Preparing for 2020’s “Shipageddon”

2020 has been different from the norm in just about every single way imaginable, so it should come as no surprise that freight is going off the rails. This year we’re seeing big box retailers like Target and Walmart opening their Black Friday deals decidedly earlier than usual. Amazon, of course, has been leading the way in e-commerce sales for the better part of the year as quarantine and lock down restrictions forced many shoppers to go online, rather than in-store.

As we approach the holiday season, it is expected for cargo freight demand to rise to accommodate holiday shoppers.

As we approach the holiday season, it is expected for cargo freight demand to rise to accommodate holiday shoppers. This year, however, we’re also seeing a historic rise in import volumes measured in TEU (twenty foot equivalent unit) especially on lanes from Asia to the Pacific Coast. Containers and container spaces on ships are sold out and there is now a shortage of available containers in Asia for goods coming to the US. This leads to higher rates, longer lead times, congestion at the ports and higher rates for trucking and rail out of major port markets, especially Southern CA.

“To give you a sense of the demand right now, we are turning away  — each week  — more cargo than we are carrying,” revealed Matson CEO Matt Cox, referring to the scramble for slots on his company’s two China-U.S. services.

Holiday Cargo is Still Moving

When you have a massive amount of freight coming in by sea, it then has to be transferred over to land based carriers. Higher port congestion will create delays, bottlenecks, and an overall lag in the supply chain process. Again, this isn’t anything new for the holiday season. However, more holiday cargo is still being shipped and container and ocean freight space is still being oversold or cancelled. This situation could lead to the perfect storm scenario being dubbed “Shipageddon” in which freight doesn’t make it across the Pacific on time. Cox didn’t say anything to assuage such fears.


“What typically happens is that sort of by the end of October, most of what is going to make its way into the holiday-season shopping cycle will have arrived. That’s not what we’re seeing,” he warned.

“We’re seeing significant congestion in Asia. Although I’m not talking about Matson, we’re seeing cargo that wants to get on a ship that’s being rolled [pushed back to a subsequent sailing]. And we’re seeing the other international ocean carriers put in additional extra loaders [ships not in the normal service rotation]. This is not a typical season. There’s such demand for cargo. Many of our customers can’t keep up with the demand and cargo is back-ordered. For all of those reasons, we’re expecting to see the season extended. To when is the big question.”

Land Freight is About to be Buried

As we mentioned early, what arrives by sea must be shipped by land, be it to a retailer or a distribution center. With this massive uptick in ocean freight, we’re going to see a massive surge in truck freight for both the full truckload (FTL) and the less-than-truckload (LTL) sectors.

In addition to ocean freight space being well overbooked, there are other drivers for this potential shipping doomsday scenario.

Inventory Restocking Freight: While the holidays mean more toys, seasonal, and giftable merchandise, there are still the standard everyday items that stores need to carry for consumers. As we get closer to the holidays, retailers are hitting stockouts and empty shelves faster than ever. To complicate matters, investment bank Evercore ISI released a survey finding that shows 90 percent of respondents said their inventory levels were either “too low” or “a little too low” which suggests that the capacity shortage will continue, if not worsen, for sometime.

Higher than Average Holiday Spending: This year will also mark a potential rise in holiday spending that could range anywhere from a 1.9 percent increase in consumer spending to a 3.5 percent increase, pending the release of an effective pandemic relief bill and the release of a successful COVID-19 vaccine, according to RetailDive.

Holiday Shopping is starting Earlier and Lasting Longer: As we mentioned earlier, major retailers have begun their Black Friday deals well in advance of the typical holiday. Walmart has announced their “deals for days” holidays sales campaign, in which holiday sales will go on for the entire month of November. Target, and Amazon have also responded similarly, and it can be expected to continue right into the Holidays.

Last Mile Delivery is At Capacity: Major carriers such as UPS, FedEx, and the USPS, have had massive seasonal hiring events to try and bring in enough personnel to accommodate the influx in demand. Even with the staggering amount of seasonal workers to process, pack, and ship incoming packages, these carriers are warning consumers to shop now and ship earlier if they want to have their items arrive before the holidays. 

What Does this Mean for Shippers?

For shippers based in the United States, it’s about to be a bumpy ride. Capacity rates are going to be at a premium and even then, might not be available. To make matters worse, there is no way of telling just how long this is going to last, or how much worse it will get. It is important that shippers begin preparing immediately for what will be one of the busiest holiday seasons in memory.

Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone. We here at BlueGrace are also making preparations for the holiday season and are ready to help you connect with carriers to ensure your freight gets to where it needs to be. Find out more about what BlueGrace can do for you and your supply chain today!