Delivery bottlenecks are the new normal: a survey of retailers shows which products are having the biggest problems – and where consumers will have to reckon with gaps in the range for a long time to come

The global department store, where almost everything could be ordered overnight, can no longer find its way back to normal operations. Parts of China are repeatedly paralyzed by strict corona lockdowns. Container ships that cannot be unloaded are piling up in the North Sea. Added to this is Russia’s war, scarcity of raw materials, expensive energy and a general trend towards less globalization. The result is persistent delivery bottlenecks in many areas.

Consumers will also feel this in the near future. The retail trade expects delivery problems well into the coming year, as the Munich ifo Institute reports. According to a recent survey by economic researchers, more than three quarters (75.7 percent) of retailers complained in June that not all the goods ordered could be delivered. Although that is a little less than in May (80.1 percent at the time), the survey also shows that the problems are becoming entrenched.

“Christmas there will be gaps on the shelves”

Because on average, the retailers surveyed expect that the delivery problems will continue for another year – until mid-2023. “This year, too, there will be gaps on the shelves at Christmas,” commented ifo researcher Klaus Wohlrabe on the results of the survey. “The delivery problems have become an ongoing problem for retailers.”

The situation is particularly tense in some sectors. Without exception, all bicycle dealers surveyed report that they are currently having delivery problems. When asked how long this will last, the bicycle dealers answer with 18 months. That would only be after the Christmas business in 2023, provided that no new problems arise by then.

Almost all retailers are also reporting delivery bottlenecks for electrical household appliances, which are likely to continue well into next year. Also badly affected: car dealers, hardware stores, furniture stores and consumer electronics, where around nine out of ten companies complain about delivery problems.

Toys, computers and software as well as certain food and beverages also remain in short supply. However, the situation in the food retail sector has recently eased somewhat. While almost everyone still reported delivery problems in May, it is now “only” 77 percent. Only slightly more than half of the clothing stores are affected. In addition, supermarkets and fashion retailers expect the supply gaps to end relatively quickly (see table).

The evaluation does not record how many products from their range the companies cannot reorder – and to what extent they can replace them with alternatives. The data therefore does not reveal whether a retailer is only unable to offer individual goods or whether there are visible gaps on the shelf. The only thing that is clear is that the supply is becoming scarcer.

Table: Delivery problems in retail

Those: ifo Institut