Retail imports approach record pace despite port congestion at the start of the holiday season

“Dockworkers unload ships as fast as they can.”

NRF Vice-President Jonathan Gold

WASHINGTON – Imports into the nation’s congested container ports are expected to remain near record highs for the remainder of the year, as retailers rush to move goods from docks to shelves in time to meet holiday shoppers’ expectations, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report. released today by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“Dockers unload ships as fast as they can, but the challenge is getting the containers out of the ports to make room for the next ship,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for the chain. procurement and customs policy. “We need better empty return procedures and more chassis, truck drivers, rail capacity and warehouse workers to keep the system moving. Retailers have enough inventory on hand to make sure shoppers aren’t going home empty-handed this holiday season. But there are still items on the docks or waiting on ships due to hit the shelves and warehouses of online sellers. Retailers want to make sure customers have product choices.

More than 70 ships were waiting to dock at ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach last week, and the wait in Los Angeles has averaged two weeks over the past month. These delays, in turn, can delay the arrival of ships in other ports on their schedules. Some carriers have announced plans to divert to other locations, but congestion is increasing nationwide.

“The once-vaunted supply chain continues to come under pressure from all sides,” said Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett, citing issues ranging from US port congestion to power shortages affecting the production in China. “It doesn’t look like congestion is improving anytime soon, with most commentators suggesting problems will continue until 2022 – and that assumes COVID-19 isn’t picking up again. “

The congestion and disruption that started in 2020 has continued throughout the current ‘peak season’ for shipping when retailers normally stock up for the holidays, but many retailers have anticipated the challenge and have started. importing holiday products months ahead of schedule to ensure sufficient stock would be available. The NRF has forecast that holiday sales will increase between 8.5% and 10.5% in 2020.

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker processed 2.14 million twenty-foot equivalent units in September, the latest month for which final figures are available. It was down 5.9% from August, but up 1.4% year-on-year. A TEU is a 20 foot container or its equivalent.

Ports have yet to release October figures, but Global Port Tracker projected the month at 2.19 million TEUs, down 1.2% from October 2020. The one-year decline on the other would be the first since July 2020, after which unusually high import volumes began to arrive as stores closed by the pandemic reopened and retailers worked to meet pent-up consumer demand and for s ‘stock up for the holidays.

Even with the year-over-year decline, October would be among the five busiest months since the NRF began tracking imports in 2002. Busy freight is expected to continue through the end of the year , with a November forecast of 2.17 million TEU, up 3.3% year-on-year, and December at 2.18 million TEU, up 3.5%.

January 2022 is forecast at 2.21 million TEUs, up 7.6% from January 2021; February to 2 million TEUs, up 7% year-on-year, and March to 2.17 million, down 4.1% year-on-year.

The first half of 2021 totaled 12.8 million TEUs, up 35.6% from the same period last year. For the full year, 2021 is on track to total 26 million TEUs, up 17.9% from 2020 and a new annual record exceeding last year’s 22 million TEU. Cargo imports in 2020 increased by 1.9% compared to 2019 despite the pandemic.

Global Port Tracker, produced for NRF by Hackett Associates, provides historical data and forecasts for the US ports of Los Angeles / Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York / New Jersey, Port of Virginia, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades, Miami and Jacksonville on the East Coast and Houston on the Gulf Coast. The report is free to NRF retail members and subscription information is available at or by calling (202) 783-7971. Subscription information for non-members is available at

About the NRF
The National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail association, is a passionate advocate for the people, brands, policies and ideas that help the retail business thrive. From its headquarters in Washington, DC, the NRF empowers the industry that powers the economy. Retail is the nation’s largest private sector employer, contributing $ 3.9 trillion to annual GDP and supporting one in four jobs in the United States – 52 million American workers. For over a century, NRF has been the voice of every retailer and every retail profession, educating, inspiring and communicating the powerful impact of retailing on local communities and global economies.

About Hackett Associates
Hackett Associates provides advisory, research and expert advisory services to the international shipping industry, government agencies and international institutions.

About Yvonne Lozier

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