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NRF: Retail Imports Up as Holiday Shopping Kicks Off

Clearing their plates of political shifts and the world’s woes, shoppers have their sights set on buying for the holidays, and imports are expected to be up.

According to the National Retail Federation’s monthly Global Port Tracker, imports at the nation’s major ports are expected to be up 4.4% this month over last November and could see an even larger increase next month.

“Retailers are importing more during the holidays this year than last year and that can only mean one thing—they expect to sell more,” Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy, said. “Most of the holiday merchandise is already here, but retailers are still restocking to be sure shoppers will have a broad and deep selection as they hit the stores over the next several weeks.”

Ports included in the Global Port Tracker (U.S. ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades and Miami on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast) handled 1.6 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in September, down 6.6% from August when things are busiest, and 1.6% lower year over year.

Things picked up in October to an estimated 1.67 million TEU, a 7.5% uptick from last year. Import volume for November is expected to come in at 1.54 million TEU, a 4.4% increase, and rise 4.5% to come in at 1.5 million TEU in December. Cargo volume for the full year 2016 is expected to hit 18.6 million TEU, up 2.2% year over year.

For the holiday season, NRF said sales should reach $655.8 billion, which would be 3.6% more than last year, and though cargo volume doesn’t directly correlate to sales, it is often a barometer of retailer’s expectations.

“Despite all the good economic news recently, we are faced with imports growing only about 2 percent this year,” Hackett said. “Whether that is merely part of the aftermath of the Hanjin bankruptcy or a sign of weakening demand is not yet clear. Unless there is a major disruption, however, growth should be modest but sustained during the first half of 2017.”