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At Peak Shipping Season, Freight Is Mostly Midrange

U.S. retailers expect consumers to be looking for discounts and deals in the upcoming back-to-school and holiday seasons, based on the latest shipping data (CNBC).

What’s going on: “This is the time of year when most freight orders start to be placed to get ahead on inventory for back-to-school and holiday shopping, and the response from supply chain respondents to [the CNBC Supply Chain Survey] suggests a healthy, if cautious consumer, and a holiday season that is shaping up to be within a normal range.”

  • Nearly 80% of current freight orders received for peak season are for midrange-cost items, and many survey respondents said they have gotten fewer orders for cheaper promotional items this year.
  • U.S. companies are importing slightly more goods for the holidays this year than they were in 2023.

Why it’s happening: Still-high inflation and an economy that is “at an inflection point” are seeing consumers continuing to pull back on impulse buys, according to C.H. Robinson Vice President of North American Surface Transportation Noah Hoffman.

  • As for retailers, “The past few years have made many shippers hypersensitive to the highs of the highs and the lows of the lows,” Hoffman told CNBC. “They’re wondering when the next shoe will drop—whether that might be geopolitical, new trade policy or another physical disruption like the low water levels in the Panama Canal. But especially for retailers, they may wait to see how the economy shakes out.”

A potential wrench: Concerns about a worker strike are mounting as a six-year contract between the International Longshoremen’s Association and the United States Maritime Alliance nears its September expiration date.

  • The union has set a cutoff date of today for agreement on local contracts.

Encouraging signs: Ocean freight volumes are up this year compared to last year and “bookings are three weeks out now,” said C.H. Robinson Director of Ocean Shipping Ali Ashraf.

West Coast: More trade is also coming in and filtering through West Coast ports, with congestion building at Port of Los Angeles terminals handling freight bound for the U.S. interior through inland point intermodal rail.

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