Fearing Tariff Escalation Retailers Pile Up Goods At Unprecedented Pace

Retailers are stacking up inventory at a record holiday pace, but will buyers show up?

Please consider Trump Tariff War with China Sends U.S. Retailers on Buying Binge.

In the nearly 40 years she has spent in trade, Amy Magnus has never seen retailers hoarding so much inventory.

Warehouses throughout the United States are at record capacity with Chinese imports of all kinds - microwaves, vacuum cleaner filters, swimwear, furniture - stacked to the ceiling, according to Magnus, who heads the National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America, whose members work with over 250,000 importers and exporters.

“My office is right on a land border and I can see the trucks just coming across non-stop from my window,” Magnus said, referring to her birds-eye view from Champlain, New York, of trade on the border between Canada and the United States.

The buying binge is also evident in recent data from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates, which show imports at major U.S. retail container ports surged 13.6 percent to a record 2.04 million containers in October. This helped push the U.S. trade deficit with China to a record high.

“It’s very rare that retailers would commit to more inventory in advance,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of consultancy GlobalData Retail. “If they don’t manage to sell their holiday inventory, we’ll see a real glut of it, and some discounting, in the new year.”

Storage is “full to bursting” as a result of retailers’ holiday inventory, plus the additional stocks retailers have been buying for 2019, Saunders said, and retailers are paying more for storage due to a shortage of warehousing across the country.

“Our warehouse is packed with stuff,” said Mike Abt, co-president of Chicago-based appliance and furniture store Abt Electronics. “Air-conditioners are just piled up in random places where they shouldn’t be because we’re running out of room. And we did that in anticipation of 15 percent more price increases.”

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