The topic of supply chain delays is dinner table conversation these days in large part because of what we’ll call the “Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020.” But while consumers are aware of the issues that manufacturers, distributors and retailers face, their expectations for product availability and fast delivery still hold. 

According to consulting firm McKinsey & Company, more than 90% of online shoppers in the U.S. expect free two- to three-day shipping even amid pandemic conditions. If those delivery expectations aren’t met, almost half of shoppers will choose a different retailer next time. What’s more, technology management firm SOTI learned that more than two-thirds of consumers (68%) want to know their order status throughout the delivery process.

Communicating transparently about expected and unexpected delays shows customers you’re operating in good faith, and that you value their patience as much as you value their business. 

Read on to learn how to increase customer trust with effective communication at every part of the supply chain.

Communicating with Your Whole Supply Chain

Activating text and email notifications for order tracking makes basic customer expectations easy to meet. This functionality is table-stakes for e-commerce, and some retailers are upping the ante with “X stops away” notifications, and photographic delivery confirmations. These real-time tracking features create a layer of delay messaging that builds trust by keeping clients informed of their order status from “Buy Now” to doorstep delivery. 

Developing a delay messaging strategy begins by communicating within your supply chain. For example, if this year’s hot holiday toy depends on a hard-to-find computer chip, delays may be inevitable. Retailers should stay in close contact with their distributors regarding availability. Distributors must also communicate regularly with manufacturers for up-to-date lead times throughout the season. And manufacturers will be on top of their chip suppliers to gather the same information. Communicating with your up-chain suppliers regularly — and encouraging them to communicate with theirs — is essential for setting customer expectations when down-chain delays occur. 

This type of communication is important year-round but should get special attention at peak season. The holiday shopping season puts added pressure on retailers to have items ready to sell and deliver fast. Check in with your suppliers regularly with a few important questions, including: 

  1. Which products are most likely to experience delays this season?
  2. What’s causing the delays?
  3. What are the lead times for those products, or cut-off dates for ordering? 
  4. What products do you have plenty of that we won’t have to worry about?

Build Trust with Supply Chain Delays and Updates

Actively communicating with suppliers arms you with information that can benefit your customers — and your business. Metapack found that while the pandemic triggered a 28% increase in online shopping by the end of Q1 2020, the number of negative delivery experiences increased five-fold. Sharing information effectively can keep your business out of the dreaded frustrated-customer territory.

These customer communications (which Metapack says 61% of customers prefer to receive by email) can perform a variety of functions, including:

  • Explaining delays
  • Setting expectations and sharing timelines
  • Improving the shopping experience overall

Here’s a look at what each type of message might include:


Delays and product shortages happen. Don’t leave your customers in the dark when they do. According to Gartner, it’s important to tell customers if the supply issue is under control or how long it’s likely to continue. Emailing your existing customer database is a great way to let them know what’s going on, and what you’re proactively doing to manage future product availability. Savvy marketers can also use these interactions as opportunities to leverage inventory they have on hand by suggesting alternative products their customers might not have thought of. 

Scenario: XYZ Toys has announced its must-have item for the year, but it discovers in late summer that a computer chip shortage could disrupt the manufacturing process and reduce peak-season availability. You’ll need to place your retail store’s holiday orders by October 15 if you hope to have toys on shelves in December. Be sure to mention your healthy supply of other products that won’t be affected by the chip shortage and might be of interest to the same customer base.

Sample email message: “Dear Customer: We know it’s early, but we wanted to let you know we’re looking forward to helping you with your holiday shopping this year! Supply chain delays continue to affect many industries, and kids’ toys are no exception. Our industry partners have let us know that “This Great Toy” may be hard to find this year while computer chip shortages continue. We recommend pre-ordering these items no later than October 1 to ensure timely delivery, and have included a link to the product on our website below. Please know that we’re staying in contact with our partners and will keep you updated on availability all season. In the meantime, be sure to check out “Another Awesome Item” that’s sure to be on many wish lists. As always, thank you for trusting us with your gift-giving needs. We look forward to seeing you this holiday season!” 


If your suppliers notify you of longer-than-normal lead times, be sure to pass that information onto your customers — especially for busy season or holiday orders. Make sure this information is available in a few different ways, such as on your website, social media and email databases.

Scenario: Hundreds of local contractors count on your building materials center to help them complete remodeling projects before the holidays. But a few manufacturers’ reps have let you know about long lead times due to raw materials shortages and lean staffing. You need to help your contractor customers plan ahead for potential delays and shortages during a busy season.

Sample social media post: “Long Lead Time Alert! Bathroom remodelers: We’ve been informed of potential delays of 4-6 weeks on insulated shower bases and glass shower doors. Please be sure to let your homeowner clients know about longer lead times for shower materials. You can find ongoing lead time updates here on our social media channels, as well as on our website, ordering app and contractor portal. Please reach out with any questions!”


Some delays are impossible to plan for. The COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example. Natural disasters, weather events, international conflicts and product recalls can always interrupt everything from raw material acquisition to distribution and shipping. Transparency and early communication with your customers in these unexpected situations goes a long way toward maintaining trust. 

Scenario: Unseasonably wet weather washes out a million acres of corn, leaving cereal manufacturers short of ingredients for some products. Your organization can overcome shortages, but realigning production and distribution will take time. You have a plan and want to let your entire supply chain know what to expect.

Sample Press Release language: “Due to higher-than-normal rainfall causing crop damage in the Great Plains, ABC Cereals is experiencing an ingredient shortage for Sweet Corn Crunchies cereal. While this will cause a brief interruption in availability, we are already ramping up production of this popular cereal at one of our unaffected facilities, and expect Sweet Corn Crunchies supplies to return to normal by the end of the month.”

Crowdsourced Delivery Can Head Off Delays

You can overcome some supply-chain delays by bypassing traditional distribution and using inventory already at your disposal. Crowdsourced delivery models like Roadie come to the rescue here, with a national network of drivers that let you fill any size order on-demand, locally and without traditional carriers’ capacity and scheduling restrictions. 

What’s even better is that transparency elements like real-time order tracking and photographic chain-of-custody are baked right into the Roadie platform, helping you meet customer expectations of timely delivery and communication all the way to the doorstep. 

If a problem comes up during that last mile, Roadie can help every step of the way. Once a driver is matched with a gig, Roadie shares sender and driver contact information so both parties can communicate directly as needed — including unexpected delay situations. And Roadie Support is available through multiple channels, including chat, phone and email. From getting stuck in traffic to addressing personal emergencies, the opportunity for easy communication between all parties ensures the best possible delivery experience, for you and your customers.

When shoppers click the “order” button, they place their trust in your business to deliver items in the promised timeframe. More than ever, customers understand that delays happen, but they also expect to hear from you when they do. Pairing platform-based delivery updates with a strategy for communicating order delays is a recipe for successful customer relationships.

Head into peak season with your best communications strategy ever. Check out our blog for more peak season best practices.

8 steps retailers can take now to get ready for peak season delivery success