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Better processes mean better business. In this article, we look at how to prevent shipping errors by examining the root causes that allow them to happen and provide practical solutions.

Shipping processes can make or break a business, no matter the size. Keeping your shipping systems on track as you grow will reward you with a loyal customer base and the best kind of business – repeat business. Conversely, too many errors in your shipping will destroy the customer experience and leave lasting negative effects.

In this post, we cover the key points of successful shipping processes, highlight where shipping errors tend to occur and examine areas you might improve.

Common Shipping Errors to Be Aware Of

Every business strives for trouble-free shipping processes, but common errors do occur. Knowing exactly what the specific problems are and keeping them in mind will help curb their potential damage before they become a significant issue:

  • Items Don’t Arrive on Time – Delivering on time according to customer expectations is a must in and business. If you don’t, customers and clients will be happy to seek alternatives and do business elsewhere. Best practices are to state order processing and shipping times when you take an order. It’s also a good idea to provide your customers with source of information should they experience a problem that is beyond your control.

  • Wrong Items Sent – Though less of an issue these days due to improved shipment tracking, it does happen in every business and is almost always the result of human error. For instance, two items may be very similar leading to the wrong item being picked. The item could also be in the wrong warehouse location. Either way, it’s an error that will cost you as you need to retrieve the incorrect item and send out a replacement.

  • Wrong Quantity Sent – This tends to happen more frequently with businesses that sell bundles or packs of products. Multi-pack items often cause issues like this, especially if they need to be broken down before being sent out. large bundles of multiple single products can also cause problems. Though send the wrong quantity may not have as severe an affect as sending the wrong item entirely, you’ll still have to deal with the indirect cost of having to manage and adjust your stock levels for accuracy.

  • Stock Levels are Incorrect – As mentioned, inaccurate stock levels will produce their own headaches. Mismanaged inventory levels can cause problems with missed or late deliveries. Product returns are one of the leading causes of stocking problems and can lead you selling items you don’t have. If you have multiple warehouse locations, keeping your stock levels accurate and up to date will help to keep related problems to a minimum.

  • Items Sent to the Wrong Address – It’s common for online stores to ask there are separate delivery and billing addresses before an order is processed. For most individuals, these are the same. Shipping errors can also occur if the item is a gift going to a completely different address. For large shipments, a Bill of Lading (BOL) is supposed to have all addressing information clearly represented to ensure accurate delivery. Again however, errors do occur therefor it’s a very good idea to whenever possible, double check shipping information is in fact correct beforehand.

How to Prevent Shipping Errors

It’s a fact, shipping errors will occur in every business. The key to preventing shipping errors, and keep your customers happy in the process, is to have a strategy in place that both reduces and mitigates the problems from starting in the first place. Here are 10 tips for taking control over shipping errors.

1. Partner with Reliable Shipping Services

Even with the perfect in-house shipping system, some shipping errors can be out of your control. Don’t settle for a delivery service or 3pl provider that will simply “get the job done”. Shop around to ensure you’re getting the best price and service for both you and your customers.

2. Implement an Automated Warehouse System

Several technologies will allow you to automate your warehouse. These include RFID tagging, robotics, cloud computing and on-demand warehousing. Each of these, or useful combination will improve the accuracy of your inventory flow, increase overall efficiency and in some cases, even help to reduce your carbon footprint.

Warehouse Management System

Warehouse Management System

3. Leverage an End-to-End Shipment Tracking Service

Occasionally, deliveries will wind up in never-never land – never to be seen again. Although you might be able to claim on insurance for these missing items, this doesn’t help the customer and adds to your inventory shrinkage. If at all possible possible, employ an end-to-end tracking service to improve product delivery accountability. By sharing the tracking details with your customer, they can see where their order is at all times and make sure they’re available to receive it.

4. Conduct Regular Product and Inventory Location Checks

With picking and stock management, inventory that’s spread across multiple warehouse locations can be the source of significant issues. By choosing warehouses that are strategically located and conducting quarterly reviews, the more accurate stock levels that result can help reduce errors and speed up pick times.

5. Double-Check Order Information

When it comes to shipping errors, inaccurate order information is the seed of all bad things. If you take orders over the phone, the best practice is to repeat back the order details to the customer to verify their accuracy. With online orders, it’s best to use an address validation service to check that the address does indeed exist and has been completed correctly. This will save you sending shipments to a non-existent or incorrect address.

6. Offer Focused Shipping Options

Offering too many shipping methods also increases the likelihood of errors through sheer numbers. In a similar way, they’ll severely complicate matters when you have to account for express and international shipping. As a general rule, avoid using more than three or four shipping methods.

7. Be Smart About Your Packaging

Compared to having to make good on a delivery due to poor packaging, the relatively small cost of a sturdier box or bubble wrap filler is well worth the extra few cents invested. Without robust packaging, not only do you run the risk of having to re-ship the item, you can’t sell a broken product at it’s full margin. If you want to reduce returns, choose to use the most appropriate packing that helps it arrive undamaged.

8. Create a Double-Check Picking System

For full accuracy, you should realize a double-check system at some point in your pick, pack and ship process. You can employ the same person to do it in picking, or engage someone further down the line in packing. Either way, the extra effort will prevent the majority of picking errors.

9. Use a Barcode Scanner

A surefire way to boost your picking accuracy, barcode scanners tell your pick team if they’re picking the right product and in the right quantities. Many scanners also have the capability to update your inventory in real time after a product has been picked thus helping with inventory management accuracy too.

10. Apply a Thorough Returns Process

Returns are a natural part of any product-based businesses. Without a reasonable process of handling them quickly and efficiently, you’re setting yourself up for major headaches. A good returns process will account for stock levels, human resources and have a buffer to account for things like associated packaging. The aim is to get products back into stock, or at least accounted for, and the right product shipped as soon as possible.

Think of Errors as Opportunities

Building and maintaining an accurate shipping process is vital for any business. Time should be spent planning and monitoring each stage for improvements that can be made. Errors may and probably will still occur, but learning from them as to why and when they happen goes a long way towards improving your systems.