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  • January 20, 2021 5 min read

    “Now that the Holidays have passed, shouldn't I should get my order faster?”

    Woman making purchase looking over shoulder at friend as if asking a question


    You would think so. From the end-consumer viewpoint, that would seem to be a logical assumption. You reason it as: “There shouldn’t be as many people buying online, many stores are now open, so inventory should be building back up, and if I place my order today I should have it in a few days. So where is it?”

    The problem may not be with the retailer. In fact, most retailers, whether brick-and-mortar or e-commerce, are still feeling the pain. Your pain.

    The problem is upstream in the supply chain. Way upstream.

    Ocean port with rows of stacked containers waiting to be delivered


    Thanks to the global pandemic and the effect it had on manufacturing a year ago! Yes, it has been well over a year since manufacturing facilities in China and Southeast Asia began slowing down, then shutting down. The ones that were able to remain open in some capacity felt the pinch when their supplies started to dry up. And shipping slowed down and then stopped. And warehouses and shelves here became empty and the merry-go-round of world commerce ground to a halt.

    Although that merry-go-round has started up, it is not even near full speed or capacity. Like so many things in life, starting something back up takes much more energy and time than shutting it down.

    Empty and stopped merry-go-round symbolizing impact of pandemic on global commerce


    Shipping from overseas is still backed up, and industry experts projected it to be the same through mid-2021. Well, here we are mid-2021 and while it is better, it is still not caught up. There just aren’t enough empty containers available overseas to load products that are still backing up in warehouses over there. Part of that is because those containers have made their way to the U.S. (and, shocker, every other country that imports goods!), but are sitting in ports to be delivered to warehouses and retailers here. Why, you ask, are they sitting at the ports?

    There aren’t enough trucks and drivers to get them to the destinations. 18-wheeler truck on the roadway symbolizing the shortage of available delivery transportation

    There has been a shortage of trucks and drivers for several years, and the pandemic has only exacerbated the problem. “No way,” you say, “there are 18-wheelers everywhere!” Well, not as many as it takes. So not only are containers and ships in short supply, so too are the trucks and drivers here. And the ones on the road are delivering lots of other things, like food, clothing, and toilet paper!

    Another issue, as if we needed another one, is due to the trade tariffs imposed on China. Manufacturers dealt with the increase in price due to tariffs by moving their production to Southeast Asia countries, including Vietnam. While that resulted in lower production costs, those countries lack the extensive production, warehousing, and transportation infrastructure of China. While that is improving, it too is still not where it needs to be to meet U.S. and global demand.

    Now, think about this...

    A lot of materials used in production in China and Southeast Asia actually come from the U.S. What? Yes, lumber used in furniture comes, in part, from the U.S. And that means there have to be ships and containers to move the product to the production facilities there. That’s one way of repositioning containers overseas to get your furniture or decor accessory order to here. Shipping companies don’t want to, or simply won’t, take empty containers back overseas because there is no revenue in doing that. But now companies are paying to get those empty containers rather than waiting. And that cost will be passed to the consumer in higher prices. Crazy, right?!

    Some companies are taking the steps to reduce ocean-transit time by relocating the production to Mexico, but there exists the same problem with infrastructure and facilities as with the Southeast Asia countries. And it cannot happen overnight, not just with facilities and infrastructure, but training the workforce in the production techniques to achieve the same level of quality as overseas. Developing skills for more involved pieces and finishes takes time.

    There still are furniture and décor accessory manufacturers here in the U.S. Just not as many as there used to be, and not enough to catch up with demand. Some rely on supplies from, yeah, you guessed it. Overseas.

    It’s just a real mish-mash mess.

    Cross-eyed girl with confused look on her face

    What does all of this mean for the consumer?

    • There will continue to be delivery delays well into 2021. Companies are trying to get product in stock as quickly as possible, but it will take time for everything to catch up.
    • Shipping companies, from trans-ocean ships to trucks, have the upper hand right now because of the extreme imbalance of demand over supply. And they are capitalizing on this by charging higher prices. While many manufacturers and suppliers have absorbed these increases, that may soon end. Expect prices to go up, either the price of the product itself, or additional shipping fees.
    • Order early, ahead of when you want to receive your order. Allow time not only for shipping to you, but also time for your retailer if they have to get the item into stock. This is also true for retailers that dropship as their suppliers may have lead times to consider.
    • With the demand so great for products, what inventory suppliers are receiving is selling out fast. In fact, many items are sold well before they are received. Consider reserving the item you want by paying in advance. It won’t mean you will receive it faster, just a better chance of receiving it at all.
    • Reserving your item also has, in some cases, the added benefit of locking in a price. Some manufacturers and suppliers are locking in prices on orders placed before a surcharge is put into effect.
    • Be patient. That is tough, sometimes, because we have become accustomed to the immediate gratification we feel from making purchases. Custom furniture orders typically take weeks to months to receive, but it’s the off-the-shelf or off-the-floor type items that may take an extended time to receive as well. Not all, and it is getting better, but still, be patient.
    • And, yes, even the smallest of items may take a bit longer to receive. Two-day priority make become three day, or four. But it will get there.

     Woman picking up delivered package from doorstep

    We hope this helps to clear things up. Know we are all in the shipping mess together, and are working to make the experience as tolerable and pleasant as possible.


    Have a question or would like advice about a furniture or home décor purchase or idea? Start a chat on our website, email Sales@HarleyButler.com, or call us at (469)629-8014 at any time. We look forward to helping.

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