Speed Reads

Humbug

Big box stores are taking drastic steps to avert shipping delays. Small retailers are hoping for a holiday miracle.

Global supply chain snarls from the COVID-19 pandemic that were once expected to resolve themselves in a vaccinated world are "showing no signs of relenting," feeding "a gnawing source of worry throughout the global economy," The New York Times reports. "It is not merely that goods are scarce. It is that products are stuck in the wrong places, and separated from where they are supposed to be by stubborn and constantly shifting barriers."

Factories in Asia are having trouble producing parts and products, and there's a shortage of shipping containers. But ships are also lined up at sea, waiting for a chance to unload their cargo at U.S. ports, and the three busiest — Los Angeles/Long Beach, New York/New Jersey, and Savannah — are overflowing with shipping containers that nobody is picking up, in part because of a shortage of truck drivers.

Walmart, Target, Costco, and Home Depot are among the retail giants "paying for their own chartered ships as part of wider plans to mitigate the disruptions, a costly and unattainable option for most companies," The Wall Street Journal reports. This "extreme — and expensive — tactic to try to stock shelves this holiday season" might mean raising prices for consumers, but it allows the big box stores to "work around the bottlenecks" at the large ports "by rerouting cargo to less congested docks such as Portland, Oregon, Oakland, California, or the East Coast."

All manufacturers and retailers are wrestling with the bottlenecks, "but for toymakers that heavily rely on holiday sales, there's a lot at stake for the nearly $33 billion U.S. industry," The Associated Press reports. "The fourth quarter accounts for 70 percent of its annual sales," and with shipping times now 12 to 16 weeks from Chinese factory to U.S. distribution center, from 4 to 6 weeks previously, some companies "are flying in some of the toys instead of shipping by boat to ensure delivery before Dec. 25," while others are simply "leaving toys behind in China and waiting for costs to come down." 

"The supply chain is overwhelmed and inundated," Griff Lynch, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, tells the Times. "It's not sustainable at this point. Everything is out of whack." And right now, "the question everyone is asking" is whether products will get to stores in time for Christmas, he added. "I think that's a very tough question."