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Backlog in West Coast ports could affect local gift-givers
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Christmas Shopping

Backlog in West Coast ports could affect local gift-givers

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Cargo containers sit stacked at the Port of Los Angeles on Wednesday in San Pedro, Calif. The backlog could cause problems for Christmas shoppers this winter.

When Dec. 25 rolls around, it’s possible that the underside of the Christmas tree might be missing a few highly anticipated gifts, or those items might not come until later.

But don’t blame Santa Claus or the elves.

Instead, snags in the supply chain might be the reason some sought-after presents remain sitting in a shipping container at the Port of Los Angeles or the Port of Long Beach in California, or still riding in the back of an 18-wheeler, not yet to the purchaser’s doorstep.

The Associated Press reported that as of Tuesday, there were 63 ships berthed at the two ports and 96 waiting to dock and unload, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California that oversees port vessel traffic. On Oct. 18, the number of ships waiting to enter the ports hit a record high of 100. About 40% of all shipping containers entering the United States come through the ports, and the logjam of ships has interrupted the global supply chain.

Last week, that prompted the Biden administration to allow the port complex to operate 24 hours per day to try to get goods unloaded and out to consumers, the AP report said, calling the backlog of ships in the ports “unprecedented.”

Inevitably, the problem is going to hit close to home. Bryan Searcy, owner of Morganton’s CBS Sports outdoor goods store, said the impact of the West Coast hang-up already is being felt locally with some delays of more than a month and counting.

“We’ve got one brand of snowboards and boots that were supposed to be here the first of September, and we haven’t got them yet,” Searcy said. “They’re telling me they’re sitting in the ocean somewhere. They can track them where they left — and this is stuff made in Asia — and they can tell me where they are. But they haven’t been unloaded yet. They’re sitting in one of those containers in the Port of Los Angeles, waiting.”

Searcy said that CBS Sports orders most its merchandise six months in advance. Right now, the store is getting about 75-80% of what it orders from big suppliers like Patagonia, North Face and Columbia. Searcy said he’s OK with that number, which is higher than some others he’s heard, but the problem will be that his usual mid-December reorder will not be possible this year.

Searcy is confident CBS Sports will have stuff on its shelves, but he said those three or four really popular items will be out of stock very quickly.

“The biggest thing that’s going to hurt us come December is there are no reorders,” Searcy said. “If I’ve got 12 pieces of a certain Patagonia jacket that everybody likes, when those 12 are gone, that’s going to be it. We’ve already seen the case where we have people come in after they tried to buy it directly online and they don’t have it. That’s because they’re sending it to people like me. They’re sending it to the retailers, and I think you’re going to see more of that.

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“I think (the backlog is) going to hurt a lot of stores a lot. They don’t buy as far out as we do, and they use the supplier’s warehouse. They do short-term ordering. If that’s the way you run your business, you’re going to be in trouble. You’re not going to have that product there to fill in on. And I think that’s what a lot of people are used to doing.”

Once items finally are unloaded in the ports, placed onto trucks and brought to their regions of destination, reinforcements will be waiting to take packages on the final leg of their journey.

UPS announced in September that it expected to hire more than 100,000 “essential seasonal employees” to support an anticipated annual increase in package volume that began this month and will continue through January.

“UPS is laser-focused on reliable delivery service that all of our customers can depend on,” said Lizzy Crouse, a spokesperson for the parcel delivery service. “Collaboration is the key to success. We’ve planned the work with our customers, and we are going to work those plans. Our disciplined planning and collaboration with our largest customers allows us to maintain capacity to also reliably deliver for our small and medium-sized customers.

“Last year, UPS had the industry’s highest on-time delivery performance, exceeding 96% of all packages delivered on time, every week from October 1 through December 26.”

Crouse said that 91% of consumers say that they plan to complete all of their holiday shopping one week before Christmas versus 81% last year and about 60% of consumers plan to finish all of their shopping two weeks before the holiday, compared to 52% in 2020.

In 2020, only 17% of shoppers planned to finish shopping before Black Friday, according to UPS data. This year, nearly a quarter of shoppers plan to finish their shopping before the traditional holiday season even kicks off.

And Crouse said that nearly all consumers — 95% — surveyed by UPS said they will start their holiday shopping earlier this year if sales and promotions are launched earlier in the season.

It is unclear if that earlier timeline will be possible given the backlog in the ports, however.

The snag isn’t only on the U.S. side of the equation, though. Ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks on the other side of the Pacific Ocean have slowed things on the production side, too, Searcy said.

“A lot of our manufacturers about 10 years ago moved out of China to Vietnam,” he said. “Vietnam is a little better quality and better for human rights. Back in the summer, Vietnam kind of shut down because of COVID. So, they got behind in production. And when the shipping crisis hit, it felt like a double-whammy. They didn’t get their product out as early as they wanted to, didn’t get as much of it made as they wanted to, and now it’s getting held up. It’s become an even worse problem than it would have been.

“It’s just one more problem. We’ve always got something. I was telling somebody (Thursday) I opened this business in 1985 and survived three recessions and now a pandemic. And I’m certainly not going to let this shipping crisis get me. We’ll pull through it, too.”

Justin Epley can be reached at or 828-432-8943.

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