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Delays in shipments could extend through the holiday season and into next year due to a stressed supply chain, experts warned.
“Products are arriving later, clearly at the ports, and that’s cascading down through the supply chain,” GXO Logistics Chief Investment Officer Mark Manduca told Transport Topics. “You compound that with shortages of truck drivers and a number of other labor forces as well, there is just going to be less choice this year from a consumer perspective.”
Manduca added that the holiday shipping peak usually goes for two to three weeks starting Black Friday. But this year, because of the supply chain constraints, the peak could be about double that.
“We could have a peak here of up to six or seven weeks,” Manduca said. “That means that the curve is going to be shallower, and it means that you could see some holiday buying slipping into as far as January or February.”
Lee A. Clair, a managing partner at Transportation and Logistics Advisors, noted that it is “highly possible” there will be delays. He pointed to a similar situation when West Coast ports struggled with a backlog in 2015.
“There was a lot of products that came in January, and it ended up being a disaster for retail,” Clair told TT. “But the flow of product kept going until they finally cleared out the backlog. We have a very good chance of that happening this year.”
Todd Tranausky, vice president of rail and intermodal at FTR Transportation Intelligence, noted consumers could order holiday-related goods earlier to improve the chances of on-time arrival. But he added that doesn’t address the fundamental issues in the supply chain.
“I think every year there is that risk,” Tranausky told TT. “I think that risk is heightened this year because of how stressed capacity is. When you look at every piece of the supply chain being stressed, whether it’s not being able to find enough truck drivers, whether it’s not being able to move cargo from the ports efficiently, whether it’s not being able to move cargo through the rail terminals efficiently, I think all of those things together are going to definitely increase the likelihood that things that you’ve ordered don’t get there in time.”
C.H. Robinson data shows freight volumes nationwide are projected to be up 3% year-over-year in the fourth quarter. U.S. retail sales for the holidays, its data also showed, generally increase about 4% a year. This year, they are expected to be up 10.5%.
“No retailer wants to have empty shelves for Christmas, so we’re using every tool in our toolbox to help,” Noah Hoffman, C.H. Robinson vice president of North American surface transportation, told TT. “Another issue is that demand is not spread evenly. We see that reflected in the load-to-truck ratios for different parts of the country.”
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The National Retail Federation released a report Oct. 28 that forecast retail holiday sales will grow between 8.5% and 10.5% year-over-year during November and December. That equals between $843.4 billion and $859 billion.
“It’s had an impact on every mode that retailers are using to get product, not only into the country, but out to the consumer,” Jon Gold, NRF vice president of supply chain and customs policy, told TT. “We’re certainly seeing a strong uptick in the need for capacity.”
NRF also released a consumer survey Nov. 17 that showed nearly 2 million more people than last year are expected to shop from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday. That’s despite many consumers starting their holiday shopping earlier. Gold suspects the high demand and supply chain disruptions could continue until at least the second quarter.
“Retailers are just trying to keep their shelves stocked, and that’s just been a challenge,” Gold said. “It’s kind of every step along the way there’s been some kind of disruption or just challenge with meeting that demand; and again, the capacity issues, the lack of drivers on the long haul and just the ongoing shortage of workers in general.”
Truckstop.com is a load board operator that helps connect truckers to shipments on the spot market, which can be a good indicator of excessive demand. The load board has seen approximately a million loads a day since Jan. 26, the exception being when it peaked at 1.8 million in July.
“When the average is 400,000 per day and we’re at a million per day, obviously there’s a tremendous excess of freight,” Truckstop.com Chief Relationship Officer Brent Hutto told TT. “Part of that’s pandemic-driven. I don’t just mean the health issues, but the way in which people are changing their lives.”
Logistyx, a multicarrier shipping software company, has not just been anticipating a busy holiday season but noted it also started earlier than normal. The company works to ensure its software capabilities can meet demand by discussing expectations with its industry partners.
“The big one that’s impacted by the holiday season is obviously retail, which is a very large market for us,” Ken Fleming, Logistyx president and chief sales officer, told TT. “Now those customers, and I would say on average, are expecting a 35% increase year-over-year.”
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