Photo of toy store display shelves packed with toddler toys, from toy vehicles to puzzles.
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Everyone Keeps Talking About The Supply Chain & Holiday Shopping, But What's Happening?

Experts weigh in to offer you more useful advice than just “shop early.”

By now, you’ve probably heard anecdotes from family and friends that sound a little something like this: “We ordered a new car months ago and it won’t be ready for pick-up until late 2022!” Or, “I’ve been waiting months for my new exercise bike to get here, but I keep getting emails telling me it’s been delayed again!” And if you’re freaking out because you can’t find your favorite snack at the grocery store, you’re not alone. It’s clear that global shortages, high-demand, and supply chain issues are hitting close to home.

Not only are we experiencing congestion at ports (which prompted President Biden to move toward expanding hours for the Port of Los Angeles), but there are shortages of people to help transport items, reports of wood shortages which affect all kinds of items like books and puzzles, and many more disruptions to production supply chains. Now people are wondering how all of these shortages and supply chain issues are going to impact their holiday shopping. Spoiler: They already have.

What Exactly Are Supply Chains, & Why Are They Messed Up Right Now?

You can think of a supply chain as a network, or chain, of suppliers that create, produce, and transport different components needed to make a product and get it to you, the consumer, as shared Michigan State University on their website. The materials needed to build a product are part of a supply chain, as can be the shippers that take the product to retail stores.

It would make sense if this is really the first time you’ve ever found yourself worrying about “supply chain issues.”

“The current level of supply chain challenges [is] certainly unprecedented on such a large scale in modern history,” says Tobias Schoenherr, Hoagland-Metzler Endowed Professor of Purchasing and Supply Management with Michigan State University, who shares that the past year triggered a lot of supply chain issues.

Schoenherr explains that many supply chains that spanned all across the world have historically existed with very little inventory at any one point in the chain. But, Schoenherr says, “While this worked relatively well in stable times,” the events of 2020 “put a huge shock on this system, and the ripple effects can still be felt.”

Think of it this way: Let’s say you ordered a new laptop, or gaming system. Any one of those electronic items takes dozens and dozens of parts to create. And the current shortage of chips can mean you now have to wait longer for that system to be created, built, and transported to your door.

“Many companies were caught off guard, not only because of the magnitude and scope of the disruptions, but also since we had been living in relatively stable and predictable times leading up” to the past year.

How Is This Going To Affect Holiday Shopping?

It might be easier to make a list of the things that may not be harder to get this year, as the New York Times reported most things that are manufactured may be impacted. But there are some key categories you may want to shop now, before the holiday demand creates an even bigger clog in the systems.

Gaming gear and certain electronics can be especially tricky to get now because of that microchip shortage, reported CBS. Similarly, you may want to prioritize toys that have electronic components, like computers and ride-on vehicles.

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Wood shortages might hit bookstores hard, so think about all the paper goodies you want, like books, board games, and playing card sets.

Online chatter is especially loud surrounding toy shortages, so target popular kid crazes early (L.O.L. Surprise dolls spring to mind).

And if you’re looking to dress up your house in seasonal decor, shop lights and cheery inflatable characters as soon as you can; a Lowe’s spokesperson tells Romper they’ve anticipated a high demand this year.

What Can I Do To Navigate Shortages & Supply Chain Issues This Holiday Season?

By now you’re probably already sick of hearing the advice “shop early,” but if you’re able to, the move does offer a bit of peace of mind. Many companies, aware of the shipping challenges, are taking proactive measures to keep shelves stocked as best they can. A Lowe’s spokesperson tells Romper they encourage early shopping either in-store or online, sharing, “The company made a strategic decision to order and bring product into Lowe’s warehouses and stores earlier this year...”

Once you’ve done your shopping, if you plan on mailing out gifts consider shipping them early, too. Peak holiday season for the United States Postal Service (USPS) is from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, shares Kim Frum, senior public relations representative, corporate communications for the USPS. And the busiest period is around two weeks before Christmas, Frum says. If you are the type of person who works better with a firm deadline in place, consider the U.S. ship-by dates laid out by the USPS on their website to help you determine when to mail items for an estimated arrival by December 25th. Keep in mind, shares Frum, if you have a package you need received within one to three days, Priority Mail is the way to go.

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But for many, shopping early isn’t a realistic option. Other tricks can help navigate the shortages and supply chain issues this holiday season, and here are a few to consider.

  • Start planning and prioritizing items you’d like to purchase and ship. If your family members write letters to Santa or caregivers, share the letters now and research the items to discover potential shortages or delays in their creation.
  • Check out this year’s hot-toy lists to get ahead of anticipated demand. Once items are sold out, there are few guarantees they’ll be restocked.
  • Shop consignment, vintage, pre-loved and gently used. You can visit local brick-and-mortar shops, like Once Upon a Child, to score like-new clothes, shoes and toys for your little ones without having to deal with supply chain issues.
  • If you have preferred retailers, check out their websites and apps for smart ways to shop and ship this year. Walmart, for example, shared on its website some measures the brand took to help shoppers navigate the season, like increasing their inventory this year, chartering ships, and hiring more drivers. Target Deal Days program provides discount shopping windows that start far before December so you can buy early and save. This year they’re also offering a price-match program that allows you to ask for a price adjustment if you find that the price of a select item you bought drops later in the season.
  • While you’re shopping early, it might be tempting to take part in buy now, pay later programs. Many retailers are offering these types of programs, and they can be great, so long as you read that fine print and only commit to schedules that will work for your short and long-term finances.

Looking toward the future, you might wonder how we’ll avoid finding ourselves in situations like this again. Schoenherr shares some big-picture thoughts: “While many supply chains are still disrupted, these are valuable lessons for how to build better and more robust supply chains,” he says. “This might involve multi-sourcing, geographic diversification or reshoring. While many of these options will be more costly, they will be better able to withstand disruptions like the one we are currently experiencing.”


Tobias Schoenherr, Hoagland-Metzler Endowed Professor of Purchasing and Supply Management, Co-Editor-in-Chief, International Journal of Operations and Production Management, Department of Supply Chain Management, Broad College of Business at Michigan State University

Kim Frum, Sr. Public Relations Representative, Corporate Communications, United States Postal Service