Alert Your Parents: They’re Already Late on Their Holiday Shopping
BY DEBORAH B. SOLOMON · ILLUSTRATION BY ANA CUNA
IF YOU HAVE ORDERED ANYTHING ONLINE LATELY — whether it’s a new bike, a pair of sneakers or a laptop — you may have noticed: Everything is taking a really long time to arrive at your door. And you have the pandemic to thank. Everything we buy goes through what’s known as a ‘‘supply chain’’ — a series of interconnected actions that involve dozens, sometimes hundreds, of companies and countries working together to ensure that you get what you want, when you want it. The process is usually seamless. But the pandemic has thrown the global supply chain for a loop. About 90 percent of the things we order are made in Asia, where a lot of factories have shut down to keep their workers safe (and many still haven’t returned to work). Now, getting things made and delivered is taking a lot longer, and certain items, like toys and computers, are more expensive because it costs more to make them. Here’s how a typical supply chain works now, and where the chain is breaking.
YOU PLACE AN ORDER FOR A BIKE, SNEAKERS OR A LAPTOP
People have been doing a lot of shopping while stuck at home during the pandemic. Before the pandemic, we got our stuff pretty quickly once we ordered it, because companies stored big supplies of products in warehouses or were able to have things made quickly. But the pandemic has forced factories around the world to periodically shut down in order to keep their workers safe, and many people still haven’t returned to work. All that means companies no longer have big inventories on hand.
THE MANUFACTURER GATHERS MATERIALS
Bikes need rubber for tires, aluminum for the frame and various types of plastics and metals for brakes and other parts. Shoes need foam for the sole, and plastic all over. A manufacturer must find suppliers who make and sell these raw materials. Then the manufacturers use the materials to create parts of your item. One bike manufacturer may use as many as 50 different suppliers to create brakes, wheels, grips, pedals and other parts. But this process has slowed now that so many manufacturers have shut down.
YOUR ORDER IS ASSEMBLED
Once manufacturers have all the parts, they must put them together in factories. But the pandemic has slowed this process too. For example, a Covid outbreak this summer in Vietnam forced large factories to shut down, delaying the assembly of shoes for big companies like Adidas and Nike.
IT GETS ON A BOAT
Your item will be sent to the United States on a giant container ship. Usually, it takes two to three weeks for the ships to arrive. But ports where boats depart in Asia are busy, and there are fewer containers available. One of China’s biggest ports, Ningbo, also shut down for nearly two weeks this August after a worker tested positive for the coronavirus. Now, it can take up to 12 weeks for a ship to get to the United States from Asia, says Robert Handfield, a business professor at North Carolina State University.
IT’S TAKEN TO A WAREHOUSE
Once the boat docks at a port, giant cranes put those containers onto trucks. Those trucks bring those items to huge warehouses or distribution centers, where they will be sorted and labeled. This process is slower because of boat traffic at American ports, also caused by the huge number of orders as well as a shortage of truck drivers.
IT FINALLY ARRIVES AT YOUR HOME
When your package leaves the warehouse or distribution center, it is put on another truck (or multiple trucks) and then delivered to your house. During the pandemic, many delivery companies have had trouble keeping up with the number of orders. The Postal Service also increased its prices for postage. All of these delays stand to have a big effect on holiday shopping this year. We may not get our stuff on time, and we’re going to have to pay more. Handfield’s advice: “If you want it, you better order it now.” So start making that wish list.