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May. 19, 2021

How to Dodge Shipping Delays While Ocean and Inland Struggle with Speed

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Getting goods to US destinations has become a logistical nightmare.

Competition for equipment is stark. Ports are overwhelmed, ships are idling at sea, and dwell times are dragging. Once you get inland, the equipment ruckus strikes again.

Total transit times for Flexport shipments from mainland China to the US West Coast hover around 60 days; to Chicago, it’s closer to 70. In 2019, those timelines were more like 33 to the West Coast, and 41 to Chicago.

You have a shot at shaving transit times if you’re prepared to maneuver at all points along the way. Treat the turmoil like an obstacle course to improve your logistics strategies. Let’s break it down stage by stage.

Secure Equipment at Origin

According to Flexport shipment data, delays at origin currently account for an additional 5 to 7 days per shipment.

If you have a confirmed booking, do everything in your power to make sure you don’t miss the boat. Centralized data lets suppliers, consignees, and freight forwarders align to the same shipment details. Visibility into cargo-ready dates, drayage, and documentation helps you stay on schedule.

Otherwise, an ongoing container rush could leave you with little recourse. Demand for the boxes is boiling with spot rates up by triple digits, year over year. Eventually, certain goods won’t have the margins to justify climbing rates——but the market isn’t there yet.

If you’re still seeking equipment, try smarter consolidation options, like LCL or OceanMatch.

Or see if you can rustle up your own container, by directly leasing boxes yourself.

Shipper-owned containers (SOC) can sometimes even secure better ocean rates than carrier-owned containers. Your freight forwarder may be able to help you discover when equipment leases end, positioning you to snap up what you need before someone else does.

Bypass Port Congestion

Once your cargo sets sail, the Transpacific journey is relatively reliable. The traffic jam starts just outside California and is one of your most critical obstacles. Delays here threaten all your logistics past this point.

At Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Oakland, every week is bonkers with 1.5 to 2 times the volume over 2019. That’s an extra 300,000 TEU per month, plus another 150-200,000 TEU sitting at anchor.

Altogether, the delays are adding approximately 7 to ten days to most schedules. In many cases, there’s no way to know arrival dates until the last minute. The dwell times are tough, too. For cargo catching a train out of Los Angeles, Flexport shipment data shows dwell can balloon up to 20 days or longer.

But scenario planning can help you maneuver around port congestion. Let’s be upfront: You may want to skip California. Instead, consider Seattle or Tacoma. There are also more circuitous routes to try in a pinch. You’ll have to pay for trucking or a short leg of air, but you may get goods sooner rather than later.

Find Chassis at Inland Ramps

Once your cargo is in the US, your next obstacle comes back to equipment. There aren’t close to enough truck chassis in the US—recent estimates put the pool at around 725,000 in circulation. There aren’t really enough drivers, either, and the ones who are available are commanding a price.

But wild chassis chasing isn’t exactly how anyone wins any races. Instead, monitoring the patterns across the country can reveal where you need your goods to arrive.

For instance, as of April, inland ramps are congested, because they’re being hit with waves of goods coming from coastal ports, where things are currently moving slowly. As congestion creeps ahead, former hotspots may cool.

By keeping in close contact with your freight forwarder’s trucking procurement team, you can get the intel you need to secure chassis when they become available. For some companies, this may require reverse engineering the rest of your route, but when it comes to navigating the obstacles, a range of options is the only way through.

For help routing cargo during a capacity crisis, reach out to Flexport.

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