the shipping room has left us shaking our heads. =(
While I can't offer much of an explanation I can make this right with a quickness.

The [PRODUCTNAME] will ship out ASAP and should arrive by

I will personally see to it that this is done quickly and accurately, consider me your ambassador of "happy". An email with the tracking number of your replacement should arrive in the next 4 hours.

Please let me know if there is anything else I can do.


Takeaway 3: Wash, Rinse, but Please Don't Repeat

Have you ever double-whammied a customer and botched two of their orders back to back? What are the chances? Have you ever made the exact same error on the replacement shipment? GASP! It happens more than you'd think. Usually these are the result of a training error. A new hire in the shipping room that confuses X with Y. The first one that comes back is not unusual enough to warrant inspection so a replacement is sent by the same noob and BAM!, you have one not-so-fun email to write and a customer that won't be able to resist sharing his experience on twitter. Don't believe me? Do a twitter search for "wrong item twice". Crazy right?

So how do you avoid this? Re-shipments could be handled by a manager or triple checked by a team of minions but that really doesn't guarantee accuracy. The question is, if higher accuracy is possible "Why not assure accuracy the first time?" Shipping errors are costly in so many ways and while it's important to handle errors gracefully and do everything you can to right the wrong, prevention is the smart play.

A big part of prevention is tracking shipping errors so you have more than a vague idea of how things are really going. Simply keeping track of who shipped each order and the number of errors in a given period will be helpful in detecting and addressing issues. Making note of the products involved can turn up the root cause, like confusion between products, products in the wrong bin or other training issues that can then be remedied sooner rather than later.

In summary, making pick pack errors is unfortunate and costly. When they happen it's important to have good systems in place to minimize their negative impact.

In hindsight we should have spent more time preventing shipping errors than optimizing how they were handled. :) After many embarrassing and costly errors, and many band-aid accuracy fixes, we decided a change was in order. Ultimately we decided to build our own barcode scan and pack QC system. After more than a year of development, and many revisions, we rolled out our system and shipping errors suddenly stopped. Customer service email dropped off so abruptly we had to test our contact forms.

Rather than a string of learning related errors, new hires now begin shipping perfect orders on their first day. We expected it to work, it was the purpose of the software, but the difference was dramatic. There were two additional surprises. First, we expected the process to add some packing time to each order. Since adding a few seconds per order was much preferable to re-shipping orders we were prepared for this. What we found was that packing speed actually increased because the manual double check of items already placed in the box was replaced by an automatic check. The second surprise was the reaction of the packers. They took to it from day one, genuinely appreciating the peace of mind that comes when you know every order is right.

I hope you've found some of these ideas helpful. If you're interested providing your staff a means to eliminate shipping errors and consistently delight your customers I hope you'll consider adding GroovePacker to your shipping workflow. You can click to Schedule a Walkthrough below and I'll be happy to answer any questions you have.

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