U.S. Christmas retail crush comes early as supply chains twist
Steve Denton has finished his holiday shopping. The CEO of Ware2Go, a UPS-backed company whose technology helps merchants find warehouse space, always searches for freebies ahead of time, but his inner view of retail supply chains has given him more reasons to finish early this year.
Resurging consumer demand fuels hopes of a much stronger season for U.S. retailers in 2021 after Covid-19 disrupted factories, scrambled distribution networks and kept suspicious shoppers at home last year. Deloitte expects holiday sales to jump 7-9% above 2020 level, to $ 1.3 billion.
Yet this demand is straining supply chains even more, leaving traders and customers worried they won’t get the products they want. This means that this second pandemic holiday begins long before Black Friday, the end of November date when the Christmas crush traditionally begins.
Many large retailers, prepared for port congestion and a lack of truck drivers and warehouse space, have imported goods “well in advance” this year, noted Sean Whitehouse, chain manager. procurement at Accenture.
Even so, “there will definitely be kids crying this holiday season,” said Joel Bines, co-head of AlixPartners’ retail consulting practice, predicting that the shelves would not be empty but that the shelves would be empty. stores would have a hard time finding the most popular items.
Early imports, however, created other challenges, in the form of increased inventory and higher costs, both to secure enough goods on time and to entice consumers to take them off the shelves.
“Many of them took inventory early, [so] they want to bring it out, ”Whitehouse said. This means they have an incentive to encourage consumers to shop earlier, free up capital, and make room for new deliveries.
Lowe’s made “a very strategic decision” to introduce products earlier this year, chief financial officer David Denton told investors last month, saying the choice was paying off. After a quick Halloween start, Christmas shopping was “coming sooner than originally expected,” he said.
Harmit Singh, chief financial officer of Levi Strauss, also told the Financial Times that his holiday sales have already started, reinforcing his expectations of a strong but unusually prolonged season.
However, to encourage shoppers to buy early, retailers offer deals and discounts long before they usually launch their annual promotional campaigns. “It’s very difficult to keep consumers away. . . their traditional lead times, ”noted Thomas O’Connor, senior research director in Gartner’s supply chain practice.
Amazon said last week that “the holidays have officially started,” announcing it was releasing “Black Friday-worthy” deals almost eight weeks before Black Friday and 11 days before its promotions start in 2020.
Retailers such as Target, which announced its “trading days” will begin October 10, are responding to “pacer,” Amazon, O’Connor said. Other brands learned about the benefits of an early peak season during Singles Day in China, a promotional event in early November, he said.
The traditional Black Friday buying spike had been so high that many retailers had “struggled to recover” for December, he observed, and now saw a longer season as a way to “shape” demand for make it more manageable.
Recent consumer spending figures support the idea that Americans want to spend as the holiday season approaches.
But anxiety drives consumer spending as much as it does offers. An Accenture survey found that 34% of U.S. consumers fear there isn’t enough stock to buy what they want in time for the holidays.
The same proportion, 34 percent, said they plan to do their holiday shopping earlier this year, to improve the chances of their packages arriving in time for Christmas.
Some retailers, anxious to avoid this outcome, “are doing a lot more air freight than usual” to get around backlogs that are delaying the unloading of ships at west coast ports, Whitehouse said.
Shipping by sea is the much cheaper option, he observed. “When you [ship goods by] air comes at a cost; it eats away at your margin, [so] the air is the last trigger you pull, ”he said.
The cost of air freight from Hong Kong to North America, followed by the Baltic Exchange Air Freight Index, tripled from $ 3.19 to $ 9.74 between February 2020 and September 2021.
Regardless of how retailers import goods, the downside of importing goods much sooner is that they have to fight for limited warehouse space in which to store goods they have paid for but not yet. sold, Whitehouse said.
Warehouse vacancy rates are at record highs, with Cushman & Wakefield setting the national rate at 4.3% and noting that in areas near congested west coast ports it is 1% or less. The latest index from logistics managers showed warehouse prices in the United States to be at an all-time high.
The space rush means Ware2Go is already in peak season, said Denton, who predicted vacation spending would increase.[is] is going to be absolutely sooner than expected ”.
Consumers remember the delivery delays they experienced last year, he said, so they are loath to leave their purchases at the last minute.
“Traders are going to allow this because they don’t want to tie up their capital,” he added, which will herald promotions that arrive earlier in the season and target discounts on products that need it most. ” be evacuated from the warehouses.
It will also redefine Americans ‘understanding of the vacation calendar, says AlixPartners’ Bines. “Black Friday does not exist; the holiday season doesn’t exist anymore, not like it used to be, ”he said. “It’s basically October 1 to January 15.”
Additional reporting by Matthew Rocco