Q&A: ‘Tis the Season for Shipping and Shopping
With U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley
Q: What’s the outlook for this holiday shopping season?
A: Inflation is top of mind for consumers during this holiday season. Rising interest rates are pinching household budgets and high energy costs will force Americans to pay more to heat their homes this winter. Whereas shipping bottlenecks and disrupted supply chains caused headaches for shoppers and retailers the last two years, yet another cloud loomed over this holiday season: a potential rail strike that would derail the U.S. economy and create significant hardship for American agriculture and other key sectors dependent on cargo shipped by rail. For months, I have repeatedly called upon Congress to take action. That’s why I co-sponsored a resolution in September that would require the railroads and unions to accept the agreement negotiated by the Presidential Emergency Board, which notably recommended the largest pay increase in industry history at 24 percent. Unfortunately, the Biden administration punted, creating a cloud of uncertainty for all who rely on the railroads. Don’t forget, this is the same administration that claimed inflation was “transitory” and that the border is secure. So, the U.S. economy was barreling towards a catastrophic rail strike, creating unnecessary havoc and costly shipping headaches for bulk commodities, including grain, biofuels, construction materials, chemicals and coal. Finally, Congress took the action I’ve been advocating for since September to prevent the strike and keep the trains and our economy running through the holiday season and beyond.
The holiday shopping season serves as the meat and potatoes for small businesses and retailers in communities across the country. The National Retail Federation estimates holiday sales will increase up to eight percent from last year, reaching as much as $960 billion during November and December. Consumers need to be vigilant to protect themselves from online scams. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Organized retail crime is driving a stake through the U.S. marketplace. Small businesses are the bread and butter of the economy and can’t sustain smash and grab thefts or compete fairly with stolen or counterfeit goods sold online. In addition to my efforts to avert a nationwide rail strike, I’m also working to put the brakes on criminal enterprise rings defrauding consumers and stealing from retailers. Paying top dollar for fake and counterfeit products is worse than a lump of coal in one’s stocking and certainly takes the joy out of shopping.
Q: How would your bill protect consumers from stolen and counterfeit goods?
A: Throughout the 117th Congress, I’ve worked across the aisle to forge a bipartisan consensus on the INFORM Consumers Act with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Our bill would help fight organized crime that’s putting the lives and livelihoods of small business owners and retail employees at risk. Organized crime rings have grown emboldened and more aggressive to swipe merchandise right off store shelves. This is shoplifting on steroids – a sophisticated criminal enterprise that resells stolen goods online. As a result, consumers pay more for products they need because retailers mark up prices to recoup losses from stolen merchandise. Retail crime rings also peddle counterfeit products that rip off consumers who believe they’re buying authentic brands.
Transparency helps bring accountability. Specifically, our bill would require online marketplaces to verify the identities of high-volume third-party sellers. A seller with more than $5,000 in at least 200 sales over the previous 12 months would be required to verify their identities. This would help prosecutors crack down on illegal activity and root out online scams. Our bill also would help neutralize the incentive for selling stolen and counterfeit goods. By requiring online platforms to verify the seller, our bill helps them become better stewards instead of complicit resellers for the bad actors peddling stolen and fake merchandise. Our bill would help expose the grinches of organized crime who are lining their pockets by selling stolen and counterfeit goods online. These lawless outfits make it harder for retailers to stay financially afloat in their local communities and scam unsuspecting consumers with fake or stolen products. Enough is enough. I’m working with Chairman Dick Durbin to get our bill to the President’s desk before the end of the year on a must-pass legislative vehicle. I’ve also introduced a bipartisan bill called Combating Organized Retail Crime Act to get a better handle on the growing reign of organized retail crime and help recover lost goods and proceeds. It would create a federal task force to examine the nearly $70 billion problem confronting American businesses. These crime rings aren’t stuffing their mattresses with their ill-gotten gains. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the profits from selling stolen merchandise help finance other criminal activities, such as human trafficking, drug smuggling and terrorism. From shipping to shopping, I’m working to help put our economy on the right track and ensure consumers aren’t taken for a ride during this season of gift-giving.