If you pay attention to the news at all, you likely recognize the name of the ship “Ever Given.” The ship blocked all traffic in the Suez Canal, leaving more than 400 cargo ships blocked from passage for nearly a week. Paired with an already overwhelmed and inconsistent shipping industry still reeling from the worldwide pandemic, shipping has become an unpredictable nightmare in many cases.
The slowdown has negatively affected just about every industry that depends on products from overseas. Here is a quick rundown of the current freight situation to help you understand what’s going on.
In February 2020, when the factories closed in Asia due to the COVID-19 shutdown, vessels began canceling their shipments to adjust to falling demand. The first and second quarters of the year were uncertain and volume dropped by 15% as the steamship lines reduced their capacity. Demand began picking up in July, however, and by October, large volumes were hitting U.S. ports—some in catch up mode, putting high pressure on the current infrastructure.
When things began to pick up again, the vessels in Asia experienced space and container shortages, port congestion, and delayed sailings. As importers pushed to get their goods into the U.S. for the holiday season and to restock shelves that had remained empty during shutdowns, the increased demand caused the steamship lines to encounter further critical container shortages at ports in Busan, Ningbo, Shanghai, Vietnam, and India.
2020’s challenges sadly did not curtail with the onset of a new year. The lingering effects of the pandemic, shipping delays, and a volatile economy have carried into (and in some cases worsened in) the first and second quarters of 2021. And if you’ve placed an order that required shipping, those lingering issues could currently be affecting your shipment.
Rolling With The Tides
Though 2020 and 2021 have been challenging years for freight shipments, and the scale of the setbacks is off the charts, delays such as these are far from unprecedented. From our experience dealing with them in the past, we’ve compiled a few pointers to help you roll with the shifting tides of shipping.
Place your orders early.
This may seem a bit oversimplified, but the best way to avoid issues caused by shipping delays is to start your order earlier than you think you need. Prior to the delays, we estimated a 4-6 week ocean and domestic freight schedule. However, we’ve adjusted that timeline to a 6-8 week estimated schedule. With that shift, the possibilities of your product arriving early greatly outweigh the chances of it arriving late.
Be flexible with the types of containers you choose to use.
Standard large-sized (40’) containers are traditional for ocean crossings, but shortages of those containers is part of the problem. Explore other options, like NOR (Non-Operating Reefer) containers or 20’ containers, to ensure a place on a vessel without having to wait for the more rare 40’ containers. You could save yourself weeks of waiting.
Ship by LCL (Less than a Container Load) instead of FCL (Full Container Load).
With the recent rush on shipping, there have not only been issues with supply, but also an increase in the congestion of ports and loading docks that affect timelines, as well. Shipping less than a full container load can lessen wait times for unloading in the port.
Trans-load FCL shipments onto a truck.
When dealing with a full container, many people will utilize multiple forms of transportation—inland rail, trucking, etc—once the product arrives in port to move it across the country. Using a singular method of transportation can save you time, bypassing all of the time and work of loading and reloading. It can be more costly, however, than utilizing the shared trucking routes.
Use alternate port routes into the U.S.
The Los Angeles port has been greatly impacted by all of the shipping changes and congestion caused by the pandemic, and that impact has only grown into 2021. Though the LA port is the busiest in the U.S., there are other very capable ports that can provide more economic pricing with lesser offloading wait times to consider, like Oakland or Savannah. Choosing one of those ports can mitigate potential delays.
Use upgraded premium services.
Certainly, premium services come with premium price tags, but they can provide such advantages as container guarantee, space access, and expedited rail time. In a shipping climate like the one we are in now, those benefits can mean the difference in how successful a product could be.
Strong demand and volume increases are expected to continue which, unfortunately, will cause shipping rates to increase and tension on the infrastructure to persist.
We are hopeful that this situation will improve as we continue through 2021. But until it does, we are here to handle all of the crazy confusing details for you so you can continue to focus on growing your business and delighting your customers!
Partner with CōDRA to create the right product and let us handle all of the shipping frustrations. Contact us here.