'Better get on it:' Americans jumpstart holiday shopping as supply chain worries persist

·4 min read

Several weeks ago, Amy Dallaire started talking about holiday shopping with the other moms at her children’s dance class near Somerset, Massachusetts. 

“Two of them said they were already finished,” said Dallaire. “They were making me nervous. I left the class thinking, ‘I better get on it!’”

That night, Dallaire went online to try to find toys for her two daughters, ages 5 and 8, weeks before she'd normally start shopping. She came across the Magic Mixies Magic Cauldron that she thought they would both like. It even was on sale, $10 less than its listed price of $69.99. There was just one problem: it wasn’t actually available.

“It wasn’t in-store and you couldn’t get it delivered and you couldn’t get it shipped to a store," Dallaire said.

Welcome to one of the most complicated holiday shopping seasons ever. It's not even Halloween yet, but concerns about stock shortages, most commonly associated with toys and electronics, is prompting consumers to shop earlier than ever this year.

A woman carries Nike shopping bags at the Citadel Outlet mall, as the global outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Commerce, California, U.S., December 3, 2020. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
A woman carries Nike shopping bags at the Citadel Outlet mall, as the global outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Commerce, California, U.S., December 3, 2020. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

“We’re in a unique situation from what we have seen, historically,” said Matt Kramer, national sector leader of consumer and retail at KPMG. “Supply chain issues are typically more isolated and retailers can adjust. Currently, supply chain challenges are in multiple areas, including production delays from delta variant impacted countries, container shortages, port delays, labor shortages at the port with truck drivers and at retailers.”

As retailers ramp up efforts to get products on the shelves, it’s costing them money, and consumers are paying the price, said Dana Telsey, CEO and Chief Research Officer of Telsey Advisory Group (TAG). “Doorbusters are limited and it’s going to be a very lean promotional year overall."

Given the circumstances, many shoppers are considering gifting ‘experiences,' according to Rod Sides, vice chairman and leader of the Retail, Wholesale & Distribution practice at Deloitte. 

“It’s a key area driving the gains in holiday spending,” Sides said.

HAMBURG, GERMANY - OCTOBER 20: The container Terminal Toller Ort is seen in port on October 20, 2021 in Hamburg, Germany. Hamburg Port, Germany's largest container shipping port, is facing complications due to global container shipping disruption. Some shipping companies are sending their cargo ships to other German ports because they fear their ships will get stuck in marine traffic in the Elbe river leading to Hamburg. Domestic shipping is being disrupted because containers are not leaving from and arriving at Hamburg on schedule, leading to waiting times of up to a week, with only a third of ships arriving on time. Retailers in Germany are concerned whether they will have adequate stock of merchandise in time for the upcoming Christmas shopping season. (Photo by Morris MacMatzen/Getty Images)
The container Terminal Toller Ort is seen in port on October 20, 2021 in Hamburg, Germany. Hamburg Port, Germany's largest container shipping port, is facing complications due to global container shipping disruption. (Photo by Morris MacMatzen/Getty Images)

'Driving an hour' or more for holiday shopping

Michelle Keldgord, of Southern California, is looking into taking her family to Disney. 

“Everything seems really expensive right now and I can’t find anything I want — sizes, colors,' she said. "I may take the money I save and spend it on travel.”

Others, like Kat Trainor of Bronxville, New York, are shopping local. “I know they have their problems, too, but they have better options, quality, and more unusual items,” said Trainor, who picked up a few gifts while vacationing with her family in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains last summer. “Plus, it makes my heart glow when I buy locally.”

BERLIN, GERMANY - OCTOBER 21: People walk along the Kurfürstendamm shopping avenue on October 21, 2021 in Berlin, Germany. Retailers have voiced concern that the current disruption in global supply chains might well lead to shortages of merchandise for the upcoming Christmas shopping season. In Germany consumers have been urged to start their Christmas shopping season especially early this year. (Photo by Omer Messinger/Getty Images)
People walk along the Kurfürstendamm shopping avenue on October 21, 2021 in Berlin, Germany. Retailers have voiced concern that the current disruption in global supply chains might well lead to shortages of merchandise for the upcoming Christmas shopping season. In Germany consumers have been urged to start their Christmas shopping season especially early this year. (Photo by Omer Messinger/Getty Images)

Americans are more willing than ever to travel great distances for that very feeling — especially after a year of lockdowns. 

“We have a ton of new customers driving an hour, an hour and a half to buy the joy and happiness that we’re selling,” said Julie Gannon Ritchie, owner of The Toy Box, in Hanover, Massachusetts.

Still others, like Ryan Zamo of Los Angeles, California, are going with practical, if not personal, gifts this year.

Zamo has had no luck finding the Nike sneakers he wanted to get for his brother and has yet to see any intriguing promotional offers. And he still hasn't found the Nvidia graphics card his gaming husband wants even though he started searching last summer.

“I’ve been everywhere — Walmart, Target, Amazon," he said. “I’m going to tell everyone they’re just getting gift cards this year."

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Personal Finance Journalist Vera Gibbons is a former staff writer for SmartMoney magazine and a former correspondent for Kiplinger's Personal Finance. Vera, who spent over a decade as an on air Financial Analyst for MSNBC, currently serves as co-host of the weekly nonpolitical news podcast she founded, NoPo. She lives in Palm Beach, Florida.

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