NRF: Imports Peak As Retailers Prepare For Holidays

Imports likely saw their busiest “peak season” on record this summer and fall as retailers replenished inventories and stocked up for the holiday season, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“Peak season is the Super Bowl of the supply chain world each year as retailers make sure they have enough merchandise on hand to satisfy demand during the holidays, and this is the busiest we’ve ever seen,” said Jonathan Gold, vp/supply chain and customs policy for the NRF. “Part of this surge was fueled by restocking after retail sales rebounded this summer and part could be making sure there aren’t shortages if we see panic buying again. The economic challenges of the pandemic aren’t over yet, but this clearly shows how an industry that has been under stress is fighting back in a positive way. Retailers don’t import merchandise they don’t think they can sell, so this is a good sign for the holiday season.”

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled an estimated 8.1 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) from July through October, the peak shipping season when retailers rush to bring in merchandise for the winter holidays each year. While subject to revision once October numbers become final, that would be an increase of 6.1% over last year and would beat the previous record of 7.7 million TEU set in 2018.

This includes a record 2.11 million TEU imported in September, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was a 12.5% year-over-year increase and 0.1% higher than August’s previous record of 2.1 million TEU for the largest number of containers imported in a single month since NRF began tracking imports in 2002.

October imports were estimated at 2 million TEU, up 6.5% year-over-year. With most holiday merchandise already in the country, November is forecast at 1.7 million TEU, up 0.2% year-over-year, and December is forecast at 1.58 million TEU, down 8.2% from last year.

2020 is 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. The first half of 2020 totaled 9.5 million TEU, down 10.1% from last year.