Coal in the stocking: US retailers scramble ahead of festive season

NEW YORK (AFP) – With the pandemic grimly persisting, American homes could face a meager holiday season, forced to do without some of their favourite items missing from
store shelves.

Even as demand surges as the world’s largest economy re-opens, United States (US) retailers are working hard to avoid putting a damper on festivities, taking unprecedented actions to try to navigate around myriad supply chain obstacles.

The most dramatic steps have included moves by Walmart and other big box chains to charter their own ships and bypass messy delays at West Coast ports.

Other workarounds have included bringing imports in earlier in the season, launching holiday promotions sooner and shifting to air cargo from ships.

But even with these measures, Scott Case, a logistics industry veteran and founder of Chicago-based Position: Global, predicted “there are going to be noticeable gaps in what is available to people this holiday season”.

Retailers are scrambling around supply chain problems to have enough holiday merchandise this year. PHOTO: AFP

Retailers are trying to plan for that as well, working up strategies to mollify or cushion the disappointment when choice items run out.

On the positive side, consumer activity remains robust, a dynamic apparent in US retail sales data released on Friday, which showed another surprising gain in September. “It will be a good holiday season from a demand perspective,” said Managing Director of GlobalData Retail Neil Saunders, who expects companies to offer fewer promotions to entice buyers than they have in the past due to the tight supply.

On top of the backlog at ports, that has seen ships lining up waiting to offload their containers, retailers are contending with manufacturing outages at key plants in Asia where local governments have imposed lockdowns due to COVID-19.

They also face shortages of front-line workers, which could make it challenging to hire enough seasonal employees.

These supply chain bottlenecks were a key focus of attention of finance ministers gathered last week in Washington.

And at the White House President Joe Biden announced a commitment by the Los Angeles Port to work 24 hours a day.