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As we round out 2022, it’s exhausting to rehash all the ways that the global pandemic has reshaped our lives. In some ways, there does seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel. But for many businesses, supply chain issues continue to cause trouble.
While we all hope to return to business as usual, the hard reality is that companies, consumers, and the services that connect them will be feeling the echoes of this strange period for some time. A number of factors have led to major shortages in products and labor alike, as well as supply chain delays unlike any we’ve seen in recent memory—and they don’t seem to be going away.
Between everything we pay for— food and fashion, gifts and gatherings, airfare and accommodations—Q4 has always been a critical time for the businesses that power our economy. Whether you’re in manufacturing or retail, making and selling the products people love, or in shipping and logistics, delivering these items to eager consumers, you’re staring down many challenges and more questions than answers.
Will you be able to get enough inventory to satisfy demand? Can you count on delivery services to operate on time? Will the product you purchase hit your shelves before the holiday rush? Finally, where will you turn if they ultimately don’t? There are solutions that can give your business some relief in this tough period. Still, understanding the reasons and risks behind it all is key.
Read on to learn more about the logistical and supply chain issues that the world is facing, why these issues are playing out and how your company can ultimately recover from these expected delays.
Trends including the pandemic have people all over the world rethinking their job prospects. Whether underpaid, overworked, or simply chasing new opportunities that have emerged from an economy in flux, workers have not been shy about leaving their jobs. In 2021, 47 million Americans quit—a new record, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. As workers gained leverage, many a business found itself in a tight spot.
Even in late 2022, the labor supply remains in decline, and those who would normally be filling warehouse and logistics jobs are reluctant to re-enter that sector of the workforce. There are many reasons for this—some felt under-appreciated and are holding out for better opportunities, while others have opted to prioritize their families, or taken the pandemic as an opportunity to retire early.
These same factors have spelled trouble for another key part of our economy—truckers.
Over $10 trillion worth of the US economy’s goods are moved by truck alone. That’s over 70% of the total value of goods shipped. Chances are good that everything you’re touching right now spent at least part of its journey to you on a truck. The importance of this industry simply can’t be overstated.
Recently, the American Trucking Association reports the industry was short about 80,000 drivers last year, and they warn this number could reach 160,000 by 2030. Experts have long claimed this phenomenon isn’t due to a true “shortage,” but rather low wages, bad driver retention rates, and poor prospects for entry-level drivers. Now, the shipping companies trying to make up lost ground are paying more than ever to attract new drivers.
Only time will tell if this approach works to alleviate the problem. For now, the reality remains unchanged—there are not enough drivers at this time. And the problem goes deeper still.
Demand for various types of merchandise shifts throughout the year—in spring and fall, apparel is on many consumers’ minds as they refresh their wardrobes. In the summer, outdoor gear and lawn & garden wares become popular. Many businesses see big-ticket items like consumer tech performing well during the holiday season.
Just as these demands fluctuate, so will labor demands in the associated markets. For this reason companies often need to hire on extra seasonal help. For example, US businesses posted 939,300 temporary job openings in 2021’s holiday season.
Holiday hiring sounds predictable enough, you might say. But consider this ever-shifting seasonal demand in the context of a volatile economy and the ongoing trend of workers holding out for higher pay and better opportunities. In this case, seasonal labor needs can become a moving target, with production, distribution, and delivery being tough to predict.
While these are issues businesses need to tack on the homefront, many supply chain difficulties emerge from abroad.
Domestic matters aside, production of specialized goods from abroad—namely microchips—slowed to a trickle. And while supply and demand for some varieties of products has normalized, improvements in availability are not uniform across industries. Everstream Analytics’ CEO Julia Gardeman reports via Wired that certain chips critical to medical, telecomm, and cybersecurity tech still require lead times of around 52 weeks, compared to a prior average of 27 weeks.
The automotive market—and any that competes with it for chip-making capacity—also remain troubled. Modern vehicles and appliances tend to rely on many different types of chips produced across different regions. A lag in the production of just one component will hold back total production numbers and delay delivery times.
As if all this weren’t enough, ongoing global tensions also confound efforts to produce and transport goods at a normal rate. The conflict in Ukraine, for example, has slowed the flow of food, fuel, and metal products, causing downstream disruption and exacerbating rampant inflation. In the US alone, over 500,000 US businesses rely on goods from this troubled region, and it’s difficult to say whether there’s an end in sight.
The goods that, despite all obstacles, are produced for export face yet another hurdle: international shipping delays.
Warehousing, trucking and production capacity is no help to companies if their products and components from abroad aren’t arriving on time. Goods shipped from across the water come mostly in containers on large ocean liners. They enter a country through one or more major ports which are responsible for unloading, inspecting, and tracking them. Unfortunately, this step remains a stubborn chokepoint.
At the height of backups, it took US ports at Los Angeles and Long Beach nearly twice as long as normal to process an incoming cargo ship. At one point, there were 73 cargo ships off the California coast all waiting to be processed through the port. While these issues may have lost our attention over the summer, they’re still very much a threat to business as we near the end of 2022.
In an effort to avoid west coast congestion, many ships are rerouting to the east and gulf coast ports. Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported queues of 20 vessels at New York, 40 vessels at Savannah, and 25 vessels at Houston. One expert noted that the docks are so crowded with containers that there is very little room for the trucks needed to move them. This is just one example of how slowdowns at each stage of the supply chain have clear downstream effects.
What does all this mean for your business this holiday season? With Americans preparing for yet another early start to holiday shopping, retailers and their suppliers will be under high pressure to deliver over a long season.
Retailers certainly don’t want to lose revenue because they couldn’t get their hands on merchandise, but there’s another layer of trouble to the possible backups they face. What will they do when the inventory finally does arrive?
With possible waves of late-arrived merchandise and holiday demand rapidly falling as December passes, businesses will find themselves with an unfortunate excess of hard-to-move seasonal stock. Add to this the inevitable wave of post-holiday returns and exchanges, and the next few months are a real threat to retailers’ ledgers and storage capacity.
There are a number of practices that businesses can use to mitigate these challenges, including improving their inventory tracking systems, increasing automation, and rethinking logistics approaches. These solutions require significant investment and plenty of time to implement, however. These steps are certainly not realistic during the busiest time of the year.
Some may try to warehouse inventory for next season if possible. Some will liquidate it for next to nothing. Even worse, some will even send goods to landfill. Businesses need a way to move excess and make room for new inventory while recovering the most value possible.
The answer lies in the secondary market, countless entrepreneurs and small businesses who thrive on buying and reselling excess inventory.
For the past year, these operations have been hungrily watching this global logistics logjam, knowing that retailers will soon be looking to offload the stock they can’t move themselves. Demand is high and savvy leaders can see that resellers are already on the move. What your business will need is a way to tap into that demand directly. Enter B-Stock.
B-Stock provides retailers with online marketplaces where they can sell their inventory to hundreds of thousands of vetted buyers. As opposed to traditional liquidators who buy and sell your excess stock for profit, B-Stock uses an auction format to fetch the highest price the market will supply—that means depending on category, you can bring in 30% or more when compared to traditional liquidation methods. With fast time-to-cash and a high degree of brand control, this solution is the perfect fallback.
The logistics and supply chain issues of 2021 aren’t going to be easy on your business this holiday season. But with B-Stock, small retailers and enterprises alike can ease the stresses of overstock and returns and get on track for a safe and successful 2022.