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Shoppers Are Shopping, Which Is Why Supply Chains Are Working Overtime

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Imports had their busiest April on record and May could turn out to have set a new record as vaccines allowed consumers to return to normal shopping patterns.

Supply chain disruptions, port congestion and rising shipping costs could continue to be challenges that retailers face through the end of the year, said Jonathan Gold, the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) vice president for supply chain and customs policy.

Imports at the nation’s largest retail container ports saw their busiest April on record and May could turn out to have set a new record as vaccines allowed consumers to return to normal shopping patterns, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released June 7 by the NRF and the consulting firm Hackett Associates.

“Vaccine rates are increasing, shoppers are back in stores and retail supply chains are working overtime,” Gold said. “There’s no shortage of demand from consumers, but there continue to be shortages of labor, equipment and shipping capacity to meet that demand.”

Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates, said supply chains are finding it difficult to keep up with demand as shipping capacity struggles.

“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,” he added. “Many people remain hesitant about returning to work, affecting ports, rail, trucking and distribution centers.”

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 2.15 million TEU in April, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was by far the busiest April on record and an increase of 33.4% from a year earlier, when most stores were closed by the coronavirus pandemic. April’s results followed 2.27 million TEU in March, which set the record for the most containers imported during a single month since NRF began tracking imports in 2002. A TEU is one 20-foot container or its equivalents.

Ports haven’t reported May numbers yet, but Global Port Tracker projected the month at 2.32 million TEU, which would be up 51.1% from the same time last year and would beat March’s total to set another record for the largest number of containers in a single month.

Global Port Tracker, produced for NRF by Hackett Associates, provides historical data and forecasts for several U.S. ports.

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