It’s especially important to get your holiday shopping done early this year

A woman holds a box aloft amid a sea of holiday shoppers at a Macy’s department store.
A woman holds a box aloft amid a sea of holiday shoppers at a Macy’s department store.
Image: REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
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If you’re hoping to buy gifts in time for the holidays, now is a good time to start shopping.

Thanks to the pandemic, global supply chains are in disarray. The annual holiday shopping surge promises to strain already overburdened ports, factories, and shipping routes. That will only worsen today’s shipping delays, stockouts, and higher prices as people place last-minute gift orders.

Experts’ advice: Spare yourself the holiday heartache, and get your gifts soon. Retailers are expecting weeks—or even months—of delays.

Shippers are already struggling to meet demand

Global supply chains have been playing catch up for the past 18 months. As pandemic lockdowns spread across the globe last March, consumer demand plummeted and manufacturers shut down factories. Shipping companies responded by taking a significant number of ocean liners offline, reducing freight capacity. When economies reopened and demand came roaring back a few months later, shippers scrambled to spin their operations back up to full capacity.

The shippers’ efforts have been hampered by a string of secondary crises. A very large ship got stuck in the Suez Canal. A Covid outbreak shuttered the world’s fourth largest container port and partially shut down the third largest. Shipping containers piled up in all the wrong places. Trucking companies couldn’t find enough drivers to haul goods out of ports. Every setback made backlogs worse. In a sign of the times, a record 46 containers ships are stuck off the coast of California, waiting to enter overburdened ports.

Retailers have been left with few options: They can either pay higher shipping fees to get their goods faster and pass those costs onto consumers, or they can wait longer and face the possibility of running out of stock.

Delta is hobbling manufacturing hubs

Meanwhile, manufacturing powerhouses like Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand are facing a punishing coronavirus wave fueled by the highly infectious Delta variant. Rising case numbers have forced many factories to close. Vietnamese officials, in an effort to keep at least some manufacturing running at limited capacity, have imposed controversial measures including requiring workers to sleep in their factories.

Factory closures in southeast Asia have a direct impact on holiday shoppers’ ability to buy gifts around the world. In August, the CEOs of more than 80 US shoe and apparel companies wrote a letter to US president Joe Biden, urging him to donate more vaccines to Vietnam. “The health of our industry is directly dependent on the health of Vietnam’s industry,” they wrote.

Brands warn of holiday shortages

Brands have been warning that shipping chaos and manufacturing setbacks will impact holiday shopping. Adidas said it has lost most of its Vietnamese production, which could lead to $600 million in lost sales in the second half of 2021. Hasbro has raised prices to offset rising ocean freight costs. A major seller of Christmas decor says it’s raising prices and limiting selection. Analysts predict fewer blowout sales in the leadup to end-of-year holidays.

In short, make a list and start shopping for friends and loved ones early if you want items delivered by December. To get all that information in verse—or to factory reset your brain into holiday shopping mode—the Holderness Family of YouTube influencers offers this parody of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”