Wednesday, July 28, 2010

retailers pay more to get cargo (no guarantees)

NYTimes | The grills shaped like kegs and toolboxes, ordered for a Father’s Day promotion at Cost Plus World Market, arrived too late for the holiday. At the Container Store, platinum-color hangers, advertised in a summer sale catalog, were delivered days after the sale began. At True Value Hardware, the latecomers were fans and portable chairs.

Fighting for freight, retailers are outbidding each other to score scarce cargo space on ships, paying two to three times last year’s freight rates — in some cases, the highest rates in five years. And still, many are getting merchandise weeks late.

The problems stem from 2009, when stores slashed inventory. With little demand for shipping, ocean carriers took ships out of service: more than 11 percent of the global shipping fleet was idle in spring 2009, according to AXS-Alphaliner, an industry consultant.

Carriers also moved to “slow steaming,” traveling at slower and more fuel-efficient speeds, while the companies producing containers, the typically 20- or 40-foot boxes in which most consumer companies ship goods, essentially stopped making them.

“All my customers, they’re having a terrible time,” said Steven L. Horton, principal at Horton Global Strategies, which negotiates freight contracts for companies. “With the increased cost and them not knowing if they’re even going to get the space or equipment, it’s a weekly battle.”