London/Los Angeles/Madrid - The $1 trillion container shipping industry is in a slowdown. Literally.
Some shipping lines, whose retail customers are being hammered by the coronavirus pandemic, are reducing sailing speeds and taking longer routes around Africa, avoiding Suez canal passage fees, according to the companies and ship-tracking specialists.
Many are also cutting down the number of voyages and providing short-term storage for clients as the industry, which includes heavyweights like Maersk (MAERSKb.CO), MSC and Hapag-Lloyd (HLAG.DE), faces its biggest downturn since the 2008 financial crisis.
The new tactics not only save on costs, but also help adapt to the needs of cash-crunched retailers - among their biggest customers - who are stuck with huge inventory surpluses thanks to COVID-19 store closures and a collapse in consumer demand.
Slower shipping times also means importers can delay payments made on delivery.
From sportswear maker Puma (PUMG.DE) to mall stalwart Gap (GPS.N), many retailers have been forced to reduce or slow down shipments of new merchandise. Civil unrest in the United States has compounded their problems by further clouding the prospect for a recovery in the world’s biggest retail sales market.
Puma’s Chief Executive Bjorn Gulden, for example, said it was managing some of its excess inventory by stowing it on slow-going ships as stores in the United States and Europe tentatively reopen.
However, at the same time, the shipping slowdown has created headaches for those retailers, from Walmart (WMT.N) and Amazon (AMZN.O) to shoe seller Rothy’s, who have never stopped selling products to homebound consumers, ranging from books and shoes to exercise equipment, much of it sold online.