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November 24, 2020

As E-Commerce Boom Extends Peak Season, Are Black Friday and Cyber Monday Irrelevant?

As E-Commerce Boom Extends Peak Season, Are Black Friday and Cyber Monday Irrelevant?

Flexport Editorial Team

November 24, 2020

A swell of imports puts this year’s holiday season on track to surpass last year’s cargo volumes, but whether shopping will keep pace remains to be seen. Covid-19 ravaged 2020 forecasts, so the surge may be more of a safety net than a sure bet for many companies going into Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

With e-commerce dominating retail, businesses need to be ready for anything. Below are factors to follow as the holiday supply chain enters uncharted territory.

Inventory Allocation

During weeks of stay-at-home orders, consumers shifted en masse to e-commerce, leaving retailers scrambling to restock during peak season.

For a while, it was a guessing game: How would consumers shop? E-commerce requires more inventory than brick and mortar—plus, warehouses to store that inventory—but stores need full shelves. The result is a delicate and precipitous balancing act.

For now, in Europe, entire nations are in lockdown. In the US, social distancing is still recommended. E-commerce is the year’s likely winner.


In the rush to restock, shipping container availability is suffering, threatening delivery of goods—a phenomenon some are calling shipageddon.

Carriers can’t get boxes back to Asia fast enough. In some cases, they’re returning them empty, leaving exporters with little recourse—in favor of transporting more goods westbound for the holidays.

Additionally, the National Retail Federation notes that cash that would have been spent on travel may be redirected to e-commerce.

A combination of high demand and throttled inventory could increase the probability of stockouts. This year, popular goods include outdoor gear, exercise equipment, home appliances, and other products that conform with social distance protocols. High-demand toys and electronics that would normally sell quickly may be gone at the start of the season.

During Flexport’s digital summit, FORWARD20, experts discussed the importance of supply chain redundancy. This gives companies multiple resources when overall supply is low, demand is high, or shipping capacity is tight. Another important counsel: Shape demand by stocking similar or alternative products to avoid missed customer opportunities.

A Longer Peak

Amid this year’s volatility, businesses may be seeing a shift away from major shopping spree days, like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The dates are still highly significant, but, since 2018, the largest shopping day of the year has been Super Saturday. In fact, last year’s Super Saturday was the largest single day in US retail history at $34.4 billion.

And while consumers may not wait until December 19 to shop this year, the underlying idea is that Thanksgiving-week sales don’t necessarily have to make or break a business.

Companies can use this truth to their advantage. For some, this may be the time to consider a switch from ocean to airfreight for certain goods—or invest in premium ocean shipping services to avoid rolled cargo and ensure on-time delivery.

With quick strategy that accounts for continuing volatility, it’s possible to squeeze every last opportunity out of 2020. To learn more about managing supply chains during peak season, read 5 Steps to Gain Value from Forecasting.

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Flexport Editorial Team

November 24, 2020

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