✦ How to gift in the middle of a supply chain crisis

✦ How to gift in the middle of a supply chain crisis
An online checkout cart with an illustrated watch, listed as pre-order and expected to ship by Monday, and a pair of socks listed as out of stock.

Hi Quartz members,

Extreme weather, a stuck boat, and a pandemic-caused bullwhip effect have sent supply chains in a tailspin; now, from olive oil to books to absolutely anything with a semiconductor, the supply ecosystem has fallen behind our insatiable need to consume. Just as the supply chain crisis was years in the making, it’s unlikely to end anytime soon.

This should be a moment where you and I examine whether we have an addiction to buying cheap, convenient things because we think they’ll make us happy. We do, and they don’t. But the holidays require us to do some shopping, and we’re alarmingly close to December. Though brands may be changing some behavior to manage expectations, you’ll need to be changing some of yours too, and fast.

In truth, I’ve been relatively immune to the supply chain ebbs and flows for years. I’ve been a devotee of ethical shopping, and have pushed and shoved my family into accepting my rules. My partner is a very, very early shopper—like, begins-in-January early, and I do not jest.

My experience has taught me a few things. And I’m here to save your holiday.

Get your hands on it

Image: Giphy

Your local brick-and-mortars are suffering just as much, if not way more, than you are from the broken supply chain. But spending a Saturday pounding the retail pavement will at least get you some of your items in hand—and in hand is what you want. Maybe you can find it cheaper online, but can you trust it will get to you in time? Or will you spend the next two months tossing and turning with visions of sugarplums arriving uselessly in January? You want to spend your long winter’s nap secure in the knowledge that at least your mom’s tote bag and your nephew’s Minecraft t-shirt are safe in your closet, where they belong.

Buyer beware: Your list may not get checked off, and certainly not twice, but you’ll likely find at least some of the things you’ll need, and that’s a good start.

Secondhand is more fun

The art of buying used items is a thrilling one. Not just because you can snag a specimen in like-new condition for a fraction of the price, but because, especially with vintage items, you can feel connected to something from the past.

Here’s how to shop secondhand for someone you love.

🧠 Think hard about your intended recipient. You need to do a little brainstorming first, as you can quickly get lost in the vast, uncurated world of secondhand browsing. Choose a gift idea, then start looking. It’s helpful if you’ve got the brand and model handy.

📦 Use eBay and Poshmark for specific things for which you know the brand, model, and size—whatever’s applicable. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can spend days parsing the search results for item tems, like “vintage tea tins,” which I definitely have never done before.

👀Try Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. You can approve or pass on the item in person—just be safe, take a buddy, and meet in a public place. Unlike with Ebay and Poshmark, you don’t have a company guarantee or even the threat of a bad review to keep your seller honest, so don’t feel even a tiny little bit bad about saying no once you see that the porcelain angel figurine you’d been hoping would round out your grandmother’s collection is missing a wing tip.

🗝 Discover an antique store near you. Forget what I said about pre-planning. Walk around until you find something that screams “your brother-in-law.” Every family’s got someone who enjoys a weird, old thing. Present it with your thoughtful “I picked this out just for you” smile.

📚 Raid your shelves. The only person regifting hurts is the person who owns the factory where the twice-loved item was made. Books make fantastic regifts, as do games and puzzles.

Buyer beware: Returns for online secondhand shopping are tricky if not impossible. You have to really know what you’re getting before you commit.

Buy fewer things for fewer people

I have a large family, and somewhere along the line we realized we were stretching our brains and our dollars way too thin each Christmas. We now do Secret Santa, and take those gifts really seriously. It’s nice to spend a little more time and money on a really good present than 10 panicked half-assed presents.

And by the way, you can always make food for people. Food will never go out of style.

Buyer beware: You’ll receive fewer gifts, but that’s OK, you’re not greedy.

Sound off

What type of supply chain crisis shopper are you?

I’ll take my chances with the retail gods

I’m off to scour Etsy

I’m canceling the holidays

Have a great weekend,

—Susan Howson, email editor (just wants a stocking full of baked goods)

One 🛍 thing

Shop early—but a lot earlier than you think. This won’t help you for this holiday season, when mass shopping is at its peak, but starting in January, keep your eyes and ears open. My partner came up with a method of shopping all year—the method is simply: “Shop All Year™”—to spread out his spending as well as to do himself a favor when, come December, he had a habit of scrambling to get it all at the last minute.

  1. Listen to what your loved ones mention. Keep a list of ideas, and grab when sales or opportunities strike.
  2. Pick up souvenirs from trips. Your gift will be accompanied by the added bonus of conjuring up happy memories.
  3. Create a running inventory of what you have for whom. Otherwise you’ll forget. I promise.

Buyer beware: Sometimes needs and desires change—or they’ll just go out and get it themselves long before the holidays strike. This is the moment when you, too, become an eBay seller and recoup your losses.