Experts are advising holiday shoppers to start early, as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has caused shipping delays and supply shortages once again. Here's what to know — and when to buy

Advertisement
Holiday shopping covid
Credit: Getty

Plan ahead. You don't want a nightmare before Christmas!

The holiday season may be two months away, but experts are advising shoppers to start making their lists now, due to supply chain issues, material shortages and shipping snafus affecting nearly every area of retail.

"The U.S. supply chain has been faced with overwhelming demands, and retailers are expecting shipping costs to quadruple compared to 2020," the Wall Street Journal reports. That means that everything from toys to TVs is experiencing difficulties from the very beginning of the manufacturing process (such as getting component parts and anticipating pricing of those parts) to the end (actually making it into a store).

Every aspect of international transportation has been affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the onset of the Delta variant. Continued outbreaks caused workers to miss shifts, close port terminals, keep truckers home, and slow cross-border movements. At a time when employers are finding it difficult to fill jobs, cargo ships must be unloaded around the clock to attempt to start clearing the "parking lot" of ships off the coasts.

On Oct. 13, President Joe Biden's administration announced that the White House would work with the private sector to start solving some of the biggest snarls, providing incentives to increase their trucking, docks and warehouse hours in an effort to move things through the system more quickly.

container ships
Port of Los Angeles
| Credit: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty

Retailers are struggling to meet consumer needs as a result of ongoing supply chain disruptions and port conjunctions. 

Jon Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation, told FOX Business, "Right now, everyone is facing similar challenges throughout the entire supply chain, not just with the products themselves but with the services that are needed to get the products to the customers."

Toys, books, bicycles, new clothes and more are just a few consumer goods that have been subject to shortages, backorders and delays.

CPU Chip
Credit: Getty

Waiting for Black Friday or Cyber Monday to secure a sweet deal on tech gadgets? Think again. The tech industry has also been undergoing shortages, specifically with computer chips.

Known as semiconductors, millions of products such as cars, smartphones, washing machines and more rely on them – but there aren't enough to meet consumer demands. The tech industry has been facing this chip crisis for over a year, and it's predicted to continue into 2022, according to LMC Automotive.

Not only will products be difficult to get this year, but prices are expected to increase as well. "We won't see as many blowout sales leading up to the holidays, and prices are going to go up," Steven Melnyk, a professor of supply chain and operations management at Michigan State University told Vox. "This year, Christmas will be very different."

To help you predict which categories will be most affected, Katie Denis, VP of Research and Industry at the Consumer Brands Association (CBA), recommended keeping an eye on the price of goods. "What you're seeing with that is when prices go up, it's evidence of a supply and demand imbalance," she told PEOPLE. "When that starts to tip where there isn't enough supply, that's when you're going to start to see some problems."

In addition to toys, electronics, cars and home furnishings, Denis noted, some food and drink categories will also be heavily affected in the coming months; bakery items like cookies, crackers, and products involving aluminum are seeing higher out-of-stock rates.

Don't panic, though: "That doesn't mean that people are going to go without. It might mean that you get to the store and the brand you want isn't here," Denis said. "You might have to have a little bit of flexibility in exactly what you go home with. It does not mean that we're going to have this shelf-clearing shortage. And I do think that is important to emphasize."

empty shelves
Credit: Dustin Franz for The Washington Post via Getty

It's not just presents beneath the tree that might be hard to come by — it's also the trees themselves. In addition to an overwhelmed supply chain, struggles are expected for consumers to secure both artificial and live trees due to climate change-impacted weather patterns.

The American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA) warned consumers last month to purchase their Christmas trees early because of the unprecedented weather trends seen in the Pacific Northwest such as droughts, wildfires, and heat waves. Oregon reportedly lost up to 90% of its crop this summer.

"In 2021, we're seeing a variety of trends influencing artificial and live Christmas tree supply across the country, and are encouraging consumers to find their tree early this year to avoid shortage impacts," ACTA Director Jami Warner said in a statement.

Christmas tree shortage
Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty

Opting to forgo the in-person shopping strategy and order online? The U.S. Postal Service, FedEx, and UPS have released their holiday shipping deadlines so that purchasers can plan ahead in order to have gifts arrive on time.

We've listed the deadline dates to be aware of, according to each shippers' website:

USPS

Continental U.S.:

  • December 15: USPS retail ground service
  • December 17: First-class mail service (including holiday greeting cards)
  • December 17: First-class packages (up to 15.99 ounces) 
  • December 18: Priority mail service
  • December 23: Priority mail express service

USPS For Air/Army/Fleet/Diplomatic post office addresses:

  • November 6: Retail ground service
  • December 9  :Priority mail and first-class mail
  • December 16: Priority mail express military service

USPS Alaska and Hawaii: 

  • December 17: Hawaii to/from mainland — priority mail and first-class mail
  • December 18: Alaska to/from Continental U.S. — first-class and priority mail 
  • December 21: Alaska to/from Continental U.S. and Hawaii to/from mainland — priority mail express

FedEx 

  • December 9: ground economy
  • December 15: ground and home delivery
  • December 21: express saver
  • December 22: two day and two-day am
  • December 23: overnight services
  • December 24: same day

UPS:

  • Ground shipping, check the website for a quote
  • December 22: second-day air services 
  • December 23: next-day air services
  • December 25: no pickup service, UPS holiday 
  • Note: UPS service guarantee still suspended for most services due to COVID-19