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Retail Industry Updates Supply Chain Industry Updates

Surge in Imports a Good Sign for Holiday Season


Imports saw their busiest “peak season” on record this summer and fall as retailers replenished inventories and stocked up for the holiday season, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released Oct. 9 by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates. The Global Port Tracker provides forecasts for several U.S. ports around the country.

“Peak season is the Super Bowl of the supply chain world each year as retailers make sure they have enough merchandise on hand to satisfy demand during the holidays, and this is the busiest we’ve ever seen,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “Part of this surge was fueled by restocking after retail sales rebounded this summer and part could be making sure there aren’t shortages if we see panic buying again.”

Gold noted that the economic challenges of the pandemic aren’t over yet, but the import surge clearly shows how an industry that has been under stress is fighting back in a positive way.

‘Retailers don’t import merchandise they don’t think they can sell, so this is a good sign for the holiday season,” Gold added.

Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates, whose consulting, research and advisory services company provides the Global Port Tracker results to NRF, said the record-breaking statistics have been “virtually unpredictable” because of the difficult year in regard to health, trade and politics.

“Imports hit all-time highs this summer and online shopping did the same,” he added. “Whether similar patterns will continue in the coming months will be influenced to a large extent by the coronavirus pandemic and whether it will be brought under control by the arrival of expected vaccines next year.”

Pharmaceutical company Pfizer said Monday that the data on its coronavirus vaccine suggest it may be 90% effective at preventing COVID-19. The company plans to apply for emergency-use approval from the Food and Drug Administration later this month.

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled an estimated 8.1 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) from July through October, the peak shipping season when retailers rush to bring in merchandise for the winter holidays each year. While subject to revision once October numbers become final, that would be an increase of 6.1% over last year and would beat the previous record of 7.7 million TEU set in 2018.

The peak season record includes a record 2.11 million TEU imported in September, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was a 12.5 per year-over-year increase and 0.1% higher than August’s previous record of 2.1 million TEUs for the largest number of containers imported in a single month since NRF began tracking imports in 2002.

October imports were estimated at 2 million TEU, up 6.5% year over year and the fourth-highest month on record. With most holiday merchandise already in the country, November is forecast at 1.7 million TEU, up 0.2% year over year, and December is forecast at 1.58 million TEU, down 8.2% from last year.

Despite the new monthly records, 2020 is expected to total 20.9 million TEU, a drop of 3.4% from last year and the lowest annual total since 20.5 million TEU in 2017.