Brian Bonilla was riding his handmade titanium bike recently when he glimpsed dozens of giant cargo ships anchored outside the Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., ports, waiting for a chance to dock and unload their goods. Typically, only a handful of ships might be forced to wait like that, or they wouldn't have to wait at all.
Bonilla works for the Cub House, a San Marino, Calif., bike shop, making sure new bikes are properly adjusted for their riders. He knew that the floating traffic jam was a sign that the Cub House and every other U.S. bike shop might be waiting a long while for goods they hoped to be selling for the holidays.
"What we are trying to prep for right now at the store is Christmas time," Bonilla said. "Usually, during Christmas time, kids' bikes essentially sell themselves, but at the moment we're trying to figure out how we're going to get the kids' bikes available for us."
Although it's only September, this is the all-important shipping season for products headed to U.S. merchants' holiday shopping displays — toys, electronics, sporting goods and ugly Christmas sweaters.
Normally, the global supply chain of international goods movement is like a light switch on a wall: It just works. The products consumers want are available. No one thinks about how. No one thinks about the light switch — until it doesn't work.
And right now, the global supply chain isn't working. It's been snarled by a host of factors: the pandemic, booming consumer demand, raging storms, shortages of cargo ships and containers as well as a lack of people willing to drive trucks or stock shelves in warehouses and retail stores for the wages offered.
That has led to a sense of urgency uncharacteristic for this time of year. A number of leaders with a broad range of economic expertise have a message for consumers:
—Get your holiday shopping done — right now. Come the traditional buying surge time, when the weather turns a bit colder, it may be too late because retailer inventory will be thin.
—Be prepared to accept your second or even third choice. Look for local or U.S. items. Make your own gifts.
—If you wait, be prepared to wait some more: Some products originally planned for the holiday season probably won't arrive until sometime in 2022.