What Causes Shipping Delays and How to Avoid Them?

The most common customer complaints are late or missed deliveries. While it’s ultimately up to your shipping carrier to deliver packages in the time they promise, your customers see it as your responsibility as the brand. Don’t let shipping delays ruin your brand reputation.  

There are many potential causes for shipping delays, some that you can mitigate and some that will happen no matter what.  

Here are a few major causes of shipping delays and how to avoid them when possible.  

Extreme Weather

Any major weather system that affects road conditions will negatively impact deliveries. The same can be said for weather related issues in international shipping—airplane delays, shipping container delays, port congestion, and more.  

While weather will happen no matter what, the proactive thing to do is to communicate clearly to your customers in the case of inclement weather that may affect shipping transit times. This is particularly important if you ship products anywhere that commonly experiences extreme weather—snow and cold in Canada, for example.  

Most weather-related delays will be published by the carriers on a dedicated alert page. Here are two examples: 

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Supply Chain Issues 

Occasionally shipping delays are not the carrier’s fault. Sometimes shipping delays are a result of delays farther upstream the supply chain.  

If there is a raw materials shortage (like the component shortage of 2021) then product manufacturing will be backlogged, adding delays throughout the entire supply chain. Other examples of supply chain issues include worker strikes, port closures, or infrastructure shortages (trucks, containers, mechanical equipment).  

These issues are very hard to avoid and usually come up quickly with not much notice. The best thing to do is to communicate potential shipping delays to customers at checkout or post-checkout.  

Inaccurate Shipping Information 

One thing you can control is how well prepared your packages are for shipping. Any documentation errors may result in held packages and delayed shipments. Fees and added costs may also occur if your shipping information is inaccurate. 

  • Check that labels are correct, especially ones applied with any automation.  
  • Make sure sortation is efficient so that packages get on the correct truck.  
  • Check loading/unloading processes so that no packages are left on the dock overnight.  

Mitigate inaccurate documentation by working with a competent 3PL with a high perfect order rate. They will have the tools to ensure you never have shipping delays due to inaccurate documentation or labeling.  

Labor Shortages 

If there aren’t enough people to help move products along the supply chain, delays will happen. Labor shortages among shipping institutions are sometimes caused by union strikes. But there are many reasons that the workforce may be lean.  

This is not a type of delay you can control, and when it happens it may not even be obvious until too late. There aren’t many things ecommerce shippers can do to avoid or mitigate this type of delay.  

Overall Package Volume Increases  

The major shopping holidays (Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Christmas) drastically affect shipping. They are a great example of the issues that arise with larger package volume. When there is a spike in consumer buying, the volume of packages that need to be processed and delivered also increases, often creating delays. Most of the time carriers and supply chain partners are prepared for peak volume during these holidays. It’s expected.  

While delays can be felt by any carrier, USPS is often affected because so many shipping services use USPS as their last mile delivery solution 

Outside of the holidays, there are times when online shopping increases suddenly and carriers aren’t prepared to process it. For example, in March of 2020 when the COVID pandemic forced people to stay home, they looked to online shopping way more than they had in the past. It took carriers the better part of 2020 to see steady transit times after such an unforeseen spike in overall volume.  

There is not much that ecommerce shippers can do to avoid shipping delays due to overall package volume increases.  

The Impact of Shipping Delays 

Your customers expect their order to arrive within the delivery window. Anything outside of that may cause them to lose trust in your business.  

Shipping delays can affect more than just customer sentiment.  

  • Lost revenue – you may have backlogged products which means less sales overall.  
  • Frustrated customers – if your products aren’t being delivered on time, your customers will lose interest and brand trust.  
  • Inaccurate forecasting – if you are experiencing major supply chain disruptions, you’ll have a harder time getting an accurate forecasting model.  
  • Broken retail relationships – if shipments are delayed to retail outlets or online marketplace sellers, you might see high chargeback fines or a dropped account all together.  

Working with reliable supply chain partners like freight forwarders, shipping carriers, and fulfillment providers are the best way to ensure these issues don’t arise for you.  


If you are looking for a 3PL to help with your logistics support we would love to hear from you. Send us a note to connect about how we can help your company grow. You can read DCL’s list of services to learn more, or check out the many companies we work with to ensure great logistics support.