Retail Cargo Continues to Soar Amid Supply Chain Constraints

Strong consumer demand is keeping cargo imports in double-digit growth figures over last year, according to the latest monthly Global Port Tracker report by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
cargo ship

While it’s difficult to compare retail imports to 2020, when many countries were under lockdown measures due to COVID-19, demand for imports is still surging. 

“We’re continuing to see strong growth even as we enter a point when stores had begun to reopen last year,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement. “That’s a sign of the tremendous demand from consumers. The challenge for retailers and supply chains is keeping shelves stocked as port congestion and other supply chain disruptions continue to impact the industry and the economy more broadly.”

U.S. ports handled 2.33 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in May--up 8.6% from April and up 52.2% from a year earlier. Retail cargo imports set a new record high in March, when ports handled 2.27 million TEU. The latest figures show yet another new record high. However, projections for June 2021 show a slightly lower figure of 2.15 million TEU--up 33.8% from the same time last year. The rising cargo imports come as retailers are still facing supply chain constraints worsened by the pandemic. 

“Operational constraints brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic combined with the surge in consumer demand have severely strained the logistics supply chain,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said. “The level of growth in the last year has put unprecedented pressure on importers, carriers and domestic transportation providers alike.”

At the same time, Ever Given, the cargo ship that was temporarily stuck in the Suez Canal earlier this spring, has finally been allowed to sail after the owner paid compensation to Egyptian authorities for its release, The Wall Street Journal reported. The cargo ship contained supplies for several mass retailers, including Ikea. 

While NRF has not given its projection for December, 2021 is on track to grow 16.7% over 2020’s full-year total of 22 million TEU, the association said.


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