Here’s Why You Need to Buy Presents and Holiday Items Extra Early This Year

published Oct 20, 2021
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You may have just figured out what you want to be for Halloween this year, but the time to think about holiday shopping is… to be totally honest, closer to last week. The reason for this is because there are major issues within the global supply chains that bring goods to consumers. 

For those who haven’t thought about economic terminology since they closed their intro to econ textbook sophomore of high school, here’s a quick recap: A supply chain, in this scenario, is a series of sequential actions that bring a product from production to purchase. There are many in-between steps from the start to finish, including manufacturing, packaging, shipping, shelving, and more. Since it is a chain of events, one must be completed before the next in order to keep it moving. Disruptions at any portion of the process cause issues for the whole system. 

This is essentially what is happening now, with multiple parts of various supply chains in a host of industries experiencing disruptions. Because of this, experts are advising that people begin their holiday shopping sooner than ever to avoid facing product shortages, shipping delays, and further-inflated prices. According to a RetailMeNot survey of 1082 U.S. adults, 83 percent of respondents shared they planned to begin their holiday shopping before Thanksgiving. (Considering that Hanukkah begins on Sunday, Nov. 28, of this year, you might want to get a head start even sooner.)

So, what’s the deal? While the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is a major factor, to blame the issues solely on COVID-19 would not tell the entire story. While no one article could fully explain the complexities of what’s happening in every industry, here’s what you need to know — and what you can do to be prepared this holiday season.

What’s going on economically

There are many moving pieces affecting what’s going on economically. Within the context of holiday gift shopping, it is vital to understand the retail sector. Last week, Reuters reported that U.S. retail sales rose 0.7 percent in September 2021. This wasn’t because Americans were shopping more, though. In fact, consumer spending actually remained stagnant in the third quarter. Rather, economists cited rising prices as a main reason for the boosted profits. 

According to estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of July, consumer prices have jumped almost five percent since pre-pandemic times. Yep, inflation is affecting prices on a host of everyday and special items, and even though your shopping habits didn’t change, the cost did, automatically increasing the store’s sales. Thus, higher retail sales in September. 

The inflation of consumer goods is occurring for several reasons. For one, a combination of product shortages and consumer demand subsequently drives up prices. But why are there product shortages in the first place? 

What’s behind the product shortages and delays?

At its core, the supply chain is a deeply human system. Behind your favorite products is not only the person who stocked the shelf, but the people who manufactured the product in the first place, packaged it, and got it ready to be shipped to its final destination. And now as much as ever, the people who typically fill these roles are often forced to put their lives at risk to do so, often with minimal COVID-19 safety precautions, and insufficient pay and/or sick leave should they or someone on their crew or in their homes contract COVID.

This is affecting almost every transport industry, from trucking to shipping — given that shipping companies at ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, have reported they don’t have the crews necessary to unload at least 70 container ships — to trucking. And while CNBC reports that manufacturing plants in places like Vietnam are implementing restrictions meant to protect workers and limit the spread of COVID-19, there will be necessary product-line slowdowns as a result. The publication cited this as being a “headache” for retailers, but the overall health of these workers should be paramount — and it might cause you to reconsider the speed with which you expect things to be back in stock.

When it comes to specific goods, toys, electronics, and paper products are among the most vulnerable when it comes to availability. This is why making sure you start early is important, from everything to the toys on your kids’ lists to the gift wrap.

Handling holiday financial stress

Holidays are stressful for a number of reasons, but finances can be one of the biggest reasons people fret. Credit Karma just conducted a survey to determine how financially-prepared Americans felt ahead of the upcoming holidays. Thirty-two percent of the survey’s respondents said they feel financially unprepared for the upcoming holiday season, and 43 percent of respondents said they feel more financially stressed this holiday season, compared to previous seasons, blaming inflation. 

Money can be stressful even in the best of times, and you’re not alone if your finances feel more ominous than ever. But there are still ways to have an enjoyable holiday season without breaking the bank. First, keep gifts within budget — even a limit of under $10 can net you an absolutely special present. You can also reuse old gift bags to save money on wrapping (doing so is also environmentally-friendly). 

When it comes down to it, being prepared, staying realistic, and giving yourself and others grace is everything. Gifts can be a major component of the holiday season, but so is spending time with your loved ones. Isn’t that what the holiday season is all about?