Unless you work in logistics, you’ve probably heard the term “supply chain” more times in the last few weeks than in your entire life.
The global supply chain is struggling to keep up with demand and capacity amid a series of disruptions, from worker shortages to port congestion. You may have already noticed longer delivery times and delays for your online orders this fall. With the busiest shopping season fast approaching, it’s clear that these issues will affect holiday retail as well.
“As these big retail brands scramble to find other manufacturing solutions, it adds to their costs and creates a delay,” Kristin McGrath, a shopping and trends expert at RetailMeNot, told HuffPost. “The result is fewer products for consumers to purchase and higher prices on the products that are available. This becomes an even bigger problem during the holidays when there is already such a high demand for different retail products.”
So what can consumers do to make holiday shopping less miserable? Below, McGrath and other experts share their advice.
Start shopping early this year.
“Our manufacturing and shipping infrastructures are complicated, so any snag has a domino effect,” McGrath noted. “Shoppers need to know that shopping last-minute is not an option. And they need to think not only about shipping times but the challenges retailers are facing keeping things in stock in the first place.”
Indeed, starting early is key this year. A survey from creditcards.com found that more than half of shoppers polled were planning to start their 2021 holiday shopping before Halloween ― with the largest segment of early shoppers being parents with children younger than 18. That’s why it’s important to prioritize specific items you may need, especially popular toys.
“If you’ve been eyeing that TikTok-trending item or that must-have toy this season, buy it now if you see it in stock,” advised Kristen Gall, a shopping and retail expert at Rakuten Rewards. “There may be alternative options available throughout the season, but if you or your loved one is set on something exact on their holiday list, it’s best not to wait.”
Be deliberate and informed.
Make a plan for your gift-buying this holiday season and have your shopping list ready early.
“Since shopping early could mean forgetting what and who you bought for by the time December rolls around, use a gift tracking app like Santa’s Bag where you can jot down ideas and a budget per person, track what you bought and how much you spent and get a total amount spent in real time,” suggested money and budgeting expert Andrea Woroch. “This will help prevent overspending.”
Gall recommended adding items to your virtual shopping carts now, even if you aren’t purchasing them just yet.
“Not only will this help you visually keep track of your budget, it will allow you time to think twice before you pull the trigger on an item,” she said.
Stay informed about the global supply chain disruptions and what is expected to be scarcer as a result.
“For instance, there’s a microchip shortage, and anything that needs one to function will be harder to get, including personal tech, video games, some appliances and even new cars,” Woroch said.
McGrath noted that apparel and footwear brands, like Adidas, American Apparel, Gap and Nike, have already been affected by the supply chain issues. The same is projected for the hot toys of the holiday season.
“CEOs from companies that make and distribute popular toy brands that include Little Tykes, Bratz, LOL, Fisher Price and K’nex warn about potential toy shortages and increased prices,” she said. “This is due in large part to delays and price increases related to shipping.”
Track deals and prices ASAP.
“Retailers are going to start coming on strong with their early sales starting now,” she added. “Shoppers need to make their list and snap things up as they go on sale. Walmart, Best Buy and Amazon have all announced early sales and staggered Black Friday sales stretched over several weeks. That can get confusing to shoppers, compared to having everything concentrated on Black Friday.”
To stay on top of discounts on low-supply items, consumers should sign up for retailers’ email newsletters and pay attention to announcements about holiday sales and coupons. If you’re subscribing for the first time, you can often get a discount off your first purchase.
“Shoppers are worried about buying too early because they fear they will overpay and miss out on savings, but retailers are constantly fluctuating prices and promoting new deals and coupons,” Woroch said. “So you can score savings ahead of Black Friday by tracking prices, setting sale alerts and automating coupons.”
She advised setting sales alerts with Amazon Assistant or Honey’s Droplist to get notifications when the price of something on your list decreases. Woroch also recommended using browser tools like Cently for cash-back and coupon options to “take the sting out of rising consumer prices” this year.
“Sign up for the Paribus app, which will track prices of recent online purchases linked to your email and request money back in the event one of those items went on sale within the retailer’s price adjustment window,” she added. “You can also search for coupons by store name through sites like CouponFollow to see if there’s a current deal available.”
Consider picking up in store.
With news of delivery delays and shortages, many online shoppers will inevitably head to the local mall or shopping district to look for holiday gifts. But Woroch said there’s a better solution.
“Shopping in store isn’t necessarily the answer to avoiding supply chain issues,” Woroch said. “That’s because you don’t know what your local retailers have in stock, and it’s a waste of time to drive from store to store.”
Instead she recommended shopping online and choosing curbside or in-store pickup at the nearest location that has the item you want in stock.
“Even if it means driving out of your way ― especially for items that are already in low supply,” Woroch added. “This way it’s reserved, and there’s less chance of that order getting canceled than if you were to have it delivered to your home.”
When you buy something online for in-store pickup, you also have the advantage of being able to earn cash back on your purchase or use coupon codes through sites like Rakuten, CouponCabin and RetailMeNot. And in general, it’s good to check your credit card’s reward programs to see if certain stores offer any bonus cash-back options.
Look beyond the hot-ticket items.
“If you are flexible on what you want to give a loved one, there will be plenty of items to choose from later in the season, so you don’t have to panic shop now,” Woroch noted.
While browsing online gift guides and lists of the hottest holiday items can be fun, that’s not the only way to select presents for everyone on your list. Consider something homemade, personalized or otherwise original.
Sadie Higgins, founder of the personalized gift recommendation app Gleam, suggested looking at unique items from small businesses and browsing local stores.
“Shopping small at your local brick-and-mortar ensures that what you’re looking for is in stock or not and you’re always connected with a person face to face,” she explained.
Additionally, it’s worth remembering that presents don’t have to be physical items.
“Experiences are always wonderful gift ideas,” Higgins said. “We have many of them at Gleam, and it was important that we included classes and experiences, such as cooking and mixology, as they often make the best memories.”
Opt for refurbished or used.
It’s also possible to find high-quality products that could make nice gifts on the resale market.
“Refurbished items are often overlooked, but they can be a great way to beat the supply issues we are facing this holiday season while also saving money,” Woroch said.
“For example, last year I was planning to order Echo Show displays for a few family members so we could hop on video calls more easily, but they were out of stock almost everywhere,” she added. “I realized that Amazon still had some refurbished options available, which came with a warranty, so I was able to order those and it even saved me money at around 20%.”
Woroch suggested looking for refurbished tech, appliances, electronic toys and even power tools as a way to save money. She noted that OfferUp and Facebook Marketplace can be good places to find popular toys.
“Just make sure you buy from a reputable retailer and that you get a money-back guarantee, warranty and that items can be returned if defective,” she said.
Remember what actually matters around the holidays.
“Many people feel stressed and overwhelmed during the holidays,” Higgins said. “Yes, there is a supply chain disruption, but ultimately it will all be fine. Fear around shopping should have no place in a beautiful, memorable holiday season.”
If holiday shopping starts to feel distressing, take the time to remind yourself that it’s ultimately just stuff. Supply chain issues are not within your control, but you do have power over how you deal with disappointment and the mood you bring to the holiday celebration. And so many seasonal traditions have nothing to do with gifts.
“As an adult, I don’t remember what I got for Christmas, I remember what I did with my family and friends,” Higgins said. “Watching ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ every Christmas Eve, drinking hot chocolate with candy cane stirrers, looking at lights in the surrounding neighborhoods, and making cookies with my mom and siblings ― that’s what I want my kids to remember someday, too. Let this season be merry, no matter what.”