White House officials have warned that Americans could be facing empty store shelves this Christmas season and higher prices on the goods they do find thanks to global supply bottlenecks driven partly by the COVID pandemic.
Supply chain issues have been damaging retail and transportation companies, many of which have issued disappointing earnings outlooks recently. At the same time, the Federal Reserve recently predicted an inflation rate for 2021 of 4.2%, which is significantly higher than its 2% target.
When discussing holiday shopping, a senior White House official told Reuters that there will be items that people will be unable to obtain. The official said: “At the same time, a lot of these goods are hopefully substitutable by other things. … I don’t think there’s any real reason to be panicked, but we all feel the frustration and there’s a certain need for patience to help get through a relatively short period of time.”
The White House recently appointed John Porcari to serve as an envoy to the nation’s ports. Informally known as the “bottleneck czar,” he has been tasked with ensuring that different parts of the supply chain are communicating steadily, such as ports and intermodal facilities.
Lately, there has been a push for transportation hubs such as ports to work on 24-hour schedules in order to move more goods through the pipeline during off-peak hours. So far, the ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, have agreed to operate on extended hours and more are expected to follow suit, Porcari reports. The pair of ports are the entry point for 40 percent of the containers coming into the country and have seen their demand surge this year.
The administration has also been looking into restoring inactive railyards to provide additional container capacity as well as establishing pop-up railyards to alleviate some of the burden.
He said that the system had already been under some strain prior to the pandemic, but the situation has only grown worse since then. “It’s important to remember that the goods movement system is a private sector-driven system,” he commented. “There’s problems in every single part of that system. And, they tend to compound each other.”
People are being advised to shop early to avoid disappointment
Experts are recommending that people start shopping early for holiday gifts this year, well ahead of the traditional kickoff of the holiday shopping season on Black Friday if they want to get specific goods.
The editor of deal website RetailMeNot, Kristin McGrath, told USA TODAY that shoppers plan to spend more than they did last Christmas and warned that the holiday shopping season will ultimately fall in the middle of a “perfect storm of high demand, low staffing, slow shipping and difficulties restocking.”
UPS has announced that they will be shifting to a 24/7 schedule, which they estimate will create a 20 percent increase in the containers being moved through ports. FedEx has said that they will increase their own nighttime hours to keep containers moving, while Walmart has extended night hours in hopes of hitting a 50 percent increase in moving goods.
Meanwhile, retailers such as Target, Samsung and Home Depot have announced extended shifts and hours to help keep up with demand and clear ports. They are planning to move anywhere from 10 to 60 percent more containers every night.
Not surprisingly, polls show that President Biden has been losing public trust on economic matters, with just 29 percent of the American public rating the U.S. economy as being in “good” or “excellent” condition, a drop from the already-low 35 percent noted in April.
Sources for this article include: