Three-week freight delay disrupting Christmas shopping, threatening Boxing Day sales

A three-week freight unloading delay is set to disrupt Christmas shopping and could see Boxing Day sales nixed in New Zealand as retailers struggle to fill their shelves.

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted global supply chains and it's put the shipping industry under extreme stress.

But it's internal issues at Auckland's port that are exacerbating delays. Only three out of its eight cranes are running due to a combination of staffing and technology problems.

A plan seen by Newshub shows ships could have to wait in the harbour for more than three weeks before they're unloaded.

Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford says stocks aren't being delivered to retailers and some products won't be on the shelves before Christmas.

"Most [retailers] will not want to come out and say they're running short of stock."

Stores across Auckland are already struggling to replenish stock. Suppliers are telling The Homestore in Newmarket they simply won't get some of their premium products.

"Normally we'd place orders and get them by the end of the week, but now we either can't get them or they're looking like this side or the other side of Christmas," The Homestore general manager Chris Sinclair says.

"Maybe offering us the b-rated brand just so we can fill the gap and not have the shop look so empty."

Ships are being diverted to Northport and Tauranga, and KiwiRail is putting on extra trains to get items back to Auckland. But Christmas is two weeks away and stores are already running very low on stock.

Boxing Day sales could be another big event cancelled by COVID-19, which is a concern for Sinclair.

"We aim to do that this year but it all depends on if we have any stock left," he says.

The delay is affecting a huge range of products. One Auckland Nike store is out of running socks and can't get more until after Christmas. 

It's also affecting household appliances like dishwashers and vacuum cleaners. Other traditional Christmas presents like trampolines and bicycles are also out of stock. 

Luckily, small electronics can still arrive on planes.

"If you've got something you're particularly looking for, get out and shop early and try and make sure you can get that product while it's available," Harford says. "Otherwise you could be waiting [for] months."

The delays are currently expected to continue until at least the middle of next year.