Goods stuck in California port jam will likely miss holiday shopping season

Walmart holiday shopping
  • Cargo ships at the nation’s largest port have taken as long as two months to unload.
  • Shipments from China to the US take about 73 days to reach their destination — over a month after Christmas.
  • Several major retailers have taken steps to side-step the issue, but it might not be enough.

It might already be too late to start holiday shopping.

A major traffic jam at the nation’s largest port has spawned shortages and price hikes just in time for peak holiday shopping season. Cargo ships in the pile-up off the coast of Southern California have waited for as long as two months to dock and unload at the port — meaning shipments that are still stuck off the coast are unlikely to reach their final destination in time for the holidays.

What’s more, the waiting game doesn’t stop once the ship docks. Dwell time for unloaded containers hit an all-time high last month, as carriers struggled to get truckers in to pick up the goods.

Several retailers have expressed concern regarding the backup. Last week, Victoria’s Secret CEO Martin Waters said that 45% of the company’s fall inventory is stranded at sea because of the shipping crisis.

The port delays are adding on to overall shipping timelines that are about 83% higher than pre-pandemic times.

The US receives much of its goods from overseas, in particular China, which serves as a primary source for anything from furniture and auto parts to tech and toys. It currently takes an average of 73 days for shipments from China to the US to reach their final destination, according to data from Freightos, an online freight marketplace. But, Christmas is in 31 days.

For consumers, the lengthened turnaround times mean the longer they wait to shop, the more likely they are to face shortages this holiday season. Shoppers who are ordering goods online might also not be able to receive their items until after the holiday season has passed. While many major retailers like Amazon and Walmart are known for their well-stocked warehouses — even large companies are racing to replenish diminished inventory levels since the pandemic started.

“Shortages are guaranteed,” Jonathan Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation, previously told Insider. “Retailers are taking a lot of steps, especially going into peak shopping season, but there’s only so much you can do.”