While holiday shopping is justifiably known as the busiest time of year for retailers, another annual high point is back-to-school shopping season. In fact, it's generally considered the second-busiest time of year for shoppers - which means shipping freight to ensure proper inventory levels is vital. And even in 2023 - a period of generally depressed demand for goods - kids still need school supplies. Case in point, the National Retail Federation forecasts back-to-school spending to hit a new record, with a projected total of $41.5 billion - up $4.6 billion from last year and $4.4 billion higher than 2021's previous high mark.
Even more spending is associated with back-to-college shopping, which the NRF projects at $94 billion in 2023, $20 billion above a year ago. While inflation undoubtedly plays a part in the higher figures, the federation's annual survey suggests a number of shoppers are looking for new items, while still others are looking for more big-ticket items this time around. On top of that, shoppers are generally getting an earlier start on back-to-class shopping than they have in the past - perhaps shopping sales a bit more than other years as a consensus expect prices to above normal thanks to inflation. So what does this all mean for the freight industry?
2023 Back-to-School Shopping Freight
When it comes to back-to-school shopping and freight strategies, shippers generally already have product lined up and ready to buy. ImportGenius, which tracks - you guessed it - import volumes, noted that May appears to be the generally agreed upon peak month for shipping supplies including paper notebooks, backpacks and lunch boxes. Based on that - and comparing to past years, the company earlier this year suggested retailers were preparing for a small contraction in consumer spending.
But the slightly lower import volume for these products in 2023 versus last year could easily be attributed to inventory levels. Shippers and retailers are even now, still working on right-sizing inventory. Thus many items like school supplies were likely already positioned in warehouses to be sold this year after over-ordering occurred last year just as purchasing behavior was shifting. Still, plenty of back-to-school and back-to-college volume does come via ocean container, and though some schools are starting soon (a number in our Indiana neighborhood), others don't begin until post-Labor Day.
With that in mind, the NRF's Global Port Tracker expects August to be the peak of ocean cargo volume this year (though down from the year prior). That peak timing is in line with past years and why the industry looks to back-to-school or shortly thereafter as the beginning of peak shipping season. But a variety of factors suggest that traditional peak shipping season won't occur in 2023. Instead, the freight market has a ways to go before normal volume returns.
Just because the industry overall isn't hitting its peak, your shipping operation still needs solutions. Simply fill out our brief form, and we'll get back to you to discuss how we can help with your unique needs. For more information about InTek, or logistics and supply chain issues in general, check out our Freight Guides.