2020 Retail Imports Remain Strong; May Be Busiest Year on Record

Retailers are still stocking up on goods, with November imports up 22.4% year-over-year. Retail imports are still strong after setting new records this fall as retailers stocked up both stores and warehouses for the holiday season and met new demands for quick delivery of online orders, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said the retail inventory-to-sales ratio soared to 1.68 in April, when most stores were closed, then plummeted more than 25% to 1.22 in June and has remained at about that level since then. That drove record imports as retailers both replenished inventories and prepared for the holidays.

“With inventories low but demand growing, we have witnessed a surge in imports as retailers try to keep up,” Hackett said. “The dramatic shift to online shopping coupled with the expectation of next-day delivery is also spurring the growth of imports at warehouses for major online sellers, who need to have enough stock on hand not just to meet demand but to meet it instantly.”

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US ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 2.21 million twenty-foot equivalent units in October, the latest month for which final numbers are available. (A TEU is one 20-foot container or its equivalent.) That was up 17.6% year-over-year and up 5.2% from 2.11 million TEU in September, the previous record for a single month since NRF began tracking imports in 2002.

September, in turn, had edged out 2.1 million TEU in August, which had broken the previous record of 2.04 million TEU set in October 2018. October’s number brought the total for the “peak season” – the period from July through October when retailers rush to bring in merchandise for the winter holidays each year – to 8.3 million TEU. That was an increase of 8.8% over the same time last year and beat the previous record of 7.7 million TEU set in 2018.

Even with most holiday merchandise already in the country, November imports remained strong at an estimated 2.07 million – a 22.4% jump year-over-year and the fourth-busiest month on record. December is forecast at 1.91 million TEU, up 11% from last year.

As recently as a month ago, 2020 was expected to total 20.9 million TEU, a drop of 3.4% from last year and the lowest annual total since 20.5 million TEU in 2017 because of low imports earlier this year. But with the recent string of record months, 2020 is expected to come in at 21.8 million TEU, up 0.8% over 2019. That would tie 2018 as the busiest year on record.

Global Port Tracker, which is produced for NRF by the consulting firm Hackett Associates, provides historical data and forecasts for the U.S. ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Port of Virginia, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades, Miami and Jacksonville on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast…   Chain Store Age

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