Consumer demand is so strong that it has overwhelmed the capacity of the freight industry and resulted in record spikes in shipping rates. The surge in shipments is clogging many supply chains, confusing major ports and delaying the delivery of Christmas gifts by up to several weeks.
In the port of Los Angeles, the largest container ship in the country and the gateway for many Chinese goods, shipping containers with Chinese imports such as Legos are stacked in six high piles. Truckers clog the parking lots and wait for hours for goods to be picked up, which are then shipped across the continent.
October was the busiest month in the port’s 114-year history and traffic continues to be high. As of December 1, dockers were busy unloading 19 ships, compared with 10 to 12 on a normal day, said Gene Seroka, the port’s executive director. Twelve other ships were waiting in the port, which had waited an average of about 48 hours after they were scheduled to arrive, he said.
“We are living at a time that is truly unprecedented,” said Seroka. “You’re trying to stuff 10 pounds of potatoes into a five pound bag. This order and refill is bigger than anything we’ve seen, and now it coincides with the holidays. “
The build-up began earlier this year when American retailers and manufacturers began replenishing their products this summer after brief spring lockouts and consumer spending began to rise again. While the pandemic has left former restaurant, airline, and theme park employees penniless, many members of the country’s vast remote workforce have seen their bank accounts grow, and surveys show that consumer spending expectations remain high.
The first November trade data snapshot, released earlier this month by China’s customs authorities, did not include detailed data by product and country. However, trade data for the first 10 months of this year, compiled from United States customs data by IHS Markit, shows that American imports of consumer electronics from China have been strong, as have imports of masks and other personal protective equipment for the pandemic .
Jay Foreman, executive director of toy company Basic Fun !, said his company had moved from “panic” about the future of its business in March and April to suddenly realizing that demand was stronger than ever.