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The Most Common Causes of Shipping Delays and How To Avoid Them

Shipping delays can be frustrating for anyone. Delay happens for a number of reasons, but often it can result in issues with operational costs and supply chain disruptions. When it comes to freight shipping, a delay—even a short one—can cause big headaches. It's important to note some of the most common reasons why shipping delays occur, in order to better plan ahead and prevent potential issues. Here are the most common reasons cargo could get delayed:

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Port Congestion 

One key cause of delays in shipping can occur due to events outside of the control of a shipper or driver. Depending on what is going on at each stage of the shipping process, we can expect to see things trickle down and affect shipping times as well. As we have seen in recent years, port congestion can be a significant factor contributing to delays in shipping. In 2022, we saw how Port of Oakland had gotten congested and recorded dwell times of up to 7 days, creating significant backup. Delays can occur as a result of a lack of staff, shortage of equipment and lack of storage capacity.

While these issues are not within a truck driver’s control, there are ways to mitigate some of the potential challenges that can come with shipping to ports which are congested. Looking into utilizing real-time data and modern technology, for instance, shippers can send shipments to less congested ports, so that vessels can unload the cargo quickly and drivers are better able to pick up the freight and go. 

Weather Issues

Across all modes of transport, weather is one significant factor in the timing of freight. One of the most dangerous parts of trucking is the unpredictable weather challenges that drivers may need to face during the transport process. It is not only the truck drivers who face these issues, as ships and airplanes which transport cargo will also face decreased visibility or dangerous conditions, setting the freight into a delayed schedule. Unpredictable weather patterns create a challenge for shippers, because at times the cargo will be delayed or set back due to poor weather. It is important to account for potential weather changes when planning shipments, and give some buffer time in the case that shipments do end up being delayed, rather than panicking about on-time delivery.

Equipment or Labor Shortages

A common reason that we can see delays in the transport of goods is that there are shortages in staff at either warehouses or the ports, as well as lack of access to the proper equipment. Staff at the ports or warehouses are especially significant, as their job ensures that the process runs smoothly.  Any delay in unloading or loading cargo can set back freight for hours, if not days. It is already apparent that a shortage of drivers will result in empty shelves, higher prices and especially delays; which is why staff is essential to the shipping process.  It is imperative to work with the right shippers or freight forwarders, and get all the necessary permits, to ensure that staff and equipment is available. 

Labor related issues such as any staff shortages, will affect the packing, driving and the loading/unloading process in shipping. The delays can become costly and can lead to bigger effects further down the supply chain, as shortages may occur in grocery stores and factories. We saw the effects of these types of issues in late 2022, with the freight rail strike, which was set to become an expensive delay in the supply chain, as well as the port strikes over AB5, which led to congestion and issues with cargo leaving the ports. Delays in cargo being transported can lead to product shortages and then higher prices for consumers, which can become a significant economic issue.

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The global market is vast and can provide access to any goods we can think of, but it is not without its own sets of challenges or barriers to work through. We have to take into account that holidays can contribute to significant delay in shipping, even if many truck drivers are still working through the holiday season.

Carriers, as well as factory workers, will usually observe closures during federal holidays. It is not only Christmas season that we can see slower shipping times, but we can also note these issues internationally, such as Chinese new year shutting down factories and warehouses for a few weeks.  These types of closures will likely lead to bottlenecks or delays in getting cargo out and to their destination.

Holidays can also cause generally large spikes in volume, as there are more orders during the peak season, causing a demand for more capacity and staff. Often, carriers may not have the capacity to manage the rise in volume, which can lead to shipping build up and then some delays may occur.


One of the primary reasons as to why shipments and truck drivers face delays, especially at the border, is due to missing or incorrect paperwork. Documents are essential to the process of transporting goods internationally, as they identify and verify the shipment, so any errors can set back the delivery time and even potentially lead to fines or penalties. Most freight will require documents such as the bill of lading, customs invoice, certificate of origin and a packing list. Missing these documents can lead to getting stuck at the border until the issue is sorted.

It is not enough to have the documents ready; rather it is important to also ensure that the paperwork is filled out correctly. Often, errors such as the wrong HS code, improper labels, or missing product details can result in a slower clearance process and being unable to cross. Attention to detail is essential when filling out and gathering documents before each trip. The paperwork has to be updated in accordance to the current regulations, and the documents have to accompany the freight and driver.

Managing Delays 

In order to succeed in the industry, it is important to always plan ahead and have ways to address potential challenges which are bound to come up at some point in time. It is an inevitable part of shipping that delays may occur, so to adequately prepare, consider the following strategies:

  • Prepare early and account for potential inventory issues, to give yourself more time

  • Double check all paperwork and use a reliable platform/technology for documents 

  • Make a contingency plan for unforeseen events or circumstances

  • Use real-time tracking and data

  • Communicate clearly with brokers, customers and suppliers and ensure alignment  

  • Offer customers a local pick up option to mitigate labor shortages

  • Choose reliable providers/brokers to work with

If you are looking to simplify your shipping process, whether you are a carrier or shipper, you can use the platform to compile your customs documents within minutes and improve your customs clearance process. Access customs invoice templates (including instant AI generated tariff/HS codes), PARS/PAPS labels, customs broker directory and real time PARS/PAPS tracking for all carriers. 

Start Your Customs Clearance Process Now at Zipments. 


Delays are a part of shipping, but they shouldn’t ruin your business. Shipping delays can happen for a variety of reasons, and they are not always the shipper's fault. Let’s face it: sometimes there’s just no avoiding disruptions. You can do your part to keep your customers informed about the status of their goods, and get to know your shipping partners. Knowing these most common reasons for delay, you can plan ahead to prevent these kinds of issues. Remember, focus on what is within your control right now, and try not to stress too much.