The boss of a global shipping agent has told shoppers to plan ahead for Christmas because of UK ports delays.
Peter Wilson, from Cory Brothers, said people should order items in a “timely fashion” to ensure they arrive in time.
Shop shelves would stay stocked, but there may be less choice, he said.
The UK’s biggest commercial port Felixstowe told the BBC that it currently has 50,000 containers which are waiting to be collected, due to a shortage of HGV lorry drivers.
“It’s not the port of Felixstowe affecting the supply chain it’s the supply chain affecting the port of Felixstowe,” it said, adding that the problems are “similar at all major UK ports”.
A shortage of HGV lorry drivers in the UK means that shipment containers are being offloaded but left stacked on the quayside waiting for collection. The dearth of drivers also means there is a delay in returning empty containers for re-use resulting in delays getting goods to shops.
Danish shipping giant Maersk was forced to divert some of its larger ships from Felixstowe to ports in Holland and Belgium Dutch to avoid delays. Smaller ships are then transporting the goods to the UK.
The problems come at the busiest time of the year for retailers, when most goods are imported from Asia to sell during Christmas trading. Mr Wilson urged shoppers to “be sensible, think ahead, plan appropriately” to get items such as toys in time for Christmas.
Thomas O’Brien, the managing director of Leeds-based toy designer Boxer Gifts, which manufacturers its products in China, said there’s “plenty of stock” but that the real problem is that “everything takes longer and is horrendously more expensive” which means the company “will be struggling to keep price increases to anything lower than 10%”.
Items that are in short supply include a sloth soft toy and the moody cow stress ball.
“Ironically the moody cow which we’re short of is almost a nice acronym for how feel at the moment,” he added.
While there are alternative toys, Mr O’Brien said the firm has lost six weeks of “planning time” to be able to re-stock at short notice.
He said containers shipped from Qingdao, China to Felixstowe are costing him $15,000 (£11,003) rather than the normal rate of $2,500 in 2019.
Entrepreneur Jack Griffiths, co-founder of loungewear company Snuggy, said he is expecting containers on five different ships, holdings £1m worth of Christmas items, to arrive over the next week but they will now be delayed by three weeks.
“We’re seasonal and we have to make the most of these months, 80% of our turnover comes from October to February.”
In November, the business usually takes £500,000 worth of sales which Mr Griffiths said he “probably won’t be able to get in if we don’t get that stock in time”.
The company has already run out of the SnuggyPod product which was due to arrive two weeks ago. Mr Griffiths said the product “probably won’t arrive for three weeks at Felixstowe and then it’ll take three week to get them out of the port due to the driver issues”. He added that because the SnuggyPod is the firm’s original design, there aren’t any alternatives.
“As the weeks go by I can only see it getting worse which is just something we don’t want to think about”.
Mr Griffiths anticipates he will have to get products shipped by railway and air rather than sea. It comes after £400,000 worth of his stock was delayed earlier in the year when it got stuck on the Ever Given ship which blocked the Suez Canal.
Steve Parks, director at Seaport Freight which deals with food shipments from overseas as well as other goods, says moving goods from Rotterdam port to Felixstowe is delaying goods by two to three weeks.
“So things like coconut milk, frozen fish and carpets are being delayed from China.”
While Mr Parks said Britain’s shortfall in HGV drivers is “largely” to blame for the congestion at the port, other countries are experiencing problems, including the US and China.
“This is absolutely the worst period I have known, ever,” he said. “We can’t get space on ships coming out of the Far East.
A spokesman for the port of Rotterdam said it has been busy over the last couple of weeks, but said: “It’s more to do with Covid than anything else because of the balance of empty and full containers being in the wrong place.”
The pandemic is also being blamed in part for bottlenecks at US ports. President Joe Biden will meet with major US retailers as well as the bosses of ports on Wednesday to address the issues.
The UK Ports Association trade group, said most UK ports were operating normally but that the shortage of drivers meant “some delays”.
“This has meant that some freight is not being collected as rapidly as it would normally. The situation is impacting all types of ports, not just container terminals.
Andrew Goodacre, chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Association, said there is “no need to panic buy” but advised customers to start their normal shopping process earlier.
“If you see something you want, now is the time to buy as retailers have most of their Christmas stock, but we can’t guarantee having supplies of everything over the next few weeks”.
“It’s a challenge for small retailers because they don’t have the cash to stockpile,” he added.
Industry bodies estimate there is a shortage of about 100,000 drivers. It has been caused by several factors, including European drivers who went home during the pandemic, Brexit and a backlog of HGV driver tests.
The government recently drafted in military personnel to help with the driver shortages and deliver fuel. Emergency temporary visas have also been issued to foreign drivers.
Conservative Party chair Oliver Dowden told the BBC that the government was increasing the number of people having tests and that he would “expect that number to increase as we approach Christmas”.
Asked about potential Christmas shortages, he told Sky news: “The situation is improving, I’m confident that people will be able to get their toys for Christmas.”