The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how almost every business conducts its operations, at least for the short- and medium-term, and in some cases, possibly longer. One stumbling block that promotional products businesses have had to deal with is the change to shipping carriers’ practices, terms and delivery guarantees in response to the pandemic.

Due to transportation limitations stemming from the outbreak, UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service have all issued updates to their service guarantees and timetables. As UPS notes on its website, “The novel coronavirus pandemic has created unprecedented complexities, which have required us to constantly reassess our operations. Our highest priority is to help ensure the health and safety of our employees, customers and suppliers.”

Rama Beerfas, MAS, CTSM, president of distributor Lev Promotions, is one businessowner who has been impacted by the changes and she doesn’t expect to see improvements anytime soon. “While the greater possibility of delayed arrivals for shipments has been an issue over the last five months or so, I do anticipate it will only get worse through the holiday season,” she says.

Beerfas adds, “The biggest impact it’s had on us is that I’ve had to suspend our on-time delivery guarantee for date-sensitive orders, explaining to clients that the major carriers—UPS, FedEx and USPS—have all pretty much suspended their delivery guarantees on all their levels of service due to delays resulting from an unexpected and tremendous increase in delivery volume coupled with staffing shortages due to COVID.”

In March, UPS suspended its service guarantee for all shipments from any origin to any destination and has not yet reinstated them. In April, the USPS noted that its Priority Mail products and First-Class packages could temporarily require more time to be delivered due to limited transportation availability, and that Priority Mail's two-day and three-day service commitments are extended to three days and four days, respectively. Those notifications remain in effect. Earlier this year, FedEx, citing local, state and national governments around the world issuing work and travel restrictions, suspended its money-back guarantee for all FedEx Express, FedEx Ground, FedEx Freight and FedEx Office services until further notice.

These modifications compelled distributors to adjust their delivery commitments to clients as well. “Shortly after we were notified by our carriers that capacity issues, due to increased shipping volume would impact delivery lead times, we notified our clients, included language in all of our quotes regarding delivery time estimates, and added a statement on all of our promotional material,” says Marc Simon, CEO of distributor HALO Branded Solutions. “We made clients part of the solution so it wouldn’t become a problem. And, thus far, we haven’t experienced any client complaints related to delivery delays. We have found that clients are understanding of the unique and universal challenges like extended lead times in these unprecedented times. If you are transparent, informative and collaborate on solutions, clients are very cooperative.”

Communication with customers has been key for Beerfas as well. She says, “So far, clients have been understanding when shipments have been delayed. We’ve also been very proactive about making sure recurring annual holiday gift orders are placed a bit earlier than usual. In addition, we’re making sure clients with ‘must-have’ in-hands dates are well aware of production and ‘standard’ in-transit times, and that they should leave an additional cushion of at least one week when possible. If it’s not possible, we’re repeating over and over that they may not have it on time, and that’s in writing on our order approval form.”

Beerfas adds, “Ultimately, the thing we struggle with is advising clients to pay for expedited shipping when those services might be necessary but aren’t guaranteed to deliver within the expected timeframe at this point.”