- Retailers are racing to import goods for holiday shopping, but supply-chain snarls persist.
- Experts say that the conditions could last through next year and that improvement will be gradual.
- As the crisis rolls on, here's a look at how it happened, what happens next, and when it might end.
Consumers may have recently become aware of longstanding supply-chain issues, but for retailers that have been paying attention, the chaos shouldn't be a surprise.
Supply-chain disruption started more than a year ago as governments' and corporations' responses to COVID-19 created a million small interruptions. That combined with exploding consumer demand is a recipe for a transportation bottleneck in the form of port backlogs that created the famous line of cargo ships off the California coast.
As importers try to shove more goods through that bottleneck, it gets worse. The backlog and the mess of factory closures, labor issues, and equipment shortages behind it has been deemed the "everything shortage" or the "supply-chain crisis."
As the crisis rolls on, here's a look at how it happened, what happens next, and when it will all be over.
What caused it
Supply chains rely on people and equipment, and if either is in short supply, delays and cost result. Read more about the causes of the crisis:
- America isn't running out of everything just because of a supply-chain crisis. America is running out of everything because Americans are buying so much stuff.
- The US has plenty of trucks to ease supply-chain chaos - but they're in all the wrong places
- A lack of truck chassis is exacerbating the supply-chain crisis - and Biden isn't taking the easy route to fix the problem
What companies can do
Since transportation rates are incredibly high and goods harder to come by, companies have to put their energy and cash into getting the stuff that will make the most impact for their customers and on their balance sheets.
Tech can help, but only if it's already up and running. Encouraging helpful consumer behavior, like shopping early, is a popular strategy. Read more about how retailers and beyond are coping:
- How companies like Costco and Levi's are riding high above supply-chain chaos while others like Nike and Bed Bath & Beyond are on shakier ground
- Supply-chain disruptions have retailers scrambling to push out Christmas ads earlier than ever
- 4 ways business owners can avoid holiday-season supply-chain issues this year
- A 30-year-old manager at the logistics unicorn Flexport explains how she's navigating the historic supply-chain crisis
If retailers can get goods onto shelves, the next challenge is getting e-commerce orders delivered. Carol Tomé, the CEO of UPS, has said orders will outstrip delivery capacity by about 5 million packages a day this year. But new players are filling in the gaps. Read about how they and the incumbents are preparing for a holiday melee:
- UPS, FedEx, and DHL are already planning for a frantic holiday season without enough workers by jacking up fees, giving raises, and buying robots
- 2 of America's biggest regional delivery companies are combining to create a new competitor for UPS and FedEx
- Shipt's CEO plans to save the holidays from supply-chain chaos by breaking a cardinal rule of personal-shopping apps
When will it end?
The problem is that the crisis doesn't have clear edges. Even if the ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach clear up, there still won't be enough trucks on the road, or workers in warehouses, or delivery vans out in the streets. And COVID-19 could always cause shutdowns and delays.
Every supply chain is different, but there are some indicators to watch to understand the health of the system in the grand scheme. Experts say those will show the first glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel. Some say they're already starting to show. Read more about how to see them:
- The 4 things logistics insiders and experts are looking at to know when the supply-chain crisis will end