'You can only have so much control': How brands are navigating shipping delays

2022-05-27 09:04:13 By : Mr. Peter Jiang

On Day 1 of Glossy’s Future of Fashion Summit (October 4-6), executives from fashion brands met for a town hall discussion on the current challenges they’re facing and the strategies they’re using to navigate them. Shipping delays and rising material costs stood out as their main pain points. Below, a rundown of their workarounds, in their own words.

“In the e-commerce space, shipping is getting worse and worse and worse. And there seems to be no accountability on the carrier’s side. When it comes to FedEx, they don’t even guarantee their shipping anymore. So day after day, you just get delays and delays. It’s the uncertainty that’s super frustrating.”

“The hardest part is when your supplier has gotten to the point where they’re no longer willing to commit to dates. They’ll just say, ‘We’ll ship it when it’s ready.’ And you still have to make your entire holiday plan — ad, spend, product, etc. I had a fabric shortage on Friday, so I lost an entire day — and that just makes planning for the holidays so difficult.”

“The consumer expects the brand to have the answer. We don’t have the answer, because that’s on the carrier side — so there’s a bit of a disconnect there. There’s some technology that I’m looking at that might help track packages, but it’s an additional integration and cost.”

“We’re getting wrong information all the time. FedEx’s tracking isn’t accurate. You have to go through third parties to check everything out.” 

“They also just announced the new delivery times for USPS — it’s increasing first-class [shipping] from 2-3 days to 5-6 days.”

“The tracking is only as reliable as the carrier who’s scanning things. Sometimes our package is delivered before we get the tracking update stating that it’s been received [by the carrier].” 

“[Inaccurate tracking] is also a tech stack problem — specifically with FedEx. FedEx and Shopify have a breakdown of communication in a couple of their drop-in widgets… FedEx doesn’t know that, and Shopify doesn’t know that. So you need a developer to be like, ‘Oh, this linkage is broken,’ — which is really hard [to figure out]. And you need to be able to communicate that to your customer. You don’t want to say, ‘Sorry.’ You want to say, ‘Whoops! We found the problem, and we’re going to fix it.’”

“They’re calling the upcoming holiday season ‘ship-ageddon.’ That’s why Amazon is starting holiday [promotions] already, next week.”

“Shipping to Canada is very, very expensive, and the tariff is horrendous. Of course, you don’t want to put that on the customer. We sell $400 shoes and the tariff can be as much as 300 Canadian dollars.”

“When I ship products to customers, I use the post office. Believe it or not, they have a little bit more accountability — especially if you use express [shipping]. But FedEx and UPS are just all over the place right now.”

“Third-party food platforms have the ability to deliver items in-person. Eventually, [more apparel companies] will go there. I know Doordash has tried that already, with CVS, flowers, things like that.”

“American Eagle just acquired Airterra over the last month or so. It’s still very, very new, and it’s going to be a long time before we start leveraging that. But we’re trying to get ahead of [shipping obstacles] to see what kind of efficiencies we can get.”

“We’re able to get efficiencies from a couple of our consultants that have relationships outside of just our brand and to navigate [shipping issues] that way.”

“I think about [managing my own shipping] every day when I see all the Amazon trucks in my town. Like, ‘When can I get my own truck?’ Because I do a lot of stuff locally. And it would actually make sense for me to have someone locally for something like that — because I sell fine jewelry, and it’s a lot of engagement rings that have to be delivered at this time and that time.’ 

“UPS has something called Mail Innovations. They just bring bulk product to the [Canadian] border. It’s a gray area in the system, and it’s good for long-wait items.”. 

“Our product used to ship in the package, direct from us. We’re now taking it out of the packaging, to be assembled more in-house. It’s letting us ship by air, because it’s a smaller volume of product. So that got us faster shipping without having to deal with headaches.”

“To get around Canadian tariffs, we’re producing locally.” 

“[To dodge Canadian] tariffs, we established a wholesale partner in Canada. We’ll ship products there on wholesale, and then they will distribute it.”

“[To explain shipping delays,] you send the nicest email possible and tell customers, ‘Thank you so much for being so patient during this very difficult time. All of us really appreciate it. Blah, blah, blah..‘“

“You have to communicate early to your clients. Just set the expectation that if they don’t meet this ridiculously early deadline, they will not get their product. You should clearly communicate that things have changed — through promo banners or in checkout or in retargeting, like in your abandon cart emails. That can be helpful, because it’s not really our fault.”

Alternative materials “Part of our story is that we’re a luxury fashion brand. But during the pandemic, the U.S. Navy reached out to us needing face masks. We’ve always had this standard of this luxury fabric, but [the Navy] needed stuff in 5-7 business days. So we worked with our knitter to see. ‘What do you have on-hand?’ and ‘What can you produce that will still meet their needs?’ Personalizing to meet their needs has [opened our eyes] to more possibilities.” 

“We have our hands on every single fiber that goes into our knit fabrics. And we have such a tight relationship with our supply chain; we set expectations with calls daily, text messages — to make sure that, if there are these rises in cost, we’re first to know. We’ll bulk up where we need to and make sure that we have those fibers on-hand… We make sure that we’re not getting lost in the mix and that we’re top of mind.”

“When I used to work for Walmart, we had commodity experts come in — industry experts on cotton prices, nylon prices, etc. And they would educate us. There’s a lot of noise out there and you’re not sure how much a price is going to increase, right? But what this expert did for a lot of us was set the reference point. He said, ‘The world cotton price is going to go up by 3% by this date. That’s going to be reflected in this much of an increase on your synthetics fiber — nylon, poly,…’ You can only have so much control. But if you have that information to go off of when you’re negotiating with your vendor or factory, you have a lot more negotiating power and won’t be taken advantage of.” 

“The cost of raw materials has gone up twice in this year, so [raising prices] is not something that we wanted to do, but we had to. The raised prices are going to go into effect with our new collection, so the consumer won’t necessarily know it.”

“We just baked [our price increases] into our flat rate shipping cost. We doubled it plus added $1, and there has been no shift in conversation. It bought us an extra $4.”

“We actually delayed the launch of one of our new products by a couple of months because the price of the [cotton] material got so high — it was ten-times what it usually is. And we’re not passing that on to the consumer. This product was supposed to be [sold at] a competitive price, compared to our competitors, which are typically more gently priced than we are. We know the price is going to go down. We’re not going to launch the product and create a demand for it [now], knowing that we’re eating into our margin.”

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