How to Improve On-Time Freight Delivery

Posted by Jamie Hall on September 9, 2021 - 8:54 AM
shippers trying to deliver on time

The challenges of delivering on time

Although on-time performance has always been an essential part of customer satisfaction and retention, ecommerce growth, the COVID-19 pandemic and other market factors have added capacity concerns even as delivery expectations continue to rise. This means businesses face greater challenges in delivering products as promised, which can result in penalties and lost business opportunities. The key to improving on-time performance is developing strategies and processes that help you meet even the strictest shipping deadlines.

What causes poor on-time performance?

Even in the most stable shipping environment, there are multiple factors that can affect shipping timelines. From normal traffic, weather and road construction to insufficient planning and outdated strategies, there are several reasons your freight can miss its deadlines. And while these challenges can be present at any time in any supply chain, the current state of the freight industry has made them more difficult to overcome.

Often, speedier transit can help you manage short-term delays and inconveniences, but if you’re facing consistent challenges, deeper supply chain issues might be the cause. Knowing when — and how — to apply short-term transit fixes and comprehensive supply chain strategies is crucial to staying on schedule.

Transit solutions to help you deliver on time

Because many companies are experiencing disruptions with manufacturing and importing, more and more shippers are relying on Time-critical options to make up lost time and meet their delivery appointments. In cases where freight is behind schedule, has a tight deadline, or is vulnerable to transit delays or potential chargebacks, a mode with faster average transit times can often help keep you on schedule and protect your bottom line. Talk to your provider about adding these time-sensitive solutions to your shipment:

Domestic air

The fastest expedite option, domestic air shipping gives your freight a transit edge over ground shipping options. And, because freight has the option of departing on the next available flight, it’s often the fastest solution to get goods out the door, meaning it’s a good fit if you need immediate departure with the fastest possible transit.

Ground expedite

Ground expedite shipping is a good fit when freight needs fast, uninterrupted transit. Expedite can sometimes use a driving team to make sure transit continues day and night. Its mixture of speed and visibility can make it a faster alternative to full truckload (FTL) shipping when time is of the essence.


Time-definite options give your LTL or FTL shipments guaranteed delivery for a specific day, timeframe, or designated day and time. Guaranteed delivery also means you get cost protection if certain events prevent on-time delivery, giving you peace of mind for your most critical shipments.

Deliver on, deliver by, deliver between

When you need to communicate specific deadlines while keeping costs in check, it can be helpful to request deliver on, deliver by, or deliver between on your standard LTL bill of lading. These options offer time-specific delivery at a lesser cost than other time-critical options and may be an effective way for you to meet your delivery appointments. Your transportation provider will be able to help you determine if this is a good option for your freight.

Working with your provider to choose the right solutions for your shipments can help you deliver on time, but it’s also important to look at your overall supply chain for opportunities to improve efficiency.

Operational solutions to meet your deadlines

For many businesses, meeting market demand throughout the pandemic has exposed underlying supply chain issues and created new operational challenges that can make it more difficult to deliver as promised. Resolving these issues often requires supply chain strategies that take time and thought to implement, but, if done correctly, can give your supply chain the boost it needs to stay profitable and efficient.

Anyone can implement operational changes to their supply chains but working with a managed logistics team can make it easier to understand which changes will have the biggest impact. Options include:

Revising your distribution plan

One of the best ways to ensure your freight is moving as fast as possible is to look at your distribution model. Is your freight close enough to your customers or are you wasting time getting products to them? Approaches like pool distribution can help you strategically warehouse and consolidate your shipments for greater speed and efficiency. Consolidation can mean combining smaller shipments into larger, less frequent pickups or packaging freight more economically to better utilize space in warehouses and trailers. These strategies can help you shorten transit and save money on shipping and packaging.

Optimizing your loading processes

How quickly freight gets from dock to truck can have a big impact on how quickly it reaches its destination. Loading delays run up the clock at pickup and put both your schedule and your freight budget at risk. If loading takes longer than anticipated, it can mean added charges, and canceled pickups that can lead to missed delivery appointments. Combatting delivery delays with more efficient loading processes can help you better manage your shipping timeline.

Extending lead time for replenishment

If orders are coming in faster than you’ve restocked your warehouses, your customers likely aren’t receiving their orders as promised. One solution to this challenge is ordering stock earlier in order to relieve pressure in your supply chain, which can be especially effective if you’re shipping consistent volumes. A managed logistics service can leverage data and technology to help you anticipate shipments to increase your inventory preparedness when it’s time to fulfill orders.

Evaluating your carriers

Even carriers you trust can face challenges in meeting your performance expectations, especially if your business demand outgrows their capabilities. Determining if your carrier is the cause of poor on-time performance starts by carefully considering your business needs and how well your carrier meets them.

A managed partnership can use data and industry knowledge to help you ask the right questions. Do your providers have broad capacity networks with several modes to help you ship as quickly as possible? Is their network capable of providing you with the flexibility you need as the market changes? Have they demonstrated the expertise to help you ship efficiently even in an unpredictable market? These considerations will help you decide if your current carriers really have the capabilities you need to meet your customers’ delivery expectations.

Suggested read: Signs Your Business May Need a Managed Logistics Provider.

Communicating delivery expectations to your customers

Your provider should do everything possible to ensure your products get delivered on time, but because of current manufacturing delays and ongoing capacity constraints, even the most optimized supply chains can face unavoidable delays. In these cases, proactively communicating with your customers can have a big impact on their experience and satisfaction.

Here are some things you may want to consider during this time:

Creating a delivery buffer

When the market is volatile, it can be helpful to build additional shipping time into your customer communications. In cases where you have flexibility, under-promising in order to over-deliver can help keep a good relationship with your customers. Your transportation partner should be able to help you set realistic transit expectations during this time.

Investing in visibility

Adopting visibility features can help you keep track of your freight in transit so you can communicate accurate updates to your customers. You can get added visibility through time-critical shipping, by working with a provider with a comprehensive transportation management system (TMS) or both. Having transit updates for your shipments means you and your customers can stay informed on delays and estimated arrivals.

Deliver on time with ArcBest

When the market threatens to slow you down, you need a shipping partner who knows the importance of your deadlines and has the capabilities to meet them. ArcBest makes it easy to combine industry-leading service and customer obsessed communication with speed and efficiency. Whether you need enhanced transit times and visibility through our time-critical solutions or help implementing comprehensive supply chain strategies through managed logistics, ArcBest delivers the performance and expertise you need to communicate expectations to your customers and meet your deadlines.

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