The National Retail Federation says the retail import surge that began in the summer of 2020 is expected to continue during this summer as retailers work to meet increased consumer demand.
“We’ve never seen imports at this high a level for such an extended period of time,” comments the federation’s Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold. “Records have been broken multiple times and near-record numbers are happening almost every month.”
He adds, “Between federal stimulus checks and money saved by staying home for the better part of a year, consumers have money in their pockets and they’re spending it with retailers as fast as retailers can stock their shelves.”
Under the current forecast, volume is expected to remain at or above the two million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit (TEU) mark for 11 out of 13 months by this August. Before 2020, monthly imports had reached two million TEU only once – in October 2018.
April is forecast at 1.99 million TEU, up 23.4% year-over-year; May at 2 million TEU, up 30.6%; June at 2.01 million TEU, up 24.9%; July at 2.04 million TEU, up 6.5%, and August at 2.08 million TEU, down 1.2%. The August number would be the first year-over-year decline since last July.
The surge resulted in months of backups at ports, which have faced labor shortages because of Covid 19 infections and equipment shortages because of the high volume. The global supply chain continues to be strained by multiple disruptions, including the recent blockage of the Suez Canal, NRF notes.
“Congestion at U.S. ports is abating as container carriers and terminals adjust to the new normal,” says Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates, which measures port activity for NRF.
“We saw the busiest February on record as the ports worked to clear the backlog, and the number of ships at anchor in San Pedro Bay waiting to dock at Los Angeles and Long Beach is dropping.”