The 2023 peak shipping season is shaping up to be radically different for each company.
Holiday hiring goals compared to 2022 vary by employer. Depending on their carrier mix and service needs, shippers will either endure added peak season fees or avoid them. And with consumer demand expected to vary based on product category, accurate forecasting will be critical for a strong shipper-carrier relationship.
Explore the below trendline for more insights on what is shaping up to be another unconventional peak season.
UPS will increase the price of its demand surcharge for high-volume shippers during the peak season. The fee will range from $1.35 to $7.50 per package between Oct. 29 and Jan. 13, 2024, depending on how much volume increases for each customer it applies to.
UPS is also upping its fees on large, oversized and hard-to-handle packages from Oct. 1 to Jan. 13, 2024.
FedEx will apply a fee to large customers that encounter volume spikes during the peak season, effective from Oct. 30 to Jan. 14, 2024. The price per package ranges from $1.35 to $6.35 for Ground shipments and $2.40 to $7.40 for Express shipments. It's also levying a surcharge for its Ground Economy services during the same time period.
Additionally, FedEx will implement surcharges on packages that are large, oversized or hard-to-handle from Oct. 2 to Jan. 14, 2024. The per-package prices of these surcharges are similar to what UPS will levy.
OnTrac will implement a demand surcharge for residential packages shipped from Oct. 28 through Jan. 12, 2024. The surcharge ranges from $1.35 to $6.40 per package, depending on the shipper's baseline volume.
OnTrac, which serves 31 states and Washington, D.C. through its delivery network, generally defines baseline volume as the shipper's weekly average minimum package volume from June 3 to June 30. A different time period applies to newer customers or those with much lower volume levels in September compared to June.
Lone Star Overnight, or LSO, will apply a holiday surcharge that mirrors LSO's added fee. The Texas-based carrier with delivery coverage in the Southwest and Central U.S. is levying a flat $1.50 peak season surcharge on residential deliveries from Oct. 30 to Jan. 7, 2024.
Delivery providers with no peak surcharges
The U.S. Postal Service announced in September it would have no peak season surcharges due to continued network investments and a reduced need for seasonal hires. Companies that partner with the U.S. Postal Service for parcel delivery are also opting out of peak fees.
DHL eCommerce, which had holiday fees last year, will not apply any surcharges for the 2023 peak season, spokesperson Andrea Scarpulla said in an email.
Article top image credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images via Getty Images
How to navigate carrier-shipper relationships during peak season
Sharing demand and capacity forecasts will help provide strong holiday delivery service, Supply Chain Dive panelists said.
By: Kelly Stroh• Published Oct. 2, 2023
As yet another unconventional peak period approaches, over-communication will help carriers and shippers provide strong holiday service, Supply Chain Dive panelists said during a Sept. 21 panel discussion as part of the event “Insights into the Holiday 2023 season.”
“The number one thing — it’s not surprising — is share your forecast,” Vijay Ramachandran, VP of go-to-market enablement and experience at Pitney Bowes, said during the panel. This includes communication about when shippers plan to run sales or promotions, he added.
It can be hard for smaller shippers to communicate directly with larger carriers, Ramachandran said. It’s important to have a partner with account managers that monitor a company’s forecast and ensure it’s equipped with adequate transportation and labor during peak promotional periods, he added.
“You should really think about looking at partners that have that kind of conversational approach to planning,” he added. “You want that give and take to say, ‘here’s the parts of our network where we’re seeing the most available capacity, what periods during the holiday season are you seeing expected peaks in demand, and can we make sure that we’re tied together?’”
While volume forecasts can’t be completely accurate due to evolving consumer trends, “there’s a lot that can be done just … providing that your carrier is giving you that relationship where you can trade information back and forth on both demand and capacity,” Ramachandran said.
Carson Krieg, director of global alliances at project44, agreed that over-communication remains a strategic move for shippers and carriers this peak season.
“Share historical lane data, combine that with demand forecasts and basically be hand-in-hand with your carrier,” Krieg said.
“It really is a longer peak season than it has been, historically,” Krieg said. “So [build] out that 75-day plan around seasonality and peak volumes, and where you think you’re going to see your demand from a regional standpoint.”
Article top image credit: Kelly Stroh/Supply Chain Dive
Recession. Inflation. Rising expectations... You’ve heard it all. But what is the truth? Better yet, how do you guarantee survival for tomorrow? And what will this year’s peak season bring?
Shipping is becoming fast-paced and expansive. By 2027, global parcel volume is predicted to reach 226 billion packages per year. And as demand grows, so do carriers’ rates. Customer expectations are also record high, but you already knew that. Shoppers now expect to receive a package within two to three days, or they’re taking their business elsewhere.
The silver lining? Rising above this wave is just a matter of prioritization + action.
1. Become a subject matter expert on your data
Know your data like the back of your hand. What’s your year-over-year increase? Which surcharges are costing you the most based on increase and volume? When you arm yourself with these data insights, you put yourself in a better position to negotiate with your carrier for reduced rates in the areas that will have the biggest impact on maximizing profit.
2. Modernize your distribution network
Lock down an optimization plan for your distribution network to reduce the distance and days in transit your packages need to travel. This makes meeting your customers’ expectations easier and cheaper, all while reducing your last-mile delivery times.
3. Put your performance first and exceed customer expectations
You need to understand what percentage of your packages are delivered to residential zones five and higher. Find where zone skipping makes sense for your business. This insight helps you optimize your last-mile delivery operations and reduce shipments dispatched to zones five or higher, significantly cutting your shipping costs.
4. Identify quick wins in your operations to improve your process
It’s crucial that you have insight into how your carrier calculates dimensional pricing and the associated rates. Then, you need to assess your current packaging and find ways to optimize it. For example, sometimes shipping two smaller packages is more cost-effective than shipping one larger package. Or you may be able to reconfigure your packaging dimensions in a way that still allows you to ship your product in one package but without triggering higher dimensional pricing. If you can just change a few things with box size or your packaging or how you put things together—you make a serious dent in your shipping costs.
5. Turbocharge your carrier contracts to work for you
Look at your carrier as an ally to your business, not an enemy. You can work together to remove stress with their support. Ask your carrier for help with getting your products out faster, switching to a service that better matches your needs or even suggestions on their end to enhance your efficiency. Approach your reps with a common goal: “We want to do XYZ. How do we do this? How can we move forward together?” They can also offer operational efficiency on their end—it’s a win-win for everyone.
Understanding your shipping data is a must to make sure you’re prepared – both to deliver on customer expectations and to protect your bottom line.
Article top image credit: Permission granted by R. Classen
Companies once again want added holiday help for their warehouse and transportation operations, although some have less ambitious hiring goals in 2023.
By: Max Garland• Published Oct. 3, 2023
Companies are once again seeking help for their warehouse and transportation operations during the peak holiday shipping season, although some have less ambitious hiring goals in 2023 than last year.
Amazon and DHL eCommerce are ramping up hiring this year. Meanwhile, other warehouse employers like the U.S. Postal Service and fulfillment provider Radial are hiring fewer temporary workers than 2022 with shipping demand cooling off from its pandemic-fueled heights.
Despite some companies pulling back, competition for labor could still be fierce this peak season as firms attempt to keep up with wage increases at UPS and FedEx.
Here's a roundup of peak season hiring plans as companies look to support shippers' anticipated holiday volume increases.
Amazon is looking to hire 250,000 people for the holidays, with full-time, part-time, and seasonal fulfillment center and transportation jobs available throughout the U.S. That marks an increase from 2022's goal of 150,000 peak season hires.
The e-commerce giant said it is investing $1.3 billion in pay increases for fulfillment and transportation employees, bumping the average hourly pay for those roles to around $20.50.
The full-time and part-time positions UPS has available for peak are primarily seasonal delivery drivers, CDL drivers and package handlers. Permanent positions are available in some locations for people who apply early, according to UPS.
UPS noted that over the past two years, nearly 50,000 seasonal employees have received permanent positions with the company.
FedEx didn't disclose its holiday hiring goals in an emailed statement to Supply Chain Dive, the same approach it took last year. The company said its existing employees "are ready to deliver for this year's peak season."
FedEx still has job openings available in various locations, including for delivery drivers and package handlers.
"A role in supply chain means being on the frontlines of getting products to our guests and stores as quickly as possible, creating greater ease for guests and fellow team members," the retailer said.
DHL eCommerce aims to hire around 2,600 workers for the peak season throughout the U.S., spokesperson Andrea Scarpulla said in an email. Last year, the DHL division looked to hire more than 2,000 seasonal workers.
Open positions include material handlers and equipment operators.
Article top image credit: Mario Tama via Getty Images
After last year’s inventory tidal wave, where do retailers go from here?
Bare shelves are still a recent memory, but many are learning to live on leaner inventories after overstocking in 2022.
By: Ben Unglesbee• Published May 16, 2023
Nothing for retail inventory planners has been easy over the past three years. After the shortages of 2020 and 2021, the industry spent the past year trying to unload products as consumers cut their spending in the face of steep inflation.
Although down from their peak, many inventory positions remain elevated for current sales levels.
“I've worked at multiple apparel retailers recently that have more inventory than I've ever seen,” said Matt Garfield, managing director with FTI Consulting. “It looks like you're walking into a peak season distribution center and we were in the middle of February, March.”
Even though the era of bare shelves is not far behind the industry, many are learning to live on leaner inventories and plan to chase products as needed in 2023 and beyond.
In doing so, retailers are prioritizing cost control and margin protection over the risk of lost sales.
“A little scarcity is not a bad thing,” said Joe Feldman, senior managing director with Telsey Advisory Group.
Inventory levels have peaked. But they’re still bloated.
Target issued a mid-quarter warning in June 2022 that its profits for the period were in for a significant hit as the retailer worked to “right-size its inventory for the balance of the year” amid a “rapidly changing environment.” The retailer blamed intense pressure on consumer spending from inflation on necessities, including food and gasoline.
Target led the way, but discretionary retailers, with few exceptions, spent the rest of the year trying to clear inventory. Analyzing retailers across major sectors, Telsey Advisory Group analysts found that, across segments, inventory growth averaged at 46% in Q2 2022. In apparel and e-commerce, that figure was considerably higher, at 65.6% for both sectors.
“Coming out of 2021, inventory was really lean, lower than it should have been, because you couldn't get goods and everybody was chasing,” Feldman said. “I think the miscalculation was the demand level.”
Retail inventories hit their peak in October, when they were up 18% from 2021 levels. Inventories have since fallen considerably but remain well above where they were three years ago, or even a year ago.
An improving supply chain has magnified the problem, at least on paper. By February, overall schedule reliability in ocean freight was up month-over-month by 7.7 percentage points and up year-over-year by a “staggering” 26 percentage points, according to DHL.
For consumer companies, that means goods have been shipping faster and arriving earlier than a year ago, which shows up in inventory levels. Apparel sellers such as Under Armour and PVH have noted this in their earnings. At PVH, which owns the Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger brands, inventory was up 34% YoY at the end of Q4.
“We have seen steady progress over the course of 2022 towards pre-pandemic production capacity and significantly improved delivery times,” PVH CFO Zac Coughlin told analysts in March. “And in the fourth quarter this year, we experienced much earlier receipts of inventory as these supply chain and logistics disruptions had eased.”
Excess is costly up and down the supply chain
The inventory story played out differently for retailers and many of the brands that supplied them. As retailers moved to cut back their positions, wholesalers were often left sitting on excess stock.
“Wholesalers really got hammered,” Garfield said.
Apparel sellers GIII Apparel Group and VF Corp, for example, both cracked 100% inventory growth in 2022, according to Telsey Advisory Group analysis. Nike, one of the largest apparel brands in the world, hit 44% inventory growth in the period ending Aug. 31.
“If retailers have too much inventory, they're going to stop purchasing, or slow down their purchases, or push out their purchases from their vendors,” said Joel Wolitzer, SVP and business development officer with Rosenthal & Rosenthal, which provides factoring and other financing services. “We have seen that slowdown on multiple levels.”
For merchandise suppliers, life can be made tougher by the fact many retailers don’t place firm purchase orders, which means their vendors have to place informed speculative bets on how much a retailer will purchase, informed by a retailer’s projections. Even purchase orders can be changed or delayed.
Suppliers producing private label merchandise for retailers can be put in an especially tight spot if their buyer decides to pull back on their orders.
“Those goods can only go to that retailer. Suppliers can’t sell them anywhere else,” Wolitzer said. “So they’re kind of stuck.”
For larger wholesale brands, they may have ended up with higher inventory levels than their retail partners, but that’s not necessarily the worst-case scenario if they have their own sales channels.
“It's probably better for, say, Nike or Adidas to control the way they clear through the excess inventory,” Feldman said. The alternative, he added, is to “put it out there in the market and let the retailers decide what to do with it, and just cut price and potentially impact the brand.”
For all players in the market, inventory excess is costly. Additional warehousing can get expensive. As Wolitzer noted, if companies have to borrow to pay for that warehousing, then there are financing expenses such as interest as well.
Operational efficiency and capacity also declines once a certain amount of space in a warehouse is filled, Garfield noted.
"It's a very big impact to your overall profitability — your cost per pick, cost per unit, those kinds of core profitability measures that we look at for distribution,” he said.
Have retailers learned their lesson? And which lesson?
The past two years raise fundamental questions about how to buy and plan inventory, and can yield some contradictory answers. One of the biggest is: Is it worse to have too little inventory in boom times or too much in downturns?
“Two years ago, you just had to have inventory. If you had it, there was a buyer out there,” said Oliver Timsit, founder of the apparel brand Oliver Logan. “We’ve come to terms with the fact that we can’t have something for everyone.”
With supply chain problems easing, many of the same tensions that predated the pandemic are now coming back into play. While out-of-stocks could mean the opportunity cost of a lost sale, overstocks come with financial costs of storage and financing costs.
Inventory excess also comes with opportunity costs by tying up working capital, and, perhaps most importantly, means less space for fresh products.
“Much as we all thought that the retailers learned their lesson — that they're better off ordering less, chasing demand a little bit, and having very clean, profitable sales, meaning fewer markdowns — they all fell into that trap of: ‘Oh, if we just have more, we'll sell it,’” Feldman said. “And then they got caught.”
Should demand recover, Feldman thinks retailers will have an easier time chasing inventory than they did in 2021 given normalizing supply chains.
“Those bottlenecks are gone," Feldman said. "So if you do have much more normal ramping of production on the manufacturing side, getting it here shouldn't be too much of an issue, at least in the near term. I’m hopeful these guys will be smarter about it.”
Still, retailers are unlikely to ramp up purchase orders anytime soon — even if demand does come roaring back.
“I think it’s going to be awhile before merchants and executives are really ready to place that bet for a large inventory position,” Garfield said. “Those conversations were brutal last year. The earnings — they weren’t fun calls, and I don’t think anyone wants to go back to that time.”
Article top image credit: kupicoo via Getty Images
Why it’s time for shippers to reevaluate their air cargo agreements
Three logistics experts share why customers are looking to secure six- to 12-month contracts.
By: Kelly Stroh• Published Sept. 6, 2023
With air cargo demand stabilizing and capacity up, shippers are reevaluating contracts as air freight rates drop, industry executives say.
Following COVID-19’s capacity-strapped market which put air carriers in the driver's seat, shippers are now in a position to negotiate their rates, Hellmann Worldwide Logistics Airfreight COO Jan Kleine-Lasthues told Supply Chain Dive in an interview.
“I believe we will see more and more RFQs coming out and shippers [trying] to secure the low rate level which we have at the moment for a longer period,” Kleine-Lasthues said. He anticipated possible contract agreements of six to 12 months.
Kleine-Lasthues noted that certain industries such like automotive and pharmaceuticals are especially looking for longer-term agreements right now, and he expects to see “more RFQs coming in the coming weeks.”
As customer contracts based on prior period rate levels expire, Geodis is also advising shippers to revert to long-term pricing agreements with a fluctuating fuel charge, EVP of Freight Forwarding Eric Martin-Neuville told Supply Chain Dive.
“There are limited risks in terms of access to capacity and thus the time is right for shippers to work on reinforcing the robustness and resiliency of their supply chain,” he said.
Xeneta’s Clive Data Services reported in June that freight forwarders, still feeling “handcuffed” by high airfreight rates and blocked space agreements with airlines, saw more shippers push to relaunch tenders and negotiate lower rates. During Q2, Clive saw six-month or longer contracts “gaining more ground.”
Amid shifting market conditions, shippers should remain focused on long-term relationships with carriers as capacity on certain trade routes may be vital in the near-term, said Peter Penseel, COO of air freight at CEVA Logistics. Over the past several years, volatility in the air freight market “placed a premium on relationships” when considering capacity, demand and freight rates.
“As markets swing back and forth, all sides at the table need to remain focused on the long-term partnership, prioritizing long-term stability and trust over short-term gains,” he said.
Rates have been on the decline due to falling demand and recovering capacity, with general spot rates down 41% YoY in July. Penseel expects rates to continue to decline globally, noting that “certain routes may be the exception, but given the current economic indicators, the second half of the year should remain on a similar trajectory as the first half.”
While promises of peak season demand typically drive a spike in rates and the need to secure capacity, most industry players anticipate no peak this year, or at the very least, a mini-peak, Penseel added.
“We expect certain trade lanes (Asia-North America and Asia-Europe trade lanes) to see a “mini-peak,” but we do not anticipate any strong movement on the demand side for the remainder of 2023,” he said. “The interaction between the recovering demand and the growing capacity will continue to apply pressure on both rates and contract agreements.”
Why shippers will add more FedEx and UPS competitors to their carrier mix in 2023
Interest in last mile alternatives is up. Experts say Amazon could take advantage by launching a competing service.
By: Max Garland• Published Jan. 27, 2023
Editor’s note: This story is part of an ongoing series diving into the opportunities and challenges supply chains face in 2023. Read the rest of the series here.
Even as space frees up within FedEx and UPS' networks, shippers are poised to continue diversifying their parcel carrier mix in 2023, industry experts say.
Adding new last mile carriers emerged as a popular strategy during the pandemic after volume surges limited capacity at the two delivery giants. FedEx and UPS have seen service levels rebound and demand normalize, but many shippers continue to keep other delivery options on tap.
If anything, shippers are adding alternative carriers at an even faster rate. The average number of last mile carriers per company account in December was 5.73, up from 4.86 the year before, according to project44 data.
Carrier diversification accelerated leading up to peak season
Average number of last mile carriers per company account
A mix of factors is buoying this ongoing trend, including higher rates and concerns over UPS and the Teamsters' contract negotiations — their current agreement expires July 31. Increased capacity and more robust services from smaller competitors are also driving interest in alternatives.
The result is that last mile carrier mixes are starting to look more like shippers' varied LTL portfolios, said Caleb Nelson, chief growth officer and co-founder at logistics software provider Sifted. Looking forward, diversification isn't expected to slow down, leaving some industry experts wondering if Amazon will capitalize by launching a competing service.
"I think it's going to pick up pace this year, and it's mostly because shippers are a little bit behind and the regional carriers that have stepped in to offer competitive solutions to FedEx and UPS are far more advanced this year than they've ever been before," he said.
Rate hikes, surcharges leave opening for competitors
While a slowing economy is driving down ocean and trucking rates, last mile rates have remained persistently elevated, putting a strain on shippers' finances. The fact that rates in the sector have remained so high for so long is unusual, said Alan Amling, distinguished fellow at the University of Tennessee's Global Supply Chain Institute and former VP of corporate strategy for UPS.
"In my entire career with UPS, there were only a few years over the 27 years I was there where it was a seller's market — that's not the typical state of things," Amling said. "The typical state of things is a buyer's market and you're creating [market] share and the carriers are really aggressive in how they're courting business."
Despite volumes declining in recent quarters, 2023 is set to be another expensive year for FedEx and UPS shippers due to higher annual rate increases and surcharges. The Cowen/AFS ground parcel index, which measures shipping costs, is expected to reach a record high in Q1.
Both companies have defended their rate increases and surcharges, saying they are needed to keep service levels high and combat inflationary pressures.
"Honestly, we have had very productive customer conversations," FedEx Chief Customer Officer Brie Carere told Supply Chain Dive in October in regards to rising shipping costs. "I think our customers really are very well-informed and they understand the seriousness from an inflation perspective."
While smaller competitors have also raised prices, some have undercut FedEx and UPS's recent 6.9% general rate increase with lower hikes.
"With this added capacity and new competitors, we are going to go back to a buyer's market where there are more alternatives and better opportunities to get lower prices in the market and still maintain service levels," Amling said.
As alternatives expand, is Amazon next?
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, FedEx and UPS have pursued volume growth in more profitable segments like healthcare and small business while demonstrating a willingness to let go of lower-yielding e-commerce packages from large shippers. UPS, for example, reached an agreement with top customer Amazon that will result in fewer packages from the e-commerce giant inundating its network.
Meanwhile, many alternative carriers have stepped up to fill the gap by gearing their services around delivering online orders. LaserShip/OnTrac, The Frontdoor Collective and Better Trucks are among the last-mile delivery companies set to expand into new markets in 2023 while siphoning volumes from the top carriers.
“Customers are usually coming to us because they are frustrated with service from some of the big players,” Better Trucks co-founder and CEO Andy Whiting told Supply Chain Dive in November. “There’s been challenges with either service or price or a combination of the two, or they’re looking for alternatives.”
Experts say another company could soon enter the parcel carrier fray, placing increased pressure on FedEx and UPS: Amazon. The e-commerce giant aggressively expanded its logistics network to fulfill and deliver in-house orders when the pandemic supercharged demand, and it has since grappled with excess capacity as sales have slowed.
At the same time, Amazon has rolled out new services that make use of its sizable logistics assets. The company launched long-term inventory storage services at its distribution services for third-party sellers in 2022. By the end of January, Amazon plans to expand its "Buy with Prime" service to all U.S. merchants, connecting their outside websites to Amazon's fulfillment network and delivery capabilities.
"They were all set to launch a third-party service before the pandemic hit, and then they had to pull it back," the University of Tennessee's Amling said of Amazon. "I would not be surprised if they dust off all those plans and execute those in 2023."
Article top image credit: Courtesy of Lone Star Overnight
Manufacturing remains in a trough, but signs of relief are showing: PMI
Companies are shifting from layoffs to attrition and hiring freezes to manage headcount, as companies note greater optimism for future growth in the industry.
By: Kate Magill• Published Oct. 2, 2023
Manufacturing activity trended slightly upward in September thanks to an uptick in demand and production, as companies hope for better economic days ahead.
While the industry remains in economic contraction amid slower orders and rising prices, manufacturers are beginning to plan for improved working conditions, slowly ramping back hiring and production, according to two purchasing managers’ indices.
The growth in activity was due in part to a rise in production, with a positive reading of 52.5%, up 2.5 percentage points from August. Employment also rose to a readingof 51.2%, up from 48.5% in August.
And while new orders remained in contraction at 49.2%, it was an improvement over August's 46.8% reading.
"We remain in the trough, and headline PMI indicates a very similar performance in September compared to August," said Timothy Fiore, chair of the Institute for Supply Management’s Manufacturing Business Survey Committee, on a call with reporters.
On hiring, Fiore highlighted a shift in strategy for many companies to manage headcount, moving from the layoffs seen earlier in the year to a reliance on attrition and hiring freezes.
"Companies are still saying they're taking a slower approach here to getting headcount down, which can only mean that they're more optimistic about the moderate term," Fiore said.
The S&P Global PMI index registered similar results, with a reading of 49.8 in September, up from 47.9 the month before. Like ISM, the S&P index highlighted a return to hiring and output growth as companies look to increase capacity.
At the same time, optimism among manufacturers regarding future output growth hit its highest mark since April 2022, as companies hope for further acceleration in future demand.
"Manufacturers’ expectations of future output have jumped to their highest for nearly one and a half years, supply conditions continue to improve, and the rate of order book decline has moderated considerably in recent months, in part due to fewer producers and customers reporting deliberate cost-focused inventory reduction policies," Chris Williamson, chief business economist at S&P Global Market Intelligence, said in a statement.
Still, anxieties in the industry remain as the United Auto Workers' strike continues and its impacts ripple throughout the manufacturing industry. Fiore noted that 8% of PMI survey respondents said they were concerned about the strike and its impact on manufacturing.
While transportation equipment makes up roughly 13% of national manufacturing output, according to Fiore, the effects of the strike could reachmany sectors, including electronics and other suppliers.
"At this point people were definitely concerned," Fiore said. "The fact that it's slowly developing and they're continuing the dialogue and negotiations is a positive thing."
Article top image credit: Bill Pugliano via Getty Images
Seasonality is a thing of the past, port executive says
Despite a four-month streak as the nation’s busiest containerport, the Port of New York and New Jersey saw volumes decline YoY in December.
By: Alejandra Salgado• Published Feb. 2, 2023
Volatile demand trends over the past few years have made forecasting ocean shipping cargo volumes more difficult, according to the head of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
“There is no longer any seasonality or predictability to the cargo peaks and valleys that our industry had become accustomed to,” port director Beth Rooney said in a State of the Port briefing on Jan. 25.
The Port of New York and New Jersey celebrated record volumes in 2022 including a four-month streak as the nation’s busiest containerport, President of Global Container Terminals John Atkins said at the event. The streak was broken in December, though, as cargo volumes fell nearly 21% YoY to 613,011 TEUs.
Rooney said the port had noticed a "rather sharp decline in volume and a softening of the market," since October. The slowdown was due to the extended lunar new year shutdowns, rising COVID-19 cases in China, rising costs, lower consumer spending and high inventory in warehouse and distribution centers, she added.
“We expect that market to remain soft but at more normalized levels through the first half of the year," she said.
Article top image credit: Spencer Platt via Getty Images
Peak has passed for maritime import volumes: forecast
The National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates lowered their forecast based on August figures, noting maritime flows are starting to slow.
By: Alejandra Salgado and Edwin Lopez• Published Oct. 12, 2023
The National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates lowered their forecast of loaded import volumes expected through October of this year, with the organizations saying in a press release the year's peak has already been reached.
Loaded import cargo volumes reached 1.96 million TEUs in August, and are forecasted to reach 1.94 million TEUs the next two months, according to the organizations' Global Port Tracker. In August, the organizations predicted volumes would reach 2 million TEUs during the three-month stretch.
"Ships are not sailing fully loaded, and freight rates are declining as a result," Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said in a statement. "That’s a further indication that no cargo growth from current levels is expected on the near-term horizon. Perhaps 2024 will be better.”
Volumes are expected to slow down heading into the holiday season since shippers stocked up on inventory earlier this year to avoid possible labor disruptions, NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement.
In August, the nation's top ports felt the effects of an import volume slowdown.
Eleven of the top 12 U.S. container ports reported a dip in total cargo volumes for Aug. 2023 compared to the previous year, according to data compiled by Supply Chain Dive. The Port of Los Angeles was the only one with an annual rise in total TEUs processed for that month.
In all, ports handled a total of 4 million TEUs in August, 3% more than July figures but 15% less than the same month in 2022.
Cargo volumes by the numbers
Twenty-foot equivalent units processed by the top 12 U.S. containerports in August 2023.
In the first eight months of the year, the top 12 ports handled 30.3 million TEUs — less than the 31.1 million handled from January to August 2019, but slightly more than the 30 million handled during the first eight months of 2018.
Moving forward, Gold said “cargo volumes will still be strong the rest of the year, but not as high as we expected a month ago.”
Hackett added shipping lines are already adjusting their operations to suit lighter volumes by the end of the year. “They have slowed down their ships in an attempt to cut capacity without having to take vessels out of service as new, larger ones ordered when demand was higher are delivered.”
Article top image credit: Justin Sullivan via Getty Images
Navigating supply chain peak season in 2023
Uncertainty prevails for this year’s peak season. Shippers seeking to manage their fall volumes are having to contend with myriad risks in 2023. Meanwhile, demand and supply signals remain cloudy, forcing retailers and manufacturers alike to constantly fine-tune their forecasts with an eye towards a potential recession.
included in this trendline
Which delivery providers have peak season surcharges in 2023?
How to navigate carrier-shipper relationships during peak season