Retailers were more to blame than carriers for widespread delays to Christmas deliveries, claims a new study.

The study from management consultant Kurt Salmon found that, of more than 175 orders placed on the last day guaranteeing pre-Christmas delivery, 15% did not reach their destination in time.

But of that figure, retailers were responsible for 56% of the delays, the study said, with shortcomings mostly due to processing errors or a failure to upgrade shipping.

“Although the major carriers took some well-deserved blame for late shipments, they were not the sole reason for missed deliveries,” said Al Sambar, partner and director of the softlines practice at Kurt Salmon.

“Several of the retailers trying to press latest possible delivery dates failed to get the parcels handed to the carriers in time for delivery.

“It’s a fiercely competitive time of year, but there is a big gap between being good and being great when it comes to fulfillment.

“Some brands were stunned by last-minute demand, and they simply didn’t have the systems in place to respond in time.”

According to the study, the top five retailers who delivered orders placed on the latest dates were: Zappos.com, Coach.com, Belk.com, UnderArmour.com and Sears.com.

Sambar said retailers could improve their performance by upgrading their forecasting, aligning their promotional and distribution activity, and shipping from stores to shorten transit times.

The full report findings are due for release in the first quarter of 2014.