The 2021 peak shipping season is expected to be like no other. The rise of direct-to-consumer (D2C) e-commerce, dramatic changes in shopping habits and supply chain disruptions have created an unrecognizable landscape. Following the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, the ripple effects from the initial outbreak continue in the form of overstretched supply chains and transportation networks. Shortages of consumer goods in many product categories are still commonplace as demand continues to outpace supply.
A logjam of U.S. imports has clogged the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach since late summer 2020 when manufacturers and retailers tried to rebuild inventories depleted in the early stages of the pandemic. In summer 2021, port back-ups continue, forcing container ships to anchor at sea for long periods, only to encounter more delays port side.
As a result, peak season shipping is no longer limited to the typical August-October period with a squeeze on parcel carriers in November-December. Last year, surges in e-commerce shipments squeezed ground carriers into operating at peak for several months at a time instead of an average of 6 weeks. Many parcel carriers and small-package networks remain overburdened, well ahead of this year’s peak.
Unpredictability of demand and the blurring of promotional periods—Black Friday and Cyber Monday, for example, are now one multi-day peak—add to the challenges that brands and retailers face to keep up with consumer demand and expectations for rapid shipping.
Managing disruptions, avoiding distribution and fulfillment bottlenecks, and managing costs during peak season have become the top priorities for merchants in 2021.