Supply chain disruption goes back to school

Many retailers worked to bring in products early and shift sourcing options

As we enter the peak shipping season for the all-important holiday season, retailers are already in the middle of their biggest summer event — the back-to-school season. This fall will certainly be different with schools open once again and students back in the classroom. With that change, it isn’t surprising that NRF expects a significant increase in back-to-school sales over 2020 as students and families prepare.

According to the annual survey conducted for NRF by Prosper Insights & Analytics, consumers plan to spend a record $108.1 billion for school and college supplies combined. Apparel, footwear and electronics are the top items on families’ lists. While families are searching for the best deals they can find, many are worried whether the products they need will be on store shelves — or in stock at online sellers — when they do their shopping.

Port Tracker

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Retailers are working hard to ensure that school and college goods are where they need to be. Unfortunately, the supply chain disruptions and port congestion we’ve seen this year are impacting inventory availability. While many retailers sought to bring in products early and shift sourcing options, congestion continues to plague the supply chain. Many expect these issues to continue well into 2022, potentially impacting peak-season shipments.

Strong consumer demand has outpaced supply chain operations since late last year. The lack of labor, equipment and capacity has highlighted systemic issues in the supply chain. They further highlight the need to focus on creating a truly 21st century supply chain to ensure resiliency against the next major disruption. While there is no “silver bullet,” there are certainly some things supply chain stakeholders can focus on in the short term to address the current issues and plan for the next.

Information sharing is a critical component of any solution. We need to build out digital infrastructure to allow stakeholders to utilize common platforms to share information to allow for better forecasting, planning and operations and to make movement of cargo through the system more efficient.

We need to evaluate whether our ports are operating in a manner that truly meet the needs of the 21st century. We need to use existing infrastructure in a smarter and more efficient manner. This includes creating true incentives to move freight during off-peak hours.

Congress and the administration have their eyes on supply chain disruptions and are trying to identify solutions. President Biden’s recent executive order on competition specifically looks to address some rail and maritime issues. In the meantime, industry needs to come together to find solutions to address today’s issues and prepare for the future.

This article appeared in the August issue of NRF’s Global Port Tracker report, which follows important volume at the nation’s largest container ports used by retailers. Global Port Tracker is available as a member benefit for NRF member companies and is available by subscription to other companies. For more information, click here.

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