shipment delays common causes solutions

Shipment delays: Most common causes and how to mitigate risks


Written by Burkhard Berger

Shipment delays are more than just late packages. It's about shattering customer expectations, straining resources, and potentially denting your reputation. That's why timely delivery becomes the lifeblood of businesses. Today, we'll discuss how to prevent shipment delays and keep your business running smoothly.

Understanding the root causes is the key to prevention. So, we'll walk you through the common shipment delay issues, including their impact on your bottom line. We're handing you practical strategies, examples, and tools to help you develop a robust contingency plan. We’ll also guide you on managing customers when shipments are late so their shopping experience stays positive.

After reading this comprehensive guide, you can refine your approach and navigate these challenges with resilience and foresight. Let’s begin.

Parcels delivered on the doorstep

5 key shipment delay causes and how to fix them

Spotting typical triggers and applying the right strategies can help minimise delivery disruptions. So here are the common reasons behind shipment delays and their practical solutions.

1. Incorrect shipping data and paperwork

Being careful and accurate when you're getting orders ready to ship is important. If mistakes happen, it messes up the whole process and makes everything slower. The most common mistakes are encoding the wrong item description or forgetting to include contact details.

Let's say you're running an online retailer that sells baseball equipment. Your orders of pitching nets are flowing in, and you're excited to send them out to your customers on time. However, a staff member accidentally swaps the information of two different orders.

Because of the mix-up, the carrier ends up sending the wrong pitching nets to the wrong customers. Imagine a little league team expecting large practice pitching nets for their field, but they receive smaller ones meant for batting cages instead. Confusion sets in, leaving the team without the equipment they were counting on.

Root cause: Human error

The primary cause of incorrect shipping data is human error. These errors can stem from various factors, like oversight, miscommunication, misunderstanding, or fatigue. It can happen at various stages of the shipping process. But the most common occurrence is during the data entry and communication processes.

Solution: Use automation and validation tools

The key to mitigating this problem lies in reviewing international shipping label guidelines and implementing automated shipping systems. These systems instantly cross-verify shipping information, reducing the chances of errors slipping through. It usually uses advanced technology to provide handy features like address verification to validate shipping addresses against postal databases.

Tip: You can use our app to validate shipping addresses and confirm they've packed the right products, thereby reducing mistakes and back-and-forth shipping.

Starshipit also features industry-leading automation to cut your handling time on every order. From packing validation in the warehouse to automatically assigning carriers and giving customers delivery options, you're fully covered.

Reduce human error and simplify support through address validation

In addition to the incorrect shipping data problem is mixing up the Bill of Lading (BOL) with the Waybill. The simplest way to prevent this mix-up is to remember that:

Straight bill of lading
  • The BOL is like the playbook for the shipment. It contains details about the items, quantities, and where they need to go. It also includes the proper documentation of the goods' condition during shipment.
  • The Waybill, on the other hand, acts as the GPS tracker. It gives step-by-step instructions for the shipment's journey.

2. Poor inventory management

Poor inventory management arises when a company fails to effectively control, track, and maintain its stock of goods. Apart from shipment delays, it can cause a series of negative consequences.

  • Inaccurate stock levels can result in unfulfilled orders
  • Overstocking increases holding costs and storage fees
  • Stockouts and backorders can miss sales opportunities
  • Disorganised inventory can slow down warehouse operations

Poor inventory management can stem from various root causes, but the biggest problem is the lack of a centralised inventory database.

Root cause: Lack of centralised database

Supply chains involve various departments working together. Having a centralised database is like having a shared map. Everyone can see and access the same information and make decisions with clear facts.

Imagine a solar energy company that sells complete solar power systems, including installation. This company has different teams, from procurement and production to sales and distribution. Each team uses its own software to do their respective tasks.

  • The sales team uses sales order software to handle orders and installation plans.
  • The production team relies on a separate system to track the manufacturing process.
  • The procurement team uses one software to order raw materials like solar panels, batteries, and inverters.

Because there's no central database, information about stock levels and product availability isn't shared seamlessly across these departments. Let's say the production team needs more 200W solar panels for a specific off-grid solar power kit. They make an order based on what their program says.

But the procurement team might not know they need more solar panels based on their system. When customers want to buy, they might find out there aren't enough solar panels ready to complete the kit. This mix-up causes shipment delays and other costly mistakes.

Solution: Adopt business management software

A practical solution to this common issue is implementing business management software. It creates a single source of truth for inventory information, ensuring everyone has access to the same accurate data. Make sure to select a cloud solution for quick accessibility wherever you go.

Oracle NetSuite dashboard

Oracle NetSuite is a better fit because it's user-friendly and suitable for businesses of various sizes. It's also highly functional — a cloud-based ERP system that includes inventory management, financials, customer relationship management, and more.

Airbyte database explainer

If you already have systems in place, you can unify your data using Airbyte. It can extract data from all of your systems and load them to your chosen data warehouse, data lake, or database. Here’s an idea of how it works.

If your team isn't tech-savvy or needs different links for data, Fivetran is an excellent alternative to Airbyte. It offers automated data pipelines, so no more manual work is required. This makes things smoother, reduces mistakes, and makes data go faster where it needs to be.

Relying on manual methods can further increase the chances of errors and data discrepancies. It can input the same transaction multiple times, fail to record inventory changes immediately, typos, and more. You can reduce human error using barcode and RFID technology.

  • Barcodes: Each product is assigned a unique barcode. This can be a sequence of lines, numbers, or a combination of both, which holds encoded information. Employees scan the barcode on items using a barcode scanner to update the inventory database in real time.
  • RFID Tags: These small devices can be attached to items or embedded in packaging. They contain a microchip and an antenna to transmit and receive data. Unlike barcodes, RFID doesn't require line-of-sight scanning.

3. National and international holidays

During the holiday season, the heartwarming tradition of sending well wishes and thoughtful gifts to our loved ones comes alive. While the intention is to spread happiness, delays in gifts and well wishes' arrival can sometimes result in disappointment.

Late deliveries aren't a surprise because holidays are one of the peak seasons in the retail and shipping industry. People love to shop for gifts, decorations, and essentials in-store and online. This significant increase in shipment volume put tons of pressure on couriers, freight forwarders, and the entire logistics network.

Root cause: Traffic congestion & lengthy customs clearance process

There are many reasons for delays during the holidays, but heavy traffic is the big one. Many vehicles are on the roads, making it hard for trucks to reach their destinations on time. On top of that, the following events may happen at one point:

  • Accidents
  • Congestion in airports and ports
  • Police set up major roadblocks for road safety and security
Workflow showing how customs clear goods

Another reason for potential delays is the length of the approval process at customs. Customs is like a gatekeeper that checks what's coming in and going out of a country. This process may take longer because there are many things to check and paperwork to go through. As a result, it slows down the shipment's movement and makes them arrive later than expected.

The customs processes vary per country. To give you an idea, the screenshot here will show you the general workflow on how customs clear goods.

Solution: Holiday-aware planning

Holidays bring a surge in orders and shipments. Through effective planning, businesses can schedule in advance to meet consumer demands without overstocking. They also have sufficient time to do the following:

  • Negotiate favourable terms with carriers and transportation companies
  • Analyse the shipping process to pinpoint potential risks and disruptions
  • Train employees to handle the additional workload and heavy package volume

Creating holiday-aware planning involves several steps. Here's a guide to help you get started:

  • Review historical data
  • Establish early order deadlines for customers
  • Forecast demand (based on historical data and any market changes)
  • Build contingency plans to address driver shortages and other labour issues
  • Prepare all necessary documentation in advance to prevent delays in customs clearance
  • Develop marketing campaigns (discounts for early orders, same-day delivery options, etc.)
  • Inform your suppliers and shipping carriers about your holiday plans (schedules, cut-off times, etc.)

Communication is a cornerstone of effective holiday-aware planning. Ensure you inform customers about holiday shipping deadlines, expected delivery times, and promotions. When delays occur, promptly send the affected customers personalised shipping delay emails. Assure customers you're actively working to resolve the issue and ensure their orders reach them as soon as possible.

4. Inaccurate demand forecasting

Businesses experience inaccurate demand forecasting when they miscalculate the required product quantity for actual orders. This misjudgment causes imbalanced inventory, risking either oversupplying or undersupplying. Whichever you get, they both cause shipment delays.

  • Oversupplying: When a business oversupplies, warehouses become congested. Managing and organising the excess inventory will take more time and resources, making it difficult to handle outgoing shipments effectively.
  • Undersupplying: When customer orders surpass the available stock, businesses find themselves in a rush to procure or produce additional items. This urgency can extend the lead times across the supply chain.

Root cause: Dependence on outdated data

Outdated data, such as historical sales data, can help you to identify patterns, trends, and peaks in customer demand. However, it has its shortcomings. So, relying solely on it may limit your ability to predict future demand accurately. This can result in missing potential sales opportunities.

Let's consider a brand that sells a broad assortment of fashionable lingerie to understand its shortcomings better. While historical sales data reveal the popularity of lingerie styles during specific seasons, it fails to capture the following insights:

  • Product Lifecycle: Fashion operates in cycles. What was once trendy may come back in style after a period of dormancy. Looking only at past data might miss this, risking premature discontinuation or excessive production.
  • Emerging Fashion Trends: Nowadays, celebrity endorsements and social media can quickly boost a particular style’s popularity. If a specific lingerie design or colour gains sudden popularity, historical data won't reflect this rapid change in demand.
  • Comfort & Lifestyle Shifts: Modern consumers prioritise more than just aesthetics when choosing lingerie and nightwear. They select pieces that align with their lifestyle, offer comfort, and suit their body types. The changing attitudes towards gender norms also have sparked a need for gender-neutral and non-binary lingerie options. You can only keep up with these modern preference shifts through real-time insights.

Solution: Embrace real-time forecasting analytics

Real-time forecasting analytics uses advanced technologies to accurately capture, process, and analyse data from various sources. The machine learning algorithm studies incoming data and spots trends. The AI algorithm is the quick thinker in the duo. It will use all the knowledge learned by machine learning to make predictions and detect anomalies instantly.

This combo works at lightning speed, handling tons of data in real time. They examine every click and interaction, clearly showing what customers want. They even understand human language, making analysing social media posts and comments easier.

Intendi dashboard for demand forecasting

Intuendi is an excellent choice to analyse historical data alongside current market trends and other external factors to discover trends and seasonal patterns.

It doesn't just stop at numbers. Intuendi digs deep into various data sources (sales, trends, and sentiments) to provide a complete picture of what's happening right now.

Trace's analytical platform is your essential ally if you're a data-led organisation. It equips you with dynamic reporting and tools for root cause analysis, experiments, and more. These tools empower you to decipher your data effectively and derive valuable insights.

5. Natural calamities and weather events

Some supply chain disruptions are entirely unpredictable and uncontrollable. Among these are extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, blizzards, and floods. When it strikes, roads can get blocked, ports might close, and flights could be grounded.

Even after the disaster passes, it takes time to restore normal operations and clear backlogs. As a result, businesses struggle to plan for and adapt to their occurrence.

Root cause: inherent unpredictability

Unable to anticipate the calamities' exact timing, location, and severity constantly catches businesses off-guard. They only get limited time to react and adjust their shipping plans accordingly. Not to mention, they will handle the major delay in delivery and the potential damage to critical infrastructure.

MyRadar weather app dashboards

Solution: Implement a multi-pronged strategy

Addressing this supply chain issue requires a multi-pronged strategy. It combines various approaches and actions to create a comprehensive plan to increase your business preparedness. Let's see how this strategy works, along with a real-life app recommendation.

A. Early warning systems

Implement reliable advanced weather monitoring systems to detect potential natural disasters early. MyRadar is an excellent choice because it offers detailed weather forecasts for all locations. It also includes a separate feature for the following:

  • Real-time tracking of hurricanes and tropical storms
  • Disaster warnings for global events like earthquakes and wildfires
  • Advanced aviation features, such as viewing nationwide AIRMETs and SIGMETs
B. Digital communication platforms

Use communication apps like Slack or Microsoft Teams to keep in touch with employees, partners, and customers during a calamity. You can share important updates and coordinate responses in real-time, even if employees work remotely.

C. Resilient infrastructure

Make sure to properly maintain or upgrade critical infrastructure like warehouses, storage facilities, and transportation hubs. Reinforced structures can further withstand the impact of extreme weather events like earthquakes or hurricanes.

D. Emergency response plan

Develop a detailed plan outlining steps to take during various types of calamity. The company can create a playbook that covers actions such as securing inventory, communicating with partners, and activating backup shipping routes. Here’s how you can lay out your emergency response plan:

Emergency response plan for shipping

Forming an emergency response team for swift responses to natural disasters is also essential. Make sure to hire the right people for the job.

Emergencies can be chaotic and stressful. Hiring qualified personnel ensures they can implement safety protocols effectively, minimising potential damage and risks.

E. Collaborate with authorities

Ensure to establish strong partnerships with local authorities, emergency services, and disaster management agencies. Working closely with these entities provides joint training exercises and preparedness drills opportunities. This helps your organisation stay compliant with local laws, regulations, and protocols related to emergency response.

Additionally, strong partnerships foster a sense of mutual assistance. You can offer your resources or expertise for a faster response to emergencies and a smoother recovery process.


Dealing with shipment delays can be quite a challenge. But here's the good news: using the right methods, you can shield your business from its negative effects. Creating a stronger contingency plan, improving your supply chain management processes, or investing in better technology are a few of your options.

Since shipment delays can become a repetitive issue, applying proactive measures to fix them is crucial. Our guide is your first step – we offer practical strategies, relatable examples, and tools to create smart backup plans. We also dive in with the problem's root cause to help fine-tune your strategy and methods.

Now, the ball's in your court. Transform your shipping game, make customers happier, and streamline operations. If you're ready to supercharge your shipping, check out Starshipit's shipping and fulfilment platform. Discover how easy and efficient shipping can be, paving the way for your business success.

Ready to start automating?

Automate your entire shipping process while delivering better experiences for your customers.

Start 30-day free trial
Burkhard Berger

Burkhard Berger

Burkhard Berger is the founder of Novum™. He helps innovative B2B companies implement revenue-driven SEO strategies to scale their organic traffic to 1,000,000+ visitors per month. Curious about what your true traffic potential is?

More from this Author