RenoTransformation: Week 3 – Global Shipping Chaos Hits Home

I recently read an article in the New York Times about the current state of global shipping and the havoc created by, you guessed it, Covid-19. It seems that shipping companies are focussed on the lucrative China-North America trade routes. Containers sent to South America and Africa with medical supplies are empty and idling at their ports with no one interested in fetching them. Ports are short-staffed. Lockdowns create more chaos. And I can’t find a kitchen sink.

It started back in November, though at that time I didn’t realise that global shipping was going to affect our little RenoTransformation project in little Singapore. We visited the Bosch customer experience centre to view and select, and hopefully purchase some items and take advantage of promotions (i.e. discounts, freebies, etc). The first thing the sales rep asks is “when do you need the items?”. That should have been our first clue. She relaxed significantly when we told her we needed the items in March/April of 2021. Then she brought us to the dishwashers and pointed at a model saying “this one is our newest and best selling model but it’s not for you because it will take 6 months for delivery.” Further questioning revealed this interesting nugget – there is a 400,000 person global wait list for that particular machine. It seems a lot of people are cooking and eating at home and have discovered the value of a good eco-friendly, dishwasher and Bosch can’t manufacture them fast enough. We quietly bought the appliances which would be delivered in 3-4 months and bid aideu.

The same story repeated store after store – “Let me check my stock”. “When do you need it? Is May acceptable?” “We’ll try our best.” “Best to order now.” “Need to pay deposit now but we can’t guarantee delivery when you want.” And the most dreaded, “No more stock, don’t know when we will get more, choose something else.”

The whole situation is exacerbated by several factors – one, being stuck on the island has driven people to renovate homes with a vengeance, driving up the demand for supplies and labour. Two, labour that had to return home to Malaysia due to the pandemic never returned. Three, heavy rain in December/January have put roofers in such high demand that even scaffolding is in short supply. Four, not many young men and women want to enter the trades, preferring desk jobs to physically demanding roles.

The story continued. Tiles we chose one day, were sold out before we could put in the orders the next day. In January, the kitchen sink vendor Franke assured us of adequate stock and advised us to place the order one week in advance. Trusting the advice, we went in March and were told “Oops! The model you want is sold out. Next shipment is expected to leave Italy at the end of March, it takes a month, so maybe May.” We went scampering to two other stores and both reported “no stock”. One even complained, “we can’t get a container!” Even toilet paper holders have been affected! I was told that ships dropped supplies in Malaysia and then they haven’t been able to truck them across the border with the usual frequency.

The story doesn’t get better online. ‘Out of stock’ and ‘on back order’ are my least favourite English phrases at the moment.

Yes, it’s been frustrating. It feels like a weird home renovation version of Amazing Race where my husband and I have been given a list of items we need to buy and for each item we need to complete several challenges before we can complete the purchase. And of course we are racing against the clock which is the overall timeline for the project.

I realise I’m collecting memorable stories about the time ‘we renovated the house’. It’s amusing. What’s the point of getting all worked up? We try our best, do our research, and plan in advance. But if large container ship gets stuck in the Suez Canal because of strong winds, creating a massive traffic jam and shipping delays, there is precious little that I can do.

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