The current global pandemic has drastically affected the promotional product and apparel industry. One way the industry has been affected is through the lengthening of product lead times — especially the lead times of products that are manufactured overseas. Lead times are a reflection of the supply chain as a whole, including manufacturing, shipping, and distribution. Delays present in any or all of the supply chain steps will influence how long it takes for a product to arrive.

It’s important to be aware of the various delays that can occur throughout the supply chain so that you can account for the lead time when placing a product order.

Manufacturing Delays

Manufactured promotional product

Many manufacturing plants had to shut down due to the pandemic, which naturally had an effect on product lead times. Inf products aren’t being manufactured, they can’t be shipped and arrive at their destinations on time. These closures were the driving force of the delays experienced at the beginning of the pandemic. But, now that most businesses around the world have reopened, we’re experiencing the repercussions of those closures.

Even with plants reopened, it takes time to get back up to speed with the manufacturing process. There may be labor shortages as manufacturers attempt to bring employees back or hire new workers to fill the gaps. Also, depending on where the plants are located, their capacities may be restricted by local ordinances, preventing them from operating at peak efficiency. And, there may even be a shortage of the raw materials required for manufacturing also caused by shutdowns earlier in the pandemic. There are many factors at play when it comes to manufacturing delays.

Shipping Delays

Shipping port delay

Shipping delays can be caused even without delays being present within the manufacturing process. One of the major shipping delays currently affecting the United States is primarily caused by an increase in demand which can’t be supplied fast enough due to limited space and employees at harbors. These port delays are worst on the West Coast, where cargo ships arriving from Asia have had to wait for weeks before being able to dock and unload.

Delays with overseas shipping can also slow down other segments of the supply chain. The longer ships have to wait to be unloaded in California, the longer it will be before they can be reloaded in Asian ports. In the meantime, products will be sitting around in warehouses waiting to be picked up. And manufacturing may be reduced to prevent running out of storage space. The effects on the distribution side are easier to see. Products can’t be distributed until after they’re shipped, so when there are shipping delays, you can expect distribution delays.

Once products arrive in the country, or if they were manufactured within the country, ground shipping is also involved. Ground shipping delays can usually be attributed either to delays earlier in the supply chain or a lack of available truck drivers.

Distribution Delays

Product distribution center

Distribution is the final leg of the journey before promotional products and apparel reach you or your gift recipients. There are multiple distribution service providers, such as USPS and UPS, just to name two of the most prominent. Delays within this sector are attributable to the supply and demand constraints. Naturally, distribution service providers are swarmed with packages to be delivered around the holiday season, and so delays are expected. But, such delays can also be compounded if there’s a lack of workers to deliver packages, as there may be this year.

Now is the Time to Place Orders

The best way to counteract the possibility of long product lead times is simply to place your product orders earlier than you normally would. Unless the products you’re ordering are perishables or space is an issue, there aren’t any other major downsides to receiving them early. If lead times are still a concern, you could also try sourcing products closer to home. By selecting products that are manufactured within the US, you can avoid some of the potential delays associated with overseas shipping.

However, during the holiday season, lead times always increase even when there isn’t a global pandemic. It’s for this reason that, regardless of where the products you plan to order are being shipped from, it’s a good idea to place your orders as soon as possible. While lead times should go back to normal over time, the situation is changing constantly and difficult to predict.


Lead times for promotional products and apparel are affected by the various parts of the supply chain, including manufacturing, shipping, and distribution. The effects of manufacturing plants shutting down at the start of the pandemic are still being felt today. Shipping and distribution delays have also begun occurring as pandemic restrictions have been lifted and demand for products has sharply increased. A delay in just one of these sectors could result in your promo products or apparel arriving later than expected, which is why you should get ahead of any potential lead-time problems by placing orders early.

Safeguard Premier Branding Solutions

Are you planning to order promotional products or apparel as gifts for the holiday season? Giving promotional gifts to your customers and clients is a great way to let them know you appreciate their business. Contact your local Safeguard Premier Branding Solutions representative today for more information on product lead times so you can select items that will arrive on time.

Tags: ,