Since they were first deployed in 1956, the boxy shipping containers that get stacked on top of one another aboard giant vessels have revolutionized global trade. They allow goods to be packed into standard receptacles and hoisted off the boats by cranes onto rail cars and trucks.
Containers are how flat-panel displays made in South Korea are moved to plants in China that assemble smartphones and laptops, and how those finished devices are shipped across the Pacific to the United States.
Over the past year, the pandemic has disrupted every part of those journeys and disrupted international trade to an extraordinary degree, driving up the cost of shipping goods and adding a fresh challenge to the global economic recovery. The coronavirus has thrown off the choreography of moving cargo from one continent to another.
No one knows how long the upheaval will last, though some experts assume containers will remain scarce through the end of the year, as the factories that make them — nearly all of them in China — scramble to catch up with demand.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Lars Mikael Jensen, head of Global Ocean Network at A.P. Moller-Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company. “All the links in the supply chain are stretched. The ships, the trucks, the warehouses.”
The American Rescue Plan that was passed by the Senate and is now back before the House of Representatives would put pump $1.9 trillion into the economy.
The New York Times’s personal finance experts, Ron Lieber and Tara Siegel Bernard, combed through the bill to explain what it means in real terms to real people. Here are some of the questions they answer:
E-commerce saved many retail companies over the past year, as online shopping provided a lifeline after stores were shut, city centers went vacant and customers stayed home.
But for small businesses, the benefit was wildly uneven, Andrew Lipsman, principal analyst with eMarketer, tells Amy Haimerl of The New York Times. There were winner sectors, such as grocery, health and fitness, and direct-to-consumer brands, but apparel boutiques and other specialty retailers — especially those without existing e-commerce platforms — struggled.
The experience of Amina Daniels, the owner of Live Cycle Delight fitness studio in Detroit, underscores the logistical challenges small businesses faced building and competing online.
To produce on-demand video classes, she built a mini production studio inside her spin room, investing thousands in microphones, lights and a film crew. Still, it’s hard to go up against Peloton, which has entire teams producing its digital classes.
About 30 customers left Live Cycle Delight for Peloton, Ms. Daniels said, but she found support in other ways. With the movement to support Black-owned businesses, people donated to her, and there was healthy demand for the studio’s branded merchandise, such as Pilates balls, T-shirts and booty bands, the stretchy bands that add resistance to a workout.
Between the products, outdoor classes in the summer and memberships, she has been able to keep the three-year-old business open. The shift to e-commerce hasn’t been perfect, she said, but it’s been worth it. She reminds herself why she started the studio: to make fitness more accessible and inclusive.
“Peloton is just one kind of experience,” she said. “We’re still here providing clients with an option to join us on the quest of better.”