Retail Supply Chains ‘Working Overtime’ Amid Shortages

Shortages of labor, supplies, equipment and port space could impact retail supply chains for the rest of the year.
cargo imports

That’s according to the latest Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates, which track retail cargo imports. May could turn out to be another record month for cargo imports. The report looked at projected figures for the month, which estimated 2.32 million TEU--a 51.1% increase in imports over the same month last year and a new record. TEU is the unit of measurement for cargo capacity.

While imports are sky-high, there are a number of supply chain challenges hitting shipments and impacting retail. As shoppers return to normal life, congestion in supply chains could create disruptions.

“Vaccine rates are increasing, shoppers are back in stores and retail supply chains are working overtime,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in the report. “There’s no shortage of demand from consumers, but there continue to be shortages of labor, equipment and shipping capacity to meet that demand. Supply chain disruptions, port congestion and rising shipping costs could continue to be challenges through the end of the year.”

Last month marked the busiest April on record for U.S. ports, according to NRF and Hackett Associates, which compiles the report for NRF.

“Supply chains are finding it difficult to keep up with demand as shipping capacity struggles,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said. “A number of vessels taken out of service when volumes were low remain in drydock while others are delayed in congested ports, which face a lack of manpower both because of COVID-19 illnesses and the tight labor market. Many people remain hesitant about returning to work, affecting ports, rail, trucking and distribution centers.”

Despite the unusual data for 2020 with disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 six-month figures for cargo imports are expected to outpace 2020’s full-year total, the report found.