Retail imports have been near all-time highs for the past several months as consumers spark increased demand and as supply chain constraints have slowed imports as a result of port congestion. In addition, the rising rate of inflation has influenced retailers to stock up on products.
“Retailers are importing record amounts of merchandise to meet consumer demand, but they also have an incentive to stock up before inflation can drive costs higher,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement. “Whether it’s freight costs or the wholesale cost of merchandise, money retailers save is money that can be used to hold down prices for their customers during a time of inflation.”
U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 2.34 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) – one 20-foot container or its equivalent – in March, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That’s compared to 2.11 million TEU in February. Imports were up 10.8% in March from the previous month and 3.2% from the same month last year. The month also topped the previous record high of 2.33 million TEU set in May 2021 for the number of containers imported in a single month since NRF began tracking imports in 2002.
April imports, while not yet final, are projected to reach 2.27 million TEU, up 5% from the previous year, and May could see 2.3 million TEU, NRF predicted. The sky-high imports reflect strong consumer demand.
“Consumer spending is growing faster than income growth, perhaps as shoppers buy ahead of expected rising prices,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said in a statement. “Importers are doing much the same as they continue to replenish their inventories. Doing so will protect them against potentially rising freight costs, further delays in the supply chain and complications in upcoming labor negotiations at U.S. West Coast ports.”
The findings come as major West Coast port labor negotiations are about to take place, which could cause delays if an agreement on a new contract can’t be reached between ports and workers.