For years, Amazon has been quietly chartering private cargo ships, making its own containers, and leasing planes to better control the complicated shipping journey of an online order. Now, as many retailers panic over supply chain chaos, Amazon’s costly early moves are helping it avoid the long wait times for available dock space and workers at the country’s busiest ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.
“Los Angeles, there’s 79 vessels sitting out there up to 45 days waiting to come into the harbor,” ocean freight analyst Steve Ferreira told in November. “Amazon’s latest venture that I’ve been tracking in the last two days, it waited two days in the harbor.”
By chartering private cargo vessels to carry its goods, Amazon can control where its goods go, avoiding the most congested ports.
“Who else would think of putting something going into an obscure port in Washington, and then trucking it down to L.A.? Most people are thinking, well, just bring the ship into L.A. But then you’re experiencing those two-week and three-weeks delay. So Amazon’s really taken advantage of some of the niche strategies I believe that the market needs to employ,” Ferreira said.
Still, Amazon has seen a 14% rise in out-of-stock items and an average price increase of 25% since January 2021, according to e-commerce management platform CommerceIQ.
“The consumer has been feeling price increases in everything that they’re purchasing,” said Margaret Kidd, Supply Chain & Logistics Technology program director at the University of Houston. “Ultimately, when there’s an increase in the cost of transportation, it gets passed down to the consumer.”
Amazon has been on a spending spree to control as much of the shipping process as possible. It spent more than $61 billion on shipping in 2020, up from just under $38 billion in 2019. Now, Amazon is shipping 72% of its own packages, up from less than 47% in 2019 according to SJ Consulting Group.
It’s even taking control at the first step of the shipping journey by making its own 53-foot cargo containers in China. Containers are in short supply, with long wait times and prices surging from less than $2,000 before the pandemic to $20,000 .
“Amazon has produced probably 5,000 to 10,000 of these containers over the last two years I’ve been tracking it,” Ferreira said. “When they bring these containers onto U.S. soil, once they unload them, guess what? They get to be used in the domestic system and the rail system. They don’t have to return them to Asia like everyone else does.”
A cargo vessel called the Star Lygra called at the Port of Houston on October 5, 2021, filled with Amazon containers.