America’s ports are congested with record levels of traffic congestion and container shortages – and that could mean big problems for shoe brands and retailers.

As the health crisis continues to keep many Americans indoors, spending has generally shifted from services such as travel, spas, movies, restaurants, and more to material discretionary goods such as housewares, shoes, and clothing. According to analysts, the surge in imports has resulted in longer lead times and higher freight costs for brands and retailers already grappling with rapidly changing consumer preferences and other supply chain disruptions related to coronavirus, such as temporary loss of sick workers.

In the past few weeks, Nordstrom, Gap and Steve Madden, as well as Merrell and Saucony’s parent company Wolverine Worldwide, have been among the nationwide chains that have warned analysts of the COVID-19 pandemic in their conference call calls on logistics issues. In particular, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, which account for nearly half of all U.S. imports from Asia, are currently seeing record volumes as retailers work to replenish their inventories due to increased consumer demand.

“Now we are in a position where three problems need to be resolved: Firstly, we have to correct the imbalance in the containers as we have too many of them here and not enough in Asia to load them,” said Brian Whitlock, Senior Director and Analyst at Gartner’s Logistics and Fulfillment Team. “Second, the problem of congestion. While the container situation could slowly improve over time, ports could still have problems until the third problem is addressed: demand – which one must fall or normalize before the ports can even catch up. “

Last week, Steven Madden Ltd. CEO Ed Rosenfeld warned of the negative impact of congestion on the supply chain in the coming months. He noted that shipping lead times were increased by an average of three to four weeks, and that the disruption could add $ 30 million to sales in the first quarter.

Blake Krueger, CEO of Wolverine World Wide Inc., also suggested last week that the company would expect a $ 20 million revenue shift from the end of the first quarter to the beginning of the second quarter due to logistical delays. “We expect some of these port, ocean freight and land traffic congestion issues will steadily improve as the year progresses,” he added, noting that “it will be a few more months.”

In addition, Gap Inc. CFO Katrina O’Connell said the company incurred air freight charges in the fourth quarter to resolve the problems in the ports. “New COVID-related congestion in US ports and impacts on shipping lanes were unanticipated and contributed to higher inventory levels during transport year over year,” she predicted, predicting the problem could continue into the first half of the year.

While the congestion is affecting the broader retail industry, some experts suggest that the pain is felt most in the clothing and footwear industries, where goods can be heavily dependent on a seasonal cycle.

“It’s about how important it is that the products are delivered on time. Some shippers fear that their lines, which could be made for certain retailers, may not make it in time for the season and they may be forced to liquidate some of this inventory, ”said Joshua Brogan, associate partner in strategic operations practice in Kearney . “The inability to plan and make sure inventory gets to the right place at the right time is very sensitive for apparel and shoe manufacturers.”

But not all retailers are between a rock and a hard place: The backlogs caused by the port disruptions on the west coast could give off-pricers – such as Ross Stores Inc. – the opportunity to cancel orders that have been canceled by full cancellation. Price stores and sell them at great prices.

“We’re still seeing pretty big supply opportunities in the market,” said Barbara Rentler, CEO of Ross, during a conference call with analysts in the fourth quarter of this week. “The congestion in the west coast port has obviously slowed some of the revenue coming into the country, so traders are constantly moving and shaking based on what is coming in.”

She added: “In terms of the final state of availability due to the disruption of the port, I think there will be a bubble at some point. I don’t think we have seen this bubble yet. But at some point, historically, when things start to correct themselves there will be an inventory bubble … we would expect that at some point to pull back and that there would be a chance. “

How long the congestion will last in the most important US ports, experts assume that companies will see improvements in the second half of the year. In the meantime, given the shipping restrictions and limited availability of truckers to move goods across the country, retailers are advised to plan early for summer and back-to-school – and maybe as far out as fall and the holidays as well.

“Retailers need to think differently about how they operate their supply chains,” said Ken Cochran, senior director at Alvarez & Marsal’s consumer and retail group. “You need to push yourself to do what you may never have done before or seem unnatural. Cargo hold is incredibly dynamic right now, and the only way to overcome this is to get extremely creative and break the rules. “