Many of us have taken for granted that if we order something online, it will arrive in two to three days max. Delays have been few and far between until the ongoing supply chain crisis hit the world in full force in 2021. It is triggered by several reasons, including the global pandemic, the struggle to keep labor and freight costs at a minimum, and production and inventory models that can't handle sudden changes.
For the end consumer, it's simple enough to order an item off Amazon and wait for it at home. In this documentary, the item ordered was a simple, everyday USB charger. They followed every step of its 14,000-mile journey to uncover what happens behind the scenes from when it leaves a factory halfway around the world until it arrives at your doorstep.
When the global Covid pandemic struck in 2020, businesses anticipated a drop in demand for their items. However, the opposite happened, and people purchased record numbers of electronics, exercise machines, etc. However, we all began to experience delivery delays or pay extra to get shipments prioritized, caused mainly by the lack of personnel and the many logistical limitations due to Covid restrictions. For example, many empty cargo containers were stuck in ports under lockdown, and they could not journey back to China, which was soon amassing many goods they had no way to ship out.
Your USB charger started life in a Vietnamese factory, packed inside a shipping container, and loaded onto a ship that would cross the Pacific Ocean and arrive in the United States within 20 to 30 days. These cargo ships are huge yet, carrying over 10,000 containers, but with just a lean crew of 20 operating the vessel. They need to ensure that all the containers will arrive and none will fall into the sea in case of bad weather because it might spell a catastrophe for businesses counting on the cargo arriving.
When it arrives at the port, longshore workers will then unload and organize them for pick up by the long haul truckers for delivery to retailers. It used only to take two to three days to process an entire ship, but today, it can take as long as two weeks. The trucking industry is also in crisis, with a critical lack of drivers. Drivers work more than 14 hours and are paid by the trip/mileage. It doesn't seem to be a rosy future for the industry since the average age of truckers is also getting higher every year.
Finally, your USB charger arrives at an e-commerce fulfillment center or warehouse, where, despite all the automation and robots employed to boost efficiency, human workers are still necessary. Sadly they get paid a bit lower, and the job can be physically grueling.
For the ongoing efforts to reduce supply chain disruptions to succeed, many countries and industries need to work together to find a solution. However, uncertainties stemming from the ongoing war, lingering Covid and the continued increase in demand signal that the current crisis might extend into 2023 and beyond.