The school year has just started, Halloween is just around the corner, and Thanksgiving plans are still in the air. We understand Your hands are full.
Still, consider ordering your end-of-year gifts now if they’re an important part of your vacation. Gifts you buy online on Black Friday may not have enough time to arrive by Christmas a month later, not to mention Hanukkah, which this year sees the first candle lit on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
Any product you order online may take longer than usual to deliver. The global shortage of microprocessors, magnets and plastics has slowed production to a minimum. When products are available, shipping is stifled due to a combination of increased demand, COVID-related port closings, and storm-induced chaos. In the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, 73 cargo ships are waiting to be unloaded on Saturday, a record. Tennis balls, sofas and even cucumbers are affected.
Conclusion: Whether a certain laptop, a sound system or a pair of jeans will be in stock before the holidays cannot be estimated.
“If you need or want something, chances are you won’t have it in time for the holidays,” said Mark Stanton, general manager of supply chain solutions for PowerFleet. He advises people to shop before the Christmas shopping season whenever possible.
Christmas shopping is nothing new and the sales season starts increasingly earlier in the year. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, now marks the generally accepted start of the shopping season. Online sales often start earlier.
According to the National Retail Federation, holiday shopping has driven about a fifth of annual retail sales in recent years, which said US retail sales topped $ 787 billion in November and December 2020. Online spending made up more than 26% of that number, the NRF said.
The shopping season is so well anchored in our culture that it served as the backdrop for Jingle All The Way, a comedy starring a panicked Arnold Schwarzenegger hunting for a toy his son wants. The film debuted in 1996, the same year that Tickle Me Elmo, a toy based on the Sesame Street character, sparked arguments between parents in Walmart aisles. Some desperate parents chased delivery trucks to get their hands on the fluffy, red monster toy that emits electronic giggles.
A single toy has not dominated Christmas sales that much in recent years. But an Elmo equivalent, if one shows up, will be harder to come by than usual this time around. And the problem won’t be limited to toys. Anything computer controlled, magnetic, or made of plastic – think electronics, appliances, and housewares – could be hard to come by.
Microchips power anything that software does, including cars. The shortage of chips, sparked by a production delay at the beginning of the pandemic followed by rising demand, has resulted in manufacturers struggling to produce enough computers, phones, and tablets to fulfill orders received during the COVID lockouts had risen sharply.
With chips included in so many items, the scarcity also weighs on products outside of home electronics. It got so bad that Ford had to temporarily suspend production of its F-150, the best-selling vehicle in the United States, in search of more chips.
Magnets, which are used in products from toys to electronics, were also in short supply. SDM Magnetics, a manufacturer, recently announced to its customers that China has tightened regulations on the mining of rare earth minerals used in magnets. This has led some middlemen to hold onto mineral supplies, resulting in fewer and more expensive magnets being offered for sale.
A chain of events sparked by early pandemic shutdowns has also resulted in a shortage of one of the most widely used materials in modern society: plastic. That means backwater for cars and RVs, house cladding and PVC pipes, as well as single-use restaurant supplies like plastic cups.
Bindiya Vakil, a supply chain expert, wrote in the Harvard Business Review that storms exacerbated scarcity by shutting down the Texas and Louisiana oil producers that use the chemicals to make plastic. The Gulf Coast storms started with Hurricane Laura in August 2020 and continued with an ice storm in early 2021.
Plastics manufacturers have still not caught up with demand since those setbacks. This was one of the issues hindering the production and shipping of Rainbow High dolls, a toy that Isaac Larian, CEO of MGA Entertainment, recently told the Washington Post may not get to the US in time for Christmas.
Finally, due to delta variant outbreaks, the clothing industry has been hit by factory closures in Vietnam, where more and more clothing is being made. On Thursday, Nike said the impact of the shutdown will spill over into the New Year if it anticipates shortages in its products.
Port closures and shortage of containers
The lack of components and materials isn’t the only reason the ideal gift for your loved one may not arrive at a U.S. warehouse in time for you to receive it by December. Goods from overseas are packed in shipping containers before they are shipped abroad. Then they are unloaded and sent to warehouses across the country. It’s not going that fast right now.
The slowdown in shipping is caused by both a deluge of products moving through the system and a shortage of containers and equipment. With the influx of products from ports, logistics companies can’t always hire enough people to drive trucks and unload containers at their warehouses across the country, said Stanton, the supply chain expert. This slows the return flow of empty containers into the ports in China and Vietnam and makes them even harder to get.
COVID-19 and storms have also hit the industry. When a port is closed due to weather or an eruption, later points in the delivery system become unbalanced. In July, a typhoon struck a coastal area in China that is home to several ports, causing air, rail and sea traffic to shut down. In August, Meidong Container Terminal shut down in Ningbo Zhoushan Port in response to a single positive COVID test. The decision effectively closed the world’s third largest port.
The highly contagious Delta variant could lead to further port closings in the future. Either way, the combination of disruptions has skyrocketed shipping costs, making it even more difficult for businesses to import goods.
The system has also been plagued by random setbacks, such as in July when the cargo ship Ever Given entered the Suez Canal and disrupted a major shipping route for nearly a week. Due to factory closures in Vietnam, Nike expects shortages of its products in the new year.
“It’s really this ripple effect that goes down the supply chain,” said Jen Blackhurst, professor of business analytics at the University of Iowa.
Alternatives to early buying
If you don’t want to spend the next three months tracking packages online, consider opting out of buying items from abroad. Sure, you may have scoffed at alternatives to the hot gift in the past, but this is the year to reconsider.
If you have the time and skill, you can make homemade gifts or hand out vouchers for babysitting or gardening if the recipient appreciates it. Buying tickets for events, museum memberships or restaurant vouchers is also an easy option – and let your loved ones enjoy an excursion.
You can also think of locally made products. Many small businesses sell items made by local artisans online, either through a web ordering platform or through Instagram and Facebook pages that advertise new products, says Rachel Smith, president of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.
“The local businesses that added or improved their e-commerce platforms weathered the pandemic better” than those that didn’t, Smith said.
Dan Wallace-Brewster, senior vice president of marketing at e-commerce service provider Scalefast, says consumers are becoming increasingly familiar with buying used goods online. Retailers and device manufacturers often sell used electronics on their websites, and the discounts they offer mean your budget can go a little further than something new. Luxury brand resellers such as Real Real and Vestiaire Collective have also sprung up to offer well-known brands at lower prices than retailers or manufacturers.
The products these companies sell are usually already in the US, which means little attention is paid to the global supply chain. The quality of the goods available on the sites, along with increasing consumer adoption, has “achieved so much that you may be willing to give away a used product from the right market and not be ashamed of it,” said Wallace-Brewster.
If you’re still crawling the night before your Christmas gift exchange, there is another proven option: a gift certificate. Either that or a shipping confirmation for an ordered – but not delivered – gift.