Image: NASA | Hurricane Harvey

While eBay and other marketplaces may offer some seller rating relief to sellers and shipments impacted directly by Hurricane Harvey. But the reality is that this major storm will affect far more eCommerce transactions.

LOGISTICS ROUTES

Image: UPS | Truck
Image: UPS | Truck

As storms approach, logistics companies like UPS, FedEx, and USPS halt shipments or reroute shipments away from potentially affected areas. This process can add significant delays to your shipments even if they are not destined for affected areas.

Specifically, Texas is a big rail and trucking corridor for many shipments crossing from the Southeast U.S. to the West Coast or vice versa. Among the parcel delivery companies, UPS is a big user of trains, and flooding is one of the main disrupters for trains.

As a storm approaches, logistics operators shut down transit, warehouses, depots, and travel corridors to minimize damage to goods and equipment. This shutdown results in “stranded” shipments outside the affected areas until available capacity on other routes is found or the main routes open up again.

Restarting operations is not an instant fix. Even if transportation companies add additional capacity or contract with other vendors, delays of existing shipments stack up.

Also, new shipments added to the system see delays due to existing shipments maximizing warehouse and other logistics resources.

While every situation is different, typically, expect up to 3 days of delays for every single day of a shutdown. Check with your carriers on how long they were shut down on routes through Texas.

CUSTOMER OUTREACH REALLY IMPORTANT

Image: Adobe Stock | Customer Service Woman
Image: Adobe Stock | Customer Service Woman

During this week it is important to email customers with updates. You can’t be specific about shipments in a general email, but you should let your customers know that even if they live in non-affected areas, their delivery may be impacted by system-wide interruptions.

UPS, Fedex, and USPS do not actually scan packages beyond distribution centers, so exact locations of packages are often difficult to attain. This is important to communicate to your customers.

For example, in South Florida, most USPS packages leaving the area scan “Opa-Lacka” as the “last location” until the next time the shipment arrives in a regional USPS sorting facility. However, in a case of system-wide interruptions to the logistics network, the package may not have moved at all and is still in the Opa-Lacka facility.

When customers do not see movement of shipments for days, they become nervous. How many of you have received emails such as “Where is my order?”

While UPS and FedEx tracking are better than USPS, both companies suffer from similar issues.

They only show the last location scan until the package makes it to the next sorting facility. In the case of cross country shipments, under normal conditions, that can be up to 3 business days.

Communicating the extent of how logistics are impacted may reduce some of the “Where is my order” emails. It also shows the buyer you care about the shipment!

COMMUNICATE COMMUNICATE AND COMMUNICATE

Image: Adobe Stock | Communications
Image: Adobe Stock | Communications

As time-consuming as it may seem, during this time you should have a contact person or team in place to deal with stuck packages.

Also, make sure your customer service staff know not to “promise” regular delivery times if shipments are going more than 400 miles or the direct transit route sends them through Texas.

When orders ship this week, inform customers that delays are possible due to continuing interruptions in the logistics system.

Customer inquiries on existing orders should be logged and handled by a dedicated person or team. This way your customer receives the proper follow up on tracking and personalized updates.

Flooding from Harvey will continue for a few days. Especially as weather forecasts in Texas and Louisiana expect more rainfall until Thursday.

Delays in shipments from and to non-affected areas may still linger into late next week. Of course, in affected flooded areas, delays and interruptions may be longer until basic services like electricity are restored and equipment and assets can return.

Do remember, some logistics assets are needed for relief efforts, reducing capacity on normal business.

EBAY AND OTHER MARKETPLACES

eBay already announced they would automatically protect sellers status for sellers and shipments in affected areas.

However, you should monitor customer feedback that may indicate issues with the delivery. If tracking shows the delivery went through the impacted area, you might be able to have any negative remarks or “defects” removed from your account when contacting the marketplace.

Everyone at eSellerCafe is concerned with the human toll of Hurricane Harvey. We wish those impacted the best and hope for a swift recovery.

If Hurricane Harvey impacted your business or shipments, we want to hear your story. Please use the comments section below.

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4 Comments

  1. The flooding in the Houston Area will probably last for weeks. Following the biggest prior hurricane, it was 3 weeks before all the waters subsided. The flooding now is much more extensive — probably a 3rd of Houston’s huge land area — and the waters are deeper, since the amount of rainfall was/is unprecedented.

    1. Thank you for your comment. The clay soil in Houston does not absorb water, so that makes the situation even worse and as you stated, will take a long time for the water to subside.

  2. Do you know if Amazon’s book printing division, CreateSpace, is affected by the floods? I just found out that my order of 250 books (placed well before the storm) was delayed because of “manufacturing” and they are giving me no estimate of when I might receive them.

    1. I am sorry, we do not have any information if CreateSpace is impacted by the Texas floods. To the best of my knowledge they do not operate out of Texas, but there could be raw material supplier issues they are trying to solve that may involve a Texas supplier.

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