Bringing Clarity to Our Guaranteed Shipping Options

In 2014 we made a big improvement to our shipping offerings by guaranteeing 3 day or less delivery to the 48 states at Ground rates. After launching USPS we learned pretty quickly that while Priority and First Class Package Service often arrive in 3 days or less, they often also don’t, and estimated delivery dates are not guaranteed by the USPS. We therefore decided to only guarantee FedEx services (and by guarantee, we mean we’ll refund the cost of shipping if the package doesn’t arrive on time).

Up until last Friday, the checkout page looked like this, with that little arrow icon designating our guaranteed shipping:

Detailed Image Guaranteed Shipping - Before

This year we started doing customer service “audits” where we pick a topic and dive deep into improving it. Our employee who manages customer service will read through recent conversations around a topic and then present to us a list of improvements to our text expansions, FAQs, contact form flow, copy on other pages of the site, and UI/UX improvements based upon what he’s seeing.

Out of one of those meetings around shipping complaints came the idea to improve how we designate our guaranteed delivery time. We noticed a pattern of people picking USPS options and then complaining that the package arrived a day or two late, despite the lack of guarantee and the word “estimate” on that page and in our order confirmation emails. They’d often also suggest that they would have been willing to pay more for a guaranteed option if they knew that the option they selected (or more likely, were defaulted to) was not guaranteed.

We set out to more clearly show which options are guaranteed and which aren’t in hopes that at least some portion of the customers who need a package by a certain date will adjust their shipping method accordingly. It won’t entirely solve the problem, but it will help.

After some back and forth and studying what other companies do, we shortened the date and added a “Guaranteed” badge next to the guaranteed options:

Detailed Image Guaranteed Shipping - After

Previously, someone would have had to notice the arrow icon, look down below to read what that arrow icon meant, and then possibly click off the page for more information. The word “Guaranteed” is so clear that we were able to eliminate that line of text and also any linking off of the checkout page (something that isn’t a good idea even if it opens in an overlay or a new tab/window).

It also reinforces that concept that we learned when we did our Responsive Mobile UI Split-Test: Icons or Text: it might not always look better, but text is always more clear than icons, even popular ones, and during a checkout process clarity trumps everything else.

2 comments on Bringing Clarity to Our Guaranteed Shipping Options

  1. Rob says:

    Interesting little study, thanks for sharing.

    I’m guessing the definition of “guaranteed” is hidden in the “learn more” section on the original layout, but on the new layout it doesn’t seem be shown at all.

    Do people often question what “guaranteed” means? Do they know it means that shipping is free if it doesn’t arrive by then? Do you proactively refund the shipping or do you wait for people to write & complain? regarding the refund, is it back on to their card or is it in the form of store credit? What do you do in “free shipping” situations?

    I recently had an order from Germany with free shipping that shouldn’t have been possible, clearly I’d got something misconfigured somewhere. We only usually sell outside of the UK using Amazon, for ecommerce stuff we keep it in the UK. We decided to honour the order and of course it’s been an absolute nighmare, finding a shipper that wasn’t going to be overly expensive, realising we needed extra information from the customer to process that type of product for international order, then the package has got lost so we’re spending time chasing it now.

    I think taking a “deep dive” into particular customer issues in this way is a great way of doing things, and it gives you an opportunity to take a holistic view and check on every aspect, as you said.

    • Adam McFarland says:


      Good questions! Yes, more information is here. That page is linked to from FAQs and the shipping page on our footer. If we need to provide more info during checkout we will, however I’m hoping that word does it. Amazon does something similar when they say “Guaranteed delivery by…” without any real explanation of the guarantee at checkout. Not that Amazon always has it right, but in this situation I like how they do it.

      Do people often question what “guaranteed” means?

      I think most breeze past it and assume that it means that with 100% certainty their package will arrive by that date, which we all know is impossible to do. The FedEx services that we do guarantee are well over 99% on time though (whereas USPS for us have been in the 95% range).

      Do they know it means that shipping is free if it doesn’t arrive by then?

      I don’t think they think it through that much, but that is standard for shipping guarantees from what we’ve found.

      Do you proactively refund the shipping or do you wait for people to write & complain?

      Yes. We proactively monitor any shipment (FedEx or USPS) that doesn’t arrive on time and then reach out to the customer. If it’s FedEx Express/Ground/Home and it’s late (i.e. part of our guarantee), we issue a refund.

      regarding the refund, is it back on to their card or is it in the form of store credit?

      It depends on the situation. If a customer is irate, we just jump right to putting it back on their card. If not, we’ll offer a “bonus” if they take store credit (the cost of shipping + a few dollars). Sometimes if we know they’re a good customer we’ll also include some free stuff in their next order.

      What do you do in “free shipping” situations?

      I believe that we issue a store credit for the value of shipping, but I’ll have to double check as I don’t deal directly with these myself all that much anymore 🙂

      We’ve made mistakes similar to your Germany story. We’ll do the same thing and honor it for the customer in most cases. It’s the right thing to do but you always end up taking a big loss on the order. Hope it gets resolved soon for you!

      – Adam

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