It’s not exactly news that package movers and warehouses across the country continue to be overburdened.

In fact, it would probably be far more surprising under current economic pressures if they weren’t. Recently, the combination of holiday inventory gluts, massive numbers of packages to handle through reverse logistics and retailers buying up Chinese stock ahead of the risk of increased tariffs has really pushed warehouse storage to the brink.

Enter Mobile Storage

In some areas, it’s been a long-standing practice for retailers and restaurants to maintain a small shipping container for inventory overflow, but these were limited-use structures that were tightly regulated by municipalities. Even so, that idea is spreading, with some companies launching a mobile warehousing and storage option. Essentially, it’s a storage crate on wheels.

Because warehouse vacancy stands at a little over 4 percent, according to reporting by The Wall Street Journal, something has to give. And what seems to be giving is the traditional definition of “warehousing.”

Certainly for some goods, like bicycles and tarps, outdoor storage in a shipping crate is no big deal as a long term solution, but any products that are more delicate, including supplements and even paint, aren’t going to survive for long outside.

Reverse Logistics’ Impact on Warehouse Space

Part of the current warehousing bottleneck is due to the need for more room allocated to reverse logistics.

Holiday gifts are still pouring into returns management facilities and dedicated warehouse spaces. The need is so great that these operations often take up to 20 percent more space than their outbound counterparts, according to the Wall Street Journal.

It’s vital that reverse logistics move fast, by combining existing warehouse space with mobile warehousing, the bottleneck may soon disappear, though those Chinese goods are still cramming into ports, causing a major slow-down in transportation. One problem may soon replace the other.

Mobile Storage and On-Demand Warehousing

For those products that must be kept indoors, another type of innovation is begging for a chance to be utilized: on-demand warehousing.

Despite the low warehouse vacancy rate mentioned earlier, there is still empty warehouse space out there. To connect companies that need more storage with warehouses that need more inventory, several apps have been developed to match the two, in an Airbnb-esk way.

Between the end of the big holiday returns season on the horizon, access to unoccupied warehouse space for the short term and mobile storage, there still may not be enough space for all the merchandise that retailers are trying to amass. This year may be one of the huge innovations for the supply chain if only to keep up with the inflow of products.