Britain is facing a Christmas gift shortage with chaos at ports meaning deliveries of popular products including Barbies, Micro-Scalextric and Peppa Pig toys may not arrive before December 25.
Go-karts, scooters and Paw Patrol merchandise are among the other children’s presents held up at ports due to a global shipping crisis, retailers said today.
Gary Grant, of The Entertainer, Britain’s largest independent toy retailer, said deliveries are now three weeks behind schedule with just 15 days until Christmas Day.
Meanwhile, Derek Crookes, of the Toy Retailers Association, said: ‘There is still stock on shelves but some lines may face shortages.
‘In previous Christmases some toys have run out because they are really, really popular but this year a lot of different lines are running low and might run out entirely before new stock arrives in January.’
Britain is facing a Christmas gift shortage with chaos at ports meaning deliveries of popular products including Barbies, Micro-Scalextric and Peppa Pig toys may not arrive before December 25. Go-karts, scooters and Paw Patrol merchandise are among the other children’s presents held up at ports due to a global shipping crisis. Gifts such as Apple Airpod earphones and Sony PS5s are also increasingly hard to find as a result of supply chain problems from Covid-hit China, Vietnam and Japan
Ports including Felixstowe and Southampton are currently experiencing a logjam due to the Christmas rush coinciding with supply chain issues relating to Covid and a surge in stockpiling for a possible No Deal Brexit.
The Entertainer is facing delays importing stock from China and the Far East that will cause some popular products to be unavailable before Christmas.
‘We’ve had problems now for a month with our containers being delayed for anything between a week and ten days,’ its boss, Gary Grant, told MailOnline.
Three key issues causing delays at British ports
Today’s problems at ports including Felixstowe, Southampton, London Gateway and Dover are being caused by a series of problems occurring at once which are not all unique to the UK.
A new lorry booking system has been causing disruption at Felixstowe in recent weeks, but trade body Logistics UK played down this issue today, saying the new arrangements were ‘bedding in’.
Industry insiders say there are three key issues behind the chaos:
COVID – shipping container shortage
The system for shipping goods around the world stopped working properly when economies shut down and reopened at different times as they dealt with Covid.
This led to shipping firms falling behind when it came to retrieving empty containers from European ports and taking them back to factories in Asia.
The container shortage is being exacerbated by a lack of staff across the global supply chain – including sailors, hauliers and warehouse workers – due to people falling ill or having to quarantine.
The problems caused by Covid have been compounded by a surge in demand caused by:
BREXIT – customs and stockpiling
If the UK leaves the EU with no deal, then at the end of the transition period tariffs will be applied to imported goods according to World Trade Organisation rules.
Companies are therefore stockpiling goods out of fear of having to pay tariffs, or because they are concerned that new customs procedures after Brexit will delay imports.
There is always a spike in demand for goods around Christmas, which is exacerbating problems.
‘Up until now the delays hasn’t affected what you see in shops. But now if containers that are meant to come in this week or next week are delayed then we are going to start seeing toy shortages before Christmas.
‘Our shops will never be out of toys, but when people want specific items for Christmas that’s going to be the challenge. Particularly if they leave their toy buying later.
‘It’s important to note though that we only ever sell items online or in store that are already in stock – so every customer who has placed an order with us is guaranteed to get the product.’
Mr Grant said the store was experiencing particular problems with Barbies, Micro-Scalextric, Peppa Pig models, and PAW Patrol products.
There are also issues with craft and puzzle products that had sold prolifically over lockdown so already had low stock levels.
‘Our range of Barbies is much narrower because it comes from China by container and some of those deliveries have been delayed,’ he said.
‘Other ranges that have been in high demand all year, like games, puzzles and craft, are also affected.
‘This is because we already had low stock due to demand over lockdown so any delays with containers arriving means it cannot be replenished.’
Mr Grant said the store was having problems obtaining Lego and Baby Yodas but that was due to a surge in demand rather than issues at container ports.
He added that the Entertainer only sold toys online and in store that were in stock so customers would always receive any orders they made.
Boldcube Scooters is waiting on four containers carrying 8,000 scooters already ordered as gifts.
A spokesman said: ‘As you can imagine this is a super frustrating experience for us and our customers, especially with this year being a COVID Christmas we know its more important than ever to have a stressfree Christmas, with Santa’s presents under the tree to enjoy the days of celebration as families reunite.
‘We’ve done everything we can as a growing business to ensure all of our stock is ordered far in advance so we can provide a seamless experience to buyers. And keep shipping costs as low as possible to keep Christmas affordable’.
Brompton Bikes is struggling to keep up with huge demand for its bikes because of delays to imported components caused by a port being ‘clogged up’.
The company said 1.5 million components from Asia are ‘stuck on the water’, waiting to be offloaded at Felixstowe in Suffolk.
Components were stockpiled earlier this year, but they are now depleted and the firm said it is now operating ‘pretty much hand-to-mouth.’
Lorne Vary, chief financial and business development officer, said: ‘Demand for our bikes is off the scale, but we are unable to fulfil it simply because our supply chain is under so much pressure.
‘We have had container deliveries cancelled – and this is all before Brexit.’
Freight traffic builds at the entrance to the ferry terminal in Dover, Kent, today as Britain’s ports are choked due to delays with container traffic
Imports from Europe have also been disrupted, with large queues of lorries outside the port and Channel Tunnel today (pictured is the coastbound A20)
White goods, homeware and building supplies are also reportedly being held up by the congestion, while carmaker Honda has closed its Swindon plant due to difficulty getting parts.
Derek Crookes, of the Toy Retailers Association, advised Christmas shoppers to ‘get out there and try and get any products that they want as they may well run out’.
Some container ships are refusing to collect empty containers or exports after dropping off goods in the UK because they do not want to miss slots at other ports such as Rotterdam, Antwerp or Hamburg.
Eleanor Hadland, ports analyst at maritime consultancy Drewry, said that this ‘cut and run’ tactic has put UK sites in a ‘downward cycle’.
British scooter firm can’t get containers into the UK’s ports
Ian Batten, 42, from Brighton, is the owner of Storm Buggies, which sells motorised children’s quad bikes and scooters.
The company ships all its good from China for sale to retail customers and wholesale clients.
He told MailOnline: ‘Typically sea freight takes about a month, but we are seeing average delays of two to three weeks on top of that, but a lot is still up in the air.
‘Some of these orders were placed as early as May. Everything thing was supposed to be here by mid-October, or mid-November latest.
‘As it stands we hope to get the majority of the goods in before Christmas but some people will be disappointed.
‘Nearly all of our customers have been really understanding – we’ve been quite touched by that.’
Mr Batten says shipments that were meant to be arriving at Southampton and Felixstowe have both been disrupted.
‘We’ve got two 40ft containers that tried to get into Felixstowe but it couldn’t get in and it was diverted,’ he said.
‘The container is currently stuck in Zeebrugge in Belgium. That’s about 150 vehicles, all high-end goods, all sold for Christmas.
‘The Southampton one was meant to go in last week, it had already been delayed getting there.’
Mr Batten said that alongside issues at ports there were also problems finding enough hauliers to pick the goods up and bring them to warehouses.
She said: ‘They’re leaving cargo in the yard, so the yard gets even busier, which slows down deliveries at the gate, which slows down the next ship, so that ship cuts and runs and leaves more cargo in the yard.
‘Unless you turn off the tap – so stop ships coming – you can’t clear the backlog.’
Ms Hadland said disruption has built up since August due to a combination of factors.
There was a ‘massive upswing in imports’ following the end of the first coronavirus lockdown due to pent-up demand and stockpiling by importers concerned about the impact of a second wave of the virus.
Other issues include containers filled with PPE (personal protective equipment) not being collected from ports, and people stocking up ahead of the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31.
‘It’s pretty much the worse it’s been in a long while,’ Ms Hadland said.
‘I’ve never known it like it. I’ve been in the sector 25 years.’
Today, the Department for Transport eased restrictions on drivers’ working hours in a bid to ease the backlog at ports.
Unite national officer for road haulage Adrian Jones said drivers are being ‘forced to pay for the mismanagement of others’.
He went on: ‘Relaxing driving hours increases fatigue, which increases the risk of accident for the drivers themselves and all other road users.’
One specialist Christmas products supplier last night complained that vital festive stock was buried in a mountain of hundreds of containers at Felixstowe.
There are also fears that food imports could be left to rot as a result of the disruption, while companies supplying supermarkets claim the delays are adding huge costs and threaten to push up prices.
And there are concerns that factories will be forced to follow the example of car maker Honda and suspend production because of a shortage of imported parts.
The problems appear to be the result of a perfect storm caused by a combination of the impact of Covid-19 and stockpiling ahead of the Brexit deadline of December 31.
Industry leaders fear the introduction of new Customs checks in the new year will fuel the crisis without urgent action to tackle the bottlenecks.
Some retailers say that as few as one in five shipments due in September and October have arrived, which has hit supplies of scooters, Barbie dolls and other toys before Christmas.
High street chains are reporting shortages of white goods such as washing machines and fridges, while building merchants are running out of supplies, such as power tools, screws, timber and roof tiles.
At the same time, shipping companies are imposing massive ‘congestion charges’, in some cases running to hundreds of thousands of pounds, on British importers because of the delays. This is to cover the dead time ships spend in ports rather than getting back out to sea.
Lars Mikael Jensen, from ocean freight line Maersk, said the delays at UK ports were being driven by global problems.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘There are essentially two things. One is that we are, globally, seeing a big increase in shipments, particularly out of Asia.
‘This is both due to restocking by a lot of [western] companies as well as a backlog from slowdowns in cargo volumes or movements of cargo in the second quarter.
‘So there is more cargo than usual in the system. And the second thing is that a lot of ports have been hit by coronavirus, so that has a impact of the number of workers.
‘We also see that it is taking longer for containers to be trucked out of the terminal by hauliers.’
Mr Jensen believes the issue will last until next year.
‘We have seen the crunch from Asia for a couple of months now and we see that moving in 2021,’ he said. ‘But things are easing – it depends a lot on how long the surge in volumes last.
‘I’m pretty sure that as the Covid vaccine is distributed then we will see less disruption from truckers and port workers being affected by the coronavirus so that in itself will help.’
Mr Jensen said a worldwide shortage of shipping containers was behind a lot of the delays.
‘Trade imbalances mean a lot of containers in Europe go back to Asia,’ he said.
We are shipping every empty container we have in Europe [back to Asia] as fast that we can.
‘But is taking a bit longer for the importers to return the containers empty. Maybe because their warehouses are full, maybe because of other reasons.
‘So a lot of our containers today are stuck in Europe or North America with inboard cargo waiting to be emptied.’
Honda is the biggest manufacturer to warn of serious disruption from the crisis, however there are fears others could soon follow suit.
Tesco announces it is STOCKPILING for No Deal: Supermarket boss sparks Christmas panic buying fears for families already struggling to get supplies
By Martin Robinson for MailOnline
Tesco was today accused of ‘grossly irresponsible scaremongering’ and encouraging pre-Christmas panic-buying after announcing they are stockpiling in case of a No Deal Brexit as Covid-19 strangled imports of Christmas presents via the UK’s snarled-up ports.
Britain’s biggest retailer is building up stores of long-life food such as pasta or tins and has warned of months of fresh food shortages in 2021 as Boris Johnson struggles to find a way through the deadlock in trade negotiations with Brussels.
John Allan, the chairman of Tesco, believes the average shopping bill could go up five per cent and also claimed French cheeses like brie could be 40 per cent more expensive if there is no EU trade deal.
Tesco boss John Allan says the supermarket is stockpiling food and fears shortages if Boris Johnson fails to get a deal with the EU
But critics have said there is plenty of British brie to eat and the UK is already importing 20 per cent less cheese from abroad every year.
Mr Allan, who joined the supermarket last year, said: ‘Tesco is getting ready for the worst case which is a No Deal, trying to ensure as much as we can that we stockpile long life products either in our warehouses or with our suppliers.
We are trying to minimise the risk of food being caught in what is probably going to be the most difficult place, which is the port of Dover.
‘We may have some shortages of fresh foods, particularly short life fresh foods. I think that will only be for a limited period, a month or two before we get back to normal. There might just be slightly restricted choice for a period of time’.
But Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab suggested Tesco is spreading panic among consumers about Britain leaving the EU and said: ‘Scare stories about cupboards running bare are nonsense’.
He also denied claims made by Mr Allan that food prices could rise by five per cent across the board after January 1, adding: ‘We only only get 30 per cent of food from the EU. Stockpiling is a normal part of business’ before describing tariffs as ‘bumps along the road’.
A shopper noticed these rationing labels on essential items such as nappies and pasta in the Tesco store in Ely, Cambridgeshire today, but the supermarket says it has been in place since late September
With Brexit looming, Tesco insists families could face shortages of some foods next month if new customs checks cause delays. But Mr Raab told LBC today that the delays at ports are clearly Covid-caused rather than Brexit-related.
One critic said: ‘Anyone else think that Tesco are being grossly irresponsible in announcing they are stockpiling? We’ll find empty supermarket shelves, when there’s absolutely no call for it’.
Another said: ‘Well done Tesco advertising the fact there could be shortages. What do you think the public are going to do now? Very irresponsible of you to cause panic buying, but you know what your doing don’t you!’
One shopper said: ‘Tesco stockpiling for fear of shortages??….. Exactly what they told everyone not to do at the beginning of lockdown’.