What are the most common shipping problems?

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Nearly half of online shoppers in the US run into shipping problems, our recent State of Commerce Ops Report shows. 

No matter how much you pride yourself on the quality and reliability of your service, it’s often not plain sailing.  

From geopolitics to bad weather, from spiraling costs to simple human error, there are a lot of obstacles to navigate to keep customers satisfied. And when your shipping strategy drifts off course, it can have major ripple effects on your customers, your business — and your reputation. 

Here, we’ll look at some of the most common shipping problems faced by ecommerce businesses and how to address them for more efficient delivery times, lower shipping costs, better returns and exchanges and stronger inventory management.  

The impact of shipping problems on retailers

With up to 90% of the world’s goods being transported by sea, shortcuts through the Suez and Panama Canal are vital for speedy deliveries. When those routes become impassable, it can disrupt global supply chains. 

For example, drought has reduced shipping through the Panama Canal by 36%, while conflict in the Red Sea is sending many shippers the long way around Africa, adding 8-10 days to shipping times and $1m per ship in extra costs. 

As a retailer, there’s not much you can do about those issues, but they can hit your business and customers in several ways. 

Inventory issues: Supply chain issues can seriously mess up your inventory management. You or your suppliers may find yourselves unexpectedly out of stock, with key products on backorder.

Increased costs: Whether it’s delayed, lost, wrong, or damaged goods, retailers incur the added costs of returns, replacements and other shipping costs.  

Reputational damage: It’s not just revenue — shipping problems can cost your business its good name. If your customers aren’t happy with how you fulfill their orders, you can easily lose them to the competition. When deliveries fall short of customer’s expectations, they’re often not shy about making their disappointment known on social media or review sites. 

The impact of shipping problems on customers

Lost trust: When customers buy from you, it’s a show of trust. When your delivery service breaks down, even if it’s out of your hands, you can lose that trust — and their custom.

Inconvenience: Shipping problems can seriously put your customers out. They may be waiting on an important or time-sensitive delivery — a delayed birthday present, a medicine, or a critical business product that’s out of stock. Or perhaps they’ve arranged their schedule around the expected delivery time. 

Extra expense: Shipping issues also hit customers in the pocket. A problem with their purchase can mean having to fork out for the return or exchange. International customers can also be hit with the nasty shock of unexpected customs duties on top of what they’ve already paid.    

As much as possible, you want to avoid shipping problems. But they will happen. When they do, how do you limit the impact on your customers and your business? 

Let’s look at 8 of the most common problems that arise and how you can mitigate the impacts, keep your business running smoothly and your customers satisfied.

Delayed shipments

When we asked consumers about their biggest shipping issues, the number one complaint, for 62% of respondents, was a delay in their delivery.

Whatever the reasons that shipments get stuck in transit, it’s a pain for your customer. But if it’s you — the retailer — who is waiting on a delayed shipment from your supplier, it can impact your whole customer base.  

It doesn’t matter to your customers whether Red Sea pirates or a simple scheduling error is responsible for the delay. What matters is how you limit avoidable delays and how you handle them and mitigate the repercussions when they are unavoidable.


Diversify your options: Build a broad portfolio of shipping partners. This gives you more options and flexibility to be agile about the routes you choose and keeps you covered through busy seasons and unexpected logjams.

💡 Linnworks can help with this one. Our platform gives you access to our network of major shipping carriers, including UPS, DHL, FedEx and many more.

Provide tracking: Invest in advanced tracking technology to improve your supply chain visibility. This gives both you and your customers some peace of mind and clarity on the status of shipments and when to expect delivery. 

Damaged goods

Is there anything worse than opening that long-awaited or much-needed package to find the product you’ve paid for and waited for is faulty or broken? Damaged goods was the second most cited shipping complaint, affecting 44% of the consumers we surveyed. 


Implement good packing protocols: Ensure any handling and logistics partners are up to speed on best practices and invest in training your handling staff. Design clear procedures for packing processes and anticipate any potential damage risks. 

💡 Linnworks intelligent packing assignment helps to ensure effective packing methods

Use high-quality materials: Make sure you’re using the most secure and most appropriate packaging for the goods you’re sending, 

Catch damaged warehouse stock: Make sure you have great warehouse management systems, with quality control checks, to ensure no damaged goods leave the warehouse.

Lost shipments

Actually, there is something worse than damaged goods — not knowing where on earth your goods are. 

Whether a customer or a retailer, when your expected shipment seems to have vanished without a trace, it can leave you feeling helpless to solve the problem. 

Depending on the carrier, you might be able to track your parcel — at least some of the way. But even when tracking is an option, items often fall between the cracks. And that can mean a leap of faith that the delivery will arrive on time — or at all.  

You can see they’ve left the warehouse,  and then… nothing. International shipments are particularly susceptible, often seeming to fall into a black hole once they leave the dispatch country. 

The result is often starting from scratch: sending out a replacement — but not until enough time has passed to be sure the item is truly lost in the system. 

An extra cost for you, an extra delay for your customer. And frustration all around. 

Image source 


Ensure live order tracking: Our research shows that real-time order tracking and immediate visibility of stock levels are even more important than fast deliveries to customers.  

Offer shipping insurance: Give your business and your customers peace of mind by offering comprehensive coverage for lost items. Quick and easy reimbursement and replacement can go a long way to keep your customers happy.

Incorrect shipments

Picking errors can happen for a whole host of reasons — disorganized warehouses, undertrained staff, or simple human error.  

Of course, mistakes happen, but the result for your customer is the same. And this one is definitely on you. 

That said, that means you can do something about it. Incorrect shipments are largely avoidable and with care, attention and good shipping protocols, you can work to eliminate the risk.  


Upgrade your warehouse tech: With order verification technology, like a barcoding inventory management system, you can limit issues with mispicks. 

Double-check your packing: Systematic double-checking is the only way to be sure what goes into the box is exactly what the customer expects to get.

Improve your complaint handling: Ensure you have good customer service systems for responding to complaints, so you can minimize and repair any reputational damage. Make it easy for your customers to get in touch and to request and receive a prompt exchange.

High shipping costs

Customers understand that last-minute orders and quick deliveries will come at a premium. But even standard shipping costs are soaring, thanks to inflation and the unpredictable disruptions in global supply chains. At the same time, providers can increase their prices to cover the increase. All of which can add up to eye-watering, even prohibitive, charges for the consumer.

The real danger here, especially for overseas customers, is that the cost of shipping and handling will be enough to put them off buying from you in the first place. 

Managing shipping costs is the biggest operational challenge for 38% of online retailers. But there are things you can do to mitigate the expense for you and your customers. 


Outsource your shipping: Using a third-party logistics company (3PL) can help you keep costs low and also relieve some of the administrative burden of handling your own shipping — especially if you’re a small business. 

Linnworks shipping management can help you shop around for the most cost-effective carriers and find the best balance between cost, quality and reliability of service. 

Optimize your packaging: Make sure you use the right size packaging for your consignments. And if the carrier provides its own packaging materials, use them. This is not only good for your budget, it’s good for the environment — and that matters to your customers

Automate your shipping processes: Platforms like Linnworks can help you track real-time shipping rates and weigh up your options, so you can quickly identify cost-effective shipping methods. 

Backorders and inventory issues

Especially with the supply chain issues of recent years, forecasting your stock needs and ordering what you need when you need it is a challenge. If you’re juggling multiple warehouses or selling through more than one channel, stock management can quickly get chaotic, leading to stockouts, delays and grumpy customers. 


Automate your inventory management: Linnworks lets you centralize your entire inventory management operation so that you can know exactly what stock is where in real-time. This way, you can avoid the nasty shocks of overselling and leaving customers waiting — or worse, sending them to buy from the competition. 

Be transparent: Customers want to be able to see what you have in stock before they buy and to know that, if something is out of stock, when they can expect it. Inventory visibility is a great way to build customer trust and loyalty. Small wonder it was one of the leading technologies prioritized by retailers in 2023.

Returns and reverse logistics

Satisfying customers who are already dissatisfied is a challenge. They know they’ll have to go through the same dispatch process again — and trust that it’ll better than last time. 

A well-oiled reverse logistics system is vital to ensure that your customer can return goods without too much effort or cost.  


Make your policy clear: Provide your customers with a clear and concise return and refund policy, so they know exactly what they’re entitled to and how to go about it. Here’s a done-for-you returns template if you need one. Keep in mind that different returns laws might apply in different countries.  

Offer free returns: If you can manage it, consider offering free returns, covering the postage costs and replacement costs. This can pay dividends in customer satisfaction and loyalty. 

Automate your returns and exchanges: Self-service returns and exchanges are easier for both you and your customers. The less effort, the better for everyone involved and it adds an element of control that is great for the customer experience. 

Tech stack challenges

Many small retailers still rely on manual processes and simple spreadsheets for their shipping management, making human error and delays all the more likely. 

For your ecommerce business to grow sustainably, a connected tech ecosystem that offers the visibility and automation to navigate shipping problems big and small is a must-have.


Ditch the spreadsheets: Replacing your outdated inventory and order management with forecasting software. This way, you’re better positioned to know what lies ahead.

Invest in a shipping management system: Using a third-party software system to integrate and automate your shipping processes is a worthwhile investment. Platforms like Linnworks help you to streamline your shipping workflows, improving your inventory management, packaging, routing and costs. 

Navigate your shipping problems with Linnworks

There’s no such thing as problem-free shipping. Ecommerce retailers will always be at the mercy of shifting currents beyond their control. But with a good shipping management system to help you, your business can avoid the worst and manage the rest — and keep your customers on board in the process. 

Linnworks shipping management helps you: 

  • Automate your shipping workflows to save time and eliminate errors 
  • Compare shipping carriers so you can find the best option for each delivery 
  • Ship your orders quicker by the most efficient routes
  • Protect your customers’ goods from dispatch to delivery

Request a demo to find out how Linnworks can make your shipping smooth sailing.

Ready to see Linnworks in action?

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  • 100+ integrations with global sales channels
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rosanna campbell

Rosanna Campbell


Rosanna is a freelance writer who writes non-boring content for B2B SaaS clients like Dock, Lattice, and monday.com. She lives in Spain with her husband, her son, and a beagle who eats her furniture.