How to prevent eCommerce [.blue]shipping damages[.blue]

May 25, 2023

min read

What's more frustrating than a late parcel? A damaged one!

Delivery problems account for many customer returns in eCommerce, with 80.2% of online purchases returned due to damage. What’s worse, over a third of consumers would not order from an online store again if they received a damaged parcel. This is a major pain point for online businesses, as damages are often outside of their control but represent a substantial expense. There’s not just the cost of shipping the damaged item back to the fulfilment centre, but also the cost of shipping a replacement product to the customer and the cost of dealing with the damaged item itself.  

The safe, timely and intact delivery of your products is crucial to maintain customer satisfaction and a positive brand image. Anything less can significantly impact your business, resulting in increased costs and the potential loss of future sales. In this blog, we will explore the common causes of shipping damages in eCommerce and key preventive measures. This includes working with a third-party logistics (3PL) provider that possesses the expertise and resources to ensure online orders arrive at your customer’s doorstep in pristine condition.

Customer taking photos of a damaged wine glass

The 5 most common causes of eCommerce shipping damages

1. Poor packaging

A product that is shipped in a box or mailer larger than itself is more likely to jostle around and get damaged during transit, especially without an adequate amount of padding to secure the item. You are likely to pay more, not just to use extra cushioning material to pack the item, but also to use a larger package to ship it in the first place, as these packages ultimately take up more space on a delivery vehicle. Similarly, if you dispatch an order using low-quality packaging, it is more at risk of arriving damaged as the package is not robust enough to withstand the pressures of transportation.  

2. Improper handling

If you have ever watched a courier at work, you will know that couriers don’t always treat packages with care, even if they are marked “fragile” (there are plenty of viral videos to prove it!). Sometimes, all it takes is for someone in your supply chain to drop a parcel and irreparably damage the contents. Although it is not always clear who is to blame for improper handling of a package, it is important to remember that in the UK, the Consumer Rights Act makes you – the seller – responsible for remedying the situation with the end-customer. As such, it pays to work with the most trusted carriers.  

3. Environmental factors

Extreme changes in temperature and humidity along a shipping route can warp, corrode, or contaminate a parcel and its contents. Non-waterproof packages that are left outside a customer’s home are vulnerable to damage from unexpected weather conditions like rain or snow, which can be catastrophic for certain goods like electronics, perishables, and sensitive materials. It is best practice to pack orders in a way that accounts for various climates that the parcel may pass through enroute to a customer, especially when shipping orders internationally.

4. Inaccurate documentation

Incorrect or incomplete shipping labels, customs documents and the like can lead to the mishandling of parcels, even with some of the most trusted carriers in the world. This can increase the chances of products getting damaged in transit, particularly if packages containing fragile goods such as glass are not appropriately labelled. Although you cannot necessarily control how a courier treats your parcels once they leave the safety of your warehouse, you can take steps to encourage proper handling by adding “Fragile” or “Handle with care” labels to relevant packages.  

5. Theft and tampering  

Although not strictly a cause for shipping damages, theft does result in inventory shrinkage and additional costs to your business for having to replace stolen product. Even if theft is not the aim with a delivery, some parcels are susceptible to tampering without the proper precautions, which ultimately means goods become damaged for nefarious purposes. Businesses shipping high-value products are often encouraged to take advantage of tamper-evident packaging and shipping insurance to deter such incidents and recoup the costs of any damaged parcels.  

8 ways to prevent shipping damages

The good news is that there are plenty of measures you can implement to prevent shipping damages, lower your business costs, and keep customers happy.

1. Use the correct packaging

The package your products are shipped in should only be slightly larger and, ideally, as close in shape as possible to the item you are shipping. Whether you are using a cardboard box or a plastic mailer, make sure there is enough space in the package to accommodate any filler material you use to cushion your product(s) and fill any empty space to reduce the risk of movement during transit.

2. Pack every item properly

Products that are fragile or susceptible to breaking, exploding, or leaking should be adequately wrapped in cushioning material such as paper, bubble wrap, air pillows or similar. Knowing what packaging materials to use for your products is vital to protect against potential damage. Take care to avoid using too much packaging, however, especially if it is non-recyclable or non-biodegradable, as this could damage your environmental credentials.

3. Label your packages as fragile

It seems simple but you would be surprised to learn how often businesses underestimate the importance of labelling fragile parcels. You can prompt package handlers to be more careful by affixing clear and waterproof fragile labels to parcels or – better yet – investing in packages that already have fragile warnings printed onto them to save time in the order fulfilment process.

4. Follow stringent quality control processes  

Products should be inspected before they are shipped. This includes checking for any defects, loose components, or vulnerable areas that might benefit from additional protection. When working with a new carrier or shipping partner, it is also worthwhile conducting several test orders to see if packages end up at their intended destination safely – and take the necessary steps if they do not.

5. Work with reliable carriers  

You won’t truly understand how a carrier performs unless you work with one, but make sure you do your research before selecting which carrier(s) to ship your orders through. Choose reputable carriers known for their careful handling, timely deliveries, and excellent customer support. Research carrier performance, customer reviews, and possible shipping insurance options to make the best decision for your business.

6. Invest in shipping insurance  

As mentioned, shipping insurance can help you recover the cost of a shipment that is lost, damaged, stolen or delayed during transit. Many domestic and international courier companies can cover a certain value without insurance, which is helpful if you are a smaller eCommerce business, or the average value of your shipments is relatively low. However, if you are shipping higher-value goods like electronics or luxury goods, the standard cover offered by some couriers will rarely reimburse for the entire shipment value. That’s why many leading businesses still opt for shipping insurance, offering protection against lost goods and revenue should anything beyond your control occur. Just make sure your orders are packed properly, otherwise this will invalidate any shipping insurance claims.

7. Track each shipment with tech  

Many of the leading carriers offer tracking updates for 24-hour and 48-hour delivery services. Tracking each shipment at each stage of delivery – especially in real-time – makes it easier for you to plug any gaps in the fulfilment process that could be leading to shipping damages. If a problem does occur, make sure you have a record of the damaged package, the type of damage, and how it happened, so you can take steps to address potential issues and prevent reoccurrence.

8. Work with a 3PL provider

If you are often dealing with shipping damages, it might be a sign that it’s time to outsource your fulfilment to a trusted 3PL provider. Zendbox works with many of the world’s most trusted couriers and has the buying power to secure some of the most competitive shipping rates in the industry. Zendbox also offers a 99.999% accurate pick and pack service to ensure orders are packed safely before they are dispatched, with the team working closely with your business to ensure orders are fulfilled as desired for a memorable unboxing experience. You can then track each shipment in real-time via the intelligent Zendportal fulfilment platform. Should the worst happen, Zendbox can submit courier claims on your behalf, taking the hassle and headache off your hands.

Ship happens

Delivering online orders is not a perfect science. Packages can get damaged from time to time and, most likely, out of no fault of your own. It happens. However, if you are noticing that a lot of your orders are getting damaged and hurting the customer experience, it is time to reassess how your orders are being fulfilled to improve your eCommerce operations and ensure long-term profitability. Outsourcing to a 3PL provider could be a crucial move for getting the right products to your customers on time and in perfect condition, minimising the risk of damages arising in the first place and enabling you to focus your time, energy, and investment on business growth.  

If you want to overcome the headache of shipping damages, Zendbox is ready to help. Simply fill out our form and one of our fulfilment experts will be in touch to discuss your unique business needs.

Alex Borg
Director of Operations at Zendbox

Alex is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations at Zendbox, ensuring accurate and timely order processing, picking, packing, and shipping. He collaborates closely with other teams across the business to meet customer expectations and achieve stringent service level agreements (SLAs).

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