Shipping delays and how to avoid them

When it comes to the transport of your cargo, whether nationally or internationally, shipping carriers can encounter delays that will have an impact on the original delivery date. Although the shipping carrier is responsible for the delivery of your cargo, it does not prevent your customers from seeing any shipping delays as your brand’s responsibility. Thus, affecting their perception of your company.

There are many causes for shipping delays, some that you and your shipping carriers can mitigate and some that will happen, regardless of what you do. Let us take a closer look at the major causes behind shipping delays and how you can avoid them when possible.

Causes behind shipping delays.

Volatile Weather Conditions

Severe or hazardous weather conditions produced by thunderstorms can impact the carriers’ ability to deliver cargo in a timely manner. These conditions include damaging winds, tornadoes, large hail, flooding, or flash flooding, freezing rain, sleet, and snow, just to name a few. These weather-related issues can impact national or international shipping – airfreight delays, shipping container delays, port congestion, road freight delays, and more.

Although we cannot control the weather, we can control how we respond to it:

  • Maintain open communication between your carrier and your customers throughout the delivery process and notify your customers promptly of potential delays as a result of foul weather.
  • Discuss alternative travel routes with your carrier, if available, to mitigate the impact a delayed delivery could present the customer with, for example, higher warehousing costs, unexpected cargo penalties etc.
  • Add a time buffer on cargo deliveries to areas that commonly experience extreme weather.

Unpredictable Supply Chain Issues

The supply chain is almost as unpredictable as the weather and can have far-reaching consequences for businesses around the globe. When there are issues farther up the supply chain, such as raw materials shortages, this could create a backlog in the manufacturing phase of the goods which create a ripple effect throughout the entire supply rain, such as cargo delivery delays.

Other examples of supply chain issues include worker strikes or shortages, port closures, vehicle shortages, container shortages, or mechanical equipment failure etc.

Supply chain shortfalls can be difficult to avoid or even predict. Therefore, we recommend practising open communication at every stage of the delivery process with your customers, so that they remain aware of their delivery and potential delays. You can also incorporate a notice or alert of your system that notifies clients of any supply chain event that could create delays.

Inaccurate Shipping Documentation

Transporting cargo anywhere around the world requires a lot of paperwork. Therefore, if you or your customer provide the incorrect or inaccurate documentation, you can face customs clearing delays, added fees from carriers to rectify and resubmit the documentation, extra warehousing or storage costs etc.

Ways you can mitigate incorrect or inaccurate documentation are fairly simple and include:

  • Confirm the documentation required by the carrier or by customs and have them filled in advance.
  • Double-checking all your documentation to ensure consistent and correct information has been captured across the board.
  • Partner with a reliable 3PL that offers documentation handling if you aren’t comfortable with the process.

Labour Shortages

Shortages in labour within the freight sector can be a result of union strikes, budget cuts, port closures, skill shortages, or epidemic lockdowns. All of these factors affect the performance of the supply chain, after all, we need people to move products from A to B.

That being said, there is very little you can do to combat this, depending on your cargo transport type. However, you can lessen the blow by actioning the following:

  • Notify your customers of the labour shortage and how it will impact their cargo delivery timeline.
  • Discuss alternative transport options with your 3PL and present your options to the customer.
  • Stay abreast of the labour shortage news and keep your customer informed throughout the delivery process.

Increases in Cargo Volume

Like any industry, there are on-peak and off-peak seasons. For the freight sector, the on-peak season can be seen on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Christmas – these are prime on-peak dates. Whereas the rest of the year, the freight industry experiences typical cargo fluctuations associated with off-peak season.

However, whenever there is a sudden and massive influx of shipping requests, carriers can experience delivery delays as a result of port congestion, custom clearance delays, documentation review etc. Although there isn’t much you can do to avoid it, you can help streamline the process by:

  • Be sure all your customers’ shipping documentation is correct and in order.
  • Notify your customer of potential delays associated with port congestion or customs clearance.
  • Partner with a reliable and trustworthy 3PL.

The Impact Shipping Delays Have on Businesses

Shipping delays can impact businesses around the world in multiple ways including but not limited to:

  • Customer satisfaction and reduced customer retention: When customers experience poor service with regards to late deliveries and slow communication, their satisfaction levels drop which results in depreciated customer loyalty over time.
  • Reduced profit and increased costs: When a carrier experiences delays, your business can incur additional shipping costs which affect your bottom line. Not to mention, delays can translate to reduced stock which further translates to fewer sales.
  • Negative business reviews and lost opportunities: Receiving negative reviews is a part of business, not every client will be happy with your service. However, if your brand receives multiple negative reviews all relating to poor delivery, this increases the possibility of clients not wanting to do business with you to avoid future frustration.


Shipping delays can be a nightmare for business owners and their customers. Therefore, partnering with a reliable supply chain partner that can handle and manage your freight forwarding requirements is vital to the success of your cargo transport.

However, you still need to be open with your customers, keep them up-to-date on any industry-related news that could impact their delivery and inform them of what actions you can take to mitigate it with the help of your 3PL.

If you are looking for a 3PL partner to help you every step of the way, then contact M6T at our Durban or Johannesburg branch today! Enjoy world-class freight forwarding solutions with a personal touch!