The flip side of having too much of what customers do not want is having too little of what they do want.
It looks to HPS as if there is an imbalance in current finished goods inventory. Even if the energy crisis drives gas prices up so high that it triggers another so called “bike boom,” and consumer demand for bicycles surges again, there does not appear to be sufficient balance to the inventory, up and down the product categories and price points, to meet that demand if it does materialize. I will add that HPS currently gives this possibility a low probability.
Nor is there a steady flow of product from the supply chain to reliably meet a return to lower pre-pandemic demand because of component availability, shifts in consumer preferences, and the inventory already in the hands of wholesalers, brands and retailers. HPS currently believes this has a high probability.
From what HPS has gleaned from the marketplace, wholesale bicycle and e-bike unit inventory has increased anywhere from 40 to 43-percent during the first four months of this year while consumer demand has declined.
Chart A is from Bloomberg and shows overall U.S. companies increasing inventories in late 2021 to get around supply chain delays, and to be able to meet what was perceived as consumer demand during the holidays and going into 2022. Available NPD data generally-shows the same trend for the American bicycle and e-bike business.
This should not come as a surprise. We have been reporting this inventory build in the NBDA Supply Chain Nightmare webinars in October and December, and again in February and early April of this year. Recordings of these webinars are available from www.nbda.com.
We also have reported that as brands and retailers switched to just-in-case (JIC) inventory management, consumers held back, and consumer demand for bicycles and e-bikes began to recede. Again, available NPD data generally shows the same trends for regular bicycles, while dollar value shows an increase in e-bikes. We don’t disagree that dollars show an increase in e-bikes, but do advise that both units and dollars have to be analyzed, as well as the combined units and dollars for regular bicycles and e-bikes, to measure both inventory and retail sales to consumers.
We have also pointed out during the four NBDA Supply Chain Nightmare webinars that the supply of bicycles and e-bikes will increase even as demand weakens because of what is in transit.
Today, some 60 ships with imports from Asia, including bicycles and e-bikes, are waiting to be unloaded at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California. This represents “floating inventory,” and while vessels are down from the January peak of 109, the current number of container ships waiting to get into the two ports are still about triple the pre-pandemic norm.
Chart B, also from Bloomberg, shows the rapid decline in consumer sentiment as inflation rates increased during the last quarter of 2021 and the first four-months of this year, corresponding to the reports HPS has conveyed of declining bike shop consumer traffic during the four NBDA webinars previously referenced.
What the NBDA has recognized with its Bicycle Buying Consumer Research Study is that households also hold excess inventories. While shifting to shopping and buying online while staying at home during the pandemic, Americans bought lots of bicycles, e-bikes, exercise equipment, televisions, computer games, furniture and kitchen appliances. That pushed up spending on durable goods 18% last year. It will be years before those goods wear out, and the NBDA has asked consumers who bought bicycles and b-bikes during the pandemic what their purchasing intentions are in the future.
Meanwhile, the American bicycle and e-bike business needs to prepare and plan for the up-side and down-side of profit-killing markdowns as businesses work off excess inventories, as in turn the U.S. economy contracts in the face of inflationary pressure.
Chart C, the final chart from Bloomberg, shows the reason for this article. On April 28 the U.S. economy contracted for the first time since the pandemic began during the first quarter of 2020.
Some economists attribute this “surprise shrinkage” in the economy, at least in part, to the beginning of liquidation of bloated inventories held by manufacturers, assemblers, wholesalers, and retailers in the U.S. They also predict that this inventory liquidation has only just begun.
And, the U.S. bicycle and e-bike business still has to deal with lead times for name brand components. I just looked at the latest lead times for Shimano, and their order book is sold out into 2023, as has been reported in the trade press. This has created a problem in the supply of up-market bicycles and e-bikes for the U.S. market, and is just one of the “imbalances” we are referencing that are creating shortage of some models of some brands in the face of “bloated” finished goods inventories in the supply chain.
It seems to boil down to that if demand surges for bicycles and e-bikes, there will not be enough of what consumers want. If there is no surge, but a return to lower pre-pandemic demand, there will be too much inventory, but still not enough of what consumers demand.
While the situation may change, it appears that the American bicycle business will be in a constant state of disruption and turmoil in 2022 and probably into 2023.
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