The COVID-19 crisis has had a huge impact on shipping and logistics at all stages of the delivery cycle, with air freight carriers feeling the financial squeeze of the contracting economy, USPS suspending international mail deliveries from certain countries, and last-mile delivery carriers swamped due to the spike in online shopping orders.
For many businesses that are still open and for those who regularly fill online orders, uncertainty abounds. Will the supply chain hold? What if my warehouse has to close due to illness? Will I be able to fill my own purchase orders for the goods customers want? What if shippers stop delivering or drastically scale back their delivery guarantees?
Fortunately, most state government agencies recognize the essential nature of the logistics and supply industries, especially at this crucial time when consumers need access to essential supplies and more customers are relying on grocery delivery and online shopping services to fulfill their needs as they quarantine or self-isolate. And logistics professionals are working hard to make sure shipments arrive intact and as quickly as possible.
Shipping and Logistics Companies Are Adjusting Rapidly
The evolving COVID-19 situation has forced shipping and logistics companies around the country — and the world — to make rapid changes to adjust. Early on, the outbreak impacted shipments from Chinese ports, with container volume from the nation expected to fall by two to five percent this year, making only the second time since 1970 that the country’s annual export volumes have fallen. Many destination ports are quarantining goods from China, while others are refusing Chinese goods altogether, but that’s not the only impact COVID-19 has had on international shipping and logistics.
Domestically, the pandemic caught Florida right in the middle of refurbishing its Atlantic coast port facilities, which could mean it will take even longer for these ports to reach full capacity again after the crisis has ended. And while U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is still processing international mail and packages, the USPS has temporarily suspended international postal delivery to some nations.
Other carriers in the U.S. are also experiencing the need to make rapid adjustments to keep serving customers. Carriers like FedEx and UPS have suspended their service guarantees, as they struggle to keep up with a perfect storm of increased deliveries and sick workers. Carriers are seeing delivery volumes akin to the Christmas rush, but they had little chance to prepare for the flood.
Many Facilities Are Dramatically Shifting Operations
As a result, many facilities are drastically shifting operations in order to prioritize customers’ essential needs. For example, Amazon has shifted to giving Amazon Prime customers priority service. The online retail giant has also delayed shipments of nonessential items, so they can focus their limited resources on meeting customers’ essential needs, and they quickly put out a hiring call for tens of thousands of new warehouse workers as the COVID-19 crisis ramped up.
Shipping and logistics industry professionals are also doing their part to care for the sick and fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Carriers like UPS have found themselves uniquely positioned to transport shipments of medical equipment and supplies to the hardest-hit parts of the world. Trains that normally carry automobile parts, electronics, and other goods and materials from Yuwin, China to Madrid, Spain have been co-opted to move medical equipment and supplies instead. And with many locations around the world in dire need of supplies like ventilators, lives depend on carriers using shipping damage indicators and the data they provide to ensure that these priceless shipments arrive intact.
While it’s important to keep shipments safe, many shipping and logistics industries are now taking extra steps to keep their employees safe. Many manufacturers, shipping carriers, and online retailers are implementing temperature checks, passing out personal protective equipment (PPE), nixing visits to merchant sites, increasing wages, giving bonuses, expanding health benefits and sick leave, banning overtime to limit employee exposure, and performing regular deep cleaning of facilities. These measures are crucial to protecting the human beings at the heart of the shipping and logistics industry — the essential employees who keep the country running.
COVID-19 has put an understandable strain on the shipping and logistics industry, but professionals across the nation and the world are rising to meet the challenge. Whether it’s getting shipments of essential supplies to customers at home, or shipments of medical gloves, masks, and ventilators to health care professionals in hard-hit regions, shipping carriers and their employees are stepping up to hold the line against coronavirus.