The Empty Shelf Crisis of 2022

In the subtle words of The New York Times headline, “Chaos Strikes Global Shipping”. What does it mean by that exactly? 

Swing by your local department store, grocery store or electronics store, and you’re bound to notice empty shelves. Previously, people blamed COVID-19 panic buyers for emptying store shelves because they stripped stores clean of essentials like toilet paper and water bottles. However, the current empty shelf crisis comes from suppliers that can’t keep up with demand due to lower production, shipping delays and labor shortages. 

As a result, consumers are seeing widespread shortages of goods, from shoes to cars and everything in between. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the empty shelf crisis, the industries that are impacted the most and what the future may hold for the shipping industry.

Why Are Walmart Shelves Empty?

There are many empty Walmart shelves in 2022 because of the Omicron variant, winter storms and supply chain problems. Here’s a quick dive into each of those reasons:

The Omicron Variant

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 was discovered in November 2021 and caused a new American COVID wave in early 2022. Many Walmart stores temporarily closed for deep cleaning due to rising cases, which meant people had fewer stores to shop at – ultimately resulting in empty shelves across many locations.

Winter Storms

Mid-January 2022 saw a winter storm plague much of the Southern, Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States. Heavy snowfall and blocked roads caused food shortages in affected areas, resulting in low stocks almost everywhere.

Supply Chain Crisis

Unfortunately, some lingering supply chain issues in 2021 carried over to 2022. Many stores have resorted to importing extra grocery items on chartered cargo ships to ease these shortages.

What Caused the Empty Shelf Crisis?

The empty shelf crisis is largely caused by the COVID-19 pandemic destabilizing the entire shipping industry. There’s some irony to this shipping crisis because, while consumer demand and spending increased, suppliers couldn’t keep shelves stocked to capitalize on these opportunities.

Why Is There a Supply Chain Shortage?

While the pandemic majorly contributed to shipping delays, other immediate factors have also directly impacted the industry:

Container Shortages

Recent shortages of shipping containers have driven up the cost of goods delivered from China. CNBC reports that this caused shipping costs to rise by 300%, and logistics companies are struggling to keep up with shifting demands.

For example, the Apple iPhone was generally shipped by air, but the container shortage forced suppliers to ship these products via sea containers. Multiplied across industries, the shift to ocean freight congested sea routes, and the issues in the Suez Canal certainly exacerbated things.

Human Resource Shortages

During the pandemic, the number of dockworkers and truck drivers decreased, causing massive delays in shipping and delivery. As a result, the gig economy stepped in, providing temporary and part-time gig workers for warehouse and fulfillment center work.

Products and Material Shortages

One of the more talked-about shortages is the microchip shortage, which limited the manufacture of new cars and many electronic devices. Other product and material shortages due to the pandemic, such as a recent deficit of aluminum, have impacted the domestic transport of canned food and soft drinks.

Suez Canal Blockage

The Suez Canal blockage is a symptom of the industry’s problems as a whole. According to Bloomberg, the lack of available workers caused many loading docks to become overwhelmed, resulting in massive shipping delays.

Industries Affected by Shipping Delays

These shipping delays are wreaking havoc within the retail industry, affecting the ability of domestic shippers and 3PLs to fulfill their eCommerce orders. Many American companies are paying up to ten times the usual price of shipping products across the ocean. 

The following industries have seen the most impact:


While this doesn’t impact your local shelves per se, the automotive industry is being hit hard by a lack of available materials – most specifically the microchips used to control the fuel injection system, cruise control and other electronic systems aboard today’s automobiles. As a result, car dealers have struggled to maintain inventory, and consumers are seeing the price of used cars increase.


The chip shortage also impacted electronics companies, including Sony, Apple and Microsoft. A recent fire at a Japanese plant has only exacerbated this chip shortage, meaning we may see a deficit in electronic merchandise for the foreseeable future.

Additionally, a lack of reliable containers has prevented popular electronics companies from reliably shipping products such as laptops, flat-screen TVs and even cell phones. 

Since Americans couldn’t go on vacation during the lockdown, they typically sank their money into fancy new entertainment systems. The industry did its best to keep up, but, ultimately, the laws of supply and demand collided at the port.


Both Steve Madden and Crocs have expressed concern about the supply chain bottlenecks happening because of the global shipping crisis. Nike usually paid $2,000 to ship a 40-foot container of sneakers. Now, shipping this same container costs $15,000 to $20,000.

Canned Foods and Beverages

The pandemic has affected aluminum manufacturers, preventing them from producing familiar brands of canned fruit and soft drinks. With transportation and logistics problems also slowing domestic shipping down, many grocery stores may not stock popular canned goods for the foreseeable future.

Cleaning Supplies

Naturally, the pandemic had us all reaching for the hand sanitizer. While the shipping issue doesn’t directly impact these products, it could still be a while before the cleaning industry recovers from the demands it experienced during the height of the pandemic.

Other Industries

Many online are panicking about the Great Ammo Shortage of 2021. Plus, America hasn’t been uniformly affected by the current shipping crisis, so what’s absent from the shelf of your local supermarket may vary on a weekly basis.

Meanwhile, Amazon sellers are experiencing more profits than ever before, as more people turn to online shopping during times of store shortages. If you’re selling online, don’t forget to stock up on shipping supplies so you can fulfill your orders.

What to Expect for the Rest of 2022

Industry leaders are uncertain as to when the shipping crisis will be resolved. Some problems, like the microchip shortage, are simply a matter of production, but the availability of shipping containers and reliable shipping companies may take a bit longer to sort itself out. So, what can you expect while suppliers are scrambling to meet demand?

Higher Prices

Unfortunately, consumers can expect to pay more for the products they’ve come to rely on. Automobiles, electronics and particular brands of shoes may be harder to come by, and when you do, you may find yourself paying a higher sticker price.

For retailers, this highlights the need for a reputable logistics company. Because shortages can play havoc with your inventory, you need 3PL software to assist in warehousing and inventory services to stay on top of product levels, re-ordering schedules and more.

The right company can ensure that you keep your word to your valued customers, providing order fulfillment during a time of increased economic instability.

Preparation for the Holiday Rush

Many retailers are giving careful consideration to how to handle the 2021 holiday rush. The time to build inventory is now, so you can be fully prepared when the season comes. The retail ecosystem is bound to look different, but if companies are diligent, they can ride out this storm and come out stronger than ever.

Focus on Supply Chain Resilience

Supply chain resilience is your ability to continue normal business activities even when your order fulfillment and supply chain are disrupted unexpectedly. With a resilient supply chain, you can weather the storm of low stock and shipping delays without too many hitches.

Work with 3PL providers to improve your supply chain resilience. For instance, Amazon FBA users often work with ShipHero for FBM to keep products in stock and offer diverse order fulfillment options.

Check out our previous blog for best practices on building your resilient supply chain.

Wrapping It Up

Suppliers have had issues both producing and transporting goods over the past year and events like the Suez Canal blockage have only added to the “chaos.” Consumers should expect shortages of automobiles, canned produce, cleaning supplies, shoes and more. In these uncertain times, having a robust and resilient logistics and fulfillment network is vital to keep your consumers’ trust.

That’s why ShipHero provides retail brands and 3PLs with powerful capabilities to handle their shipping needs and build a resilient supply chain.

Empty Shelf Crisis FAQs

What items will be in short supply in 2022?

Due to global events like the ongoing pandemic and reduced production capacity, essential items like groceries and feminine hygiene products are predicted to be in short supply during 2022. You can also expect shortages in aluminum and advanced microchips, which means high electronic prices, as we’ve seen with the recent PlayStation 5 price hikes in certain markets.

What is causing empty shelves?

Shipping delays and low industry productivity cause empty shelves. However, factors like inclement weather and the COVID pandemic can worsen these shortages.

About ShipHero: We make it simple for you to deliver your eCommerce. Our software helps you run your warehouse, and our outsourced shipping solutions eliminate the hassle of getting your products to your customers. With over 5,000 brands and 3PLs relying on us daily, we’re here to help with all your logistics needs.

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