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How to Keep Goods Flowing Despite Port Congestion

As if managing merchandise as it moves down the supply chain, gets loaded onto containers, shipped across oceans, vies for position among congestion, then gets unloaded at ports and makes its way to distribution centers weren’t complicated enough (insert “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” joke here), now brands must track other companies’ maneuverings as well.

The domino effect of current and unprecedented port congestion—not just from fashion industry counterparts, but anyone moving goods around the world—has rippled throughout the industry, with Port of Los Angeles backlogs literally leaving ships out to sea.

Alba Wheels Up, which has moved billions of dollars of fashion apparel, textiles and footwear on planes, ships, rails and trucks, has developed a system to alleviate such pain points. The customs broker and freight forwarder has devised a “smart” container tracking dashboard platform, which aggregates industry shipping transit data for optimizing real-time monitoring and future planning.

By discovering shipping issues as they happen and using predictive analytics to avoid them in the future, Alba keeps things running smoothly. According to Alba Wheels Up’s president, Salvatore Stile, “We identify problems as they occur so that [importers] can make the necessary adjustments to their clients. Our system tracks real time, then we aggregate all the data, put it into business intelligence with comparison of steamship lines and predict what the trade deport would be in the future.”

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With congestion at the docks slowing things down, it is important to identify and remedy slack along the supply chain. Given the importance of speed to market in the fashion industry, this takes on an increased urgency.

Alba isn’t just tracking its own moves, but others in the industry to ascertain the best overall data. “As long as Alba has even just a small piece of your business, we can incorporate the data into our system. Our programming company has in-depth knowledge of the industry’s nuances—how the terminals, steamship lines, rails, etc. all interrelate with one another. That knowledge base is really the key,” said Stile.

“As an experienced provider, we’re able to see what’s going on and best secure space for our clients,” he added. “By gathering analytics via our business intelligence programs, we can see which ports are slower and which carriers are quicker, then take all this data and make the perfect match to move things along most efficiently.”

Real-time visibility also helps brands communicate honestly with their clients, whether they are retailers or consumers, about back orders, out of stocks and shipping delays. And with more brands increasing their portion of direct-to-consumer selling, customer loyalty takes on added importance.

“I don’t think there’s anything more aggravating for a customer than to be told by a retailer or brand that their order is delayed with no additional information,” said Stile. “Consumers are forgiving if you’re honest with them. Our technology lets clients see inventory in transit on the dashboard and pull reports, with business intelligence backing it up.”

Maximizing de minimis

Keeping up on tariff and regulation complexities is another way Alba works for its clients. For example, Section 321 De Minimis allows a company to import goods duty free if they are valued at less than $800 (this threshold was raised from $200 in 2016).

But while it’s necessary to identify the end consumer when goods ship from Asia, this is problematic as the importer might not know 30 days out. To solve this problem, Alba then sends the imported goods to a bonded affiliate warehouse in Mexico to be stored until it is sold to the U.S. consumer.

“This way, when your customers start placing orders, we can bring it over the border duty-free to the consumer, piece by piece then put into the client’s final mile solution,” Stile said. “We use a bonded affiliate warehouse in Mexico as a staging location until the consumer is ready to buy it.”

Facilitating de minimis goods via Alba’s Transpacific inventory management can add up to big savings. “If Section 321 applies to a portion of someone’s business, for example a hot seller with products that meet de minimis eligibility requirements, they can utilize that to eliminate duty and save money,” said Stile. “A quick calculation shows that on a $75,000 container of knitted blouses eligible for direct-to-consumer treatment, you could save $29,000.”

As Covid winds down and the country opens up, Stile doesn’t expect congestion to sort itself out until the fall. “Back-to-school is going to be huge,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of product flowing.”

To keep clients up to speed, Alba has expanded its informational newsletter with a weekly webinar series focusing on compliance. “There’s a lot to know, but if clients had to take these courses they would cost thousands of dollars,” said Stile. “We include it as part of our services for our clients at no additional cost.”

To learn more about the Alba Wheels Up container tracking system, click here.