British Columbia

Surge in e-shopping blamed for Canada Post delivery delays

An explosion in the popularity of buying small, low cost items online from China has caused a huge delay in processing of packages by CBSA and delivering by Canada Post.

Consumers wait months for online items from China to be processed by CBSA and delivered by Canada Post

Packets used to ship online items ordered from China often have to be processed by hand because they are too small to be handled by Canada Post machines. (Jon Hamilton/Canada Post )

Canada Post says a surge in e-commerce, especially from countries like China, is causing months-long delays for deliveries across the country. 

"Our parcel business has grown by $500 million in revenue in just the last five years," said Canada Post spokesman Jon Hamilton from Ottawa. 

"We see double digit growth every single year." 

Sometimes, Hamilton says, those delays are because of shipping abnormalities. 

"Anyone ordering anything online from an international destination should understand what the steps are for it to get to their address," Hamilton said.

Low-price items bought online, particularly from China, often come with free shipping. Hamilton says that usually means no time limit on when the product will be delivered.

"If it says free shipping, find out how it's going to be shipped. Is there tracking available? What's the time commitment on that?" he said.  

Secondly, he says, the majority of the packets are too small to be handled by Canada Post machinery. 

"They have to be processed by hand. That means somebody looks at every address," said Hamilton. 

Canada Post officials say packets from China are often mislabelled or are missing parts of an address. (Jon Hamilton/Canada Post )

And thirdly, he says, those addresses are often in another language, missing information or simply wrong. 

"Obviously consumers know their address so they put it in correctly, but labels are often computer-generated or sometimes typed on a typewriter and come out wrong," Hamilton said. 

"Items that are important in Canada, like the postal code and things like that, get cut off. 

"We have to sit down and do some Sherlock Holmes work and figure out where is this parcel going, and obviously that adds time." 

Canada Post says the only way to ensure overseas shopping arrives in a timely fashion is to pay for shipping that can be tracked and comes with a commitment to deliver by a certain date. 

CBSA delays

But Hamilton says delays are also because of hold-ups with border services — Canada Post cannot process overseas mail until it has been inspected by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

CBSA agents work in Canada Post facilities in Metro Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, according to Hamilton, but he says the B.C. facility has seen the brunt of the delays. 

​"They look at everything and they decide whether something is admissible into the country and if any duties or taxes should be paid. And then once they hand it over to us, we can process it," Hamilton said. 

But CBSA's media relations manager, Patrizia Giolti, said its "well equipped to address volumes."

"In the mail mode specifically, we make our adjustments to staffing levels based on the forecasted growth in e-commerce, seasonal volumes and arrival patterns," she said in an email to CBC. 

CBSA, according to Giolti, strives to expedite and facilitate legitimate trade while still ensuring inadmissible goods don't enter Canada.

"This can cause some delays," she said. 

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Belle Puri

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Belle Puri is a veteran journalist who has won awards for her reporting in a variety of fields.