3 reasons to do your holiday shopping now, according to a supply chain expert

"This supply chain is not where it needs to be."

A shopper walks by shelves in the paper products aisle of a store in Burbank, California, November 19, 2020.
Robyn Beck | AFP | Getty Images

As of November 23, Americans have spent 32% more online shopping than they did last year, according to data from Adobe Analytics. However, most of this spending is on groceries in advance of a potential second lockdown — online grocery orders have increased 560% compared to the daily average in October.

With safety concerns over rising Covid-19 cases, holiday shopping has taken a backseat for some consumers. As of November 14, a whopping 41% had not started gift shopping at all, according to data from Morning Consult.

There are likely to be consequences for those who wait too long, says Scott Grawe, chair of the department of supply chain management at Iowa State University. "This supply chain is not where it needs to be in order to support the huge peak in shipping demand that happens during the holiday shopping season," he says.

Here are three reasons to get your holiday shopping finished ASAP.

1. Shelves will be more picked over than usual

"Consumers who wait until the last minute to do their shopping will find the shelves a little more picked over than they have been in the past, because I think the replenishment won't come in as quickly," Grawe says.

This is because the spike in Covid-19 cases has caused Americans to stockpile groceries. Toilet paper sales are up 365% from what they were in March, according to data from Adobe Analytics. Containers coming from manufacturers will likely prioritize household Covid-19 needs over holiday gifts, Grawe says. So stores will not have the supply to restock shelves as quickly as they did in prior years.

2. Shipping delays are likely

If you're shopping online, the lack of shipping containers could also affect shipping time.

Normally, retailers would be receiving shipping containers from China filled with imported goods. But due to the pandemic, many manufacturers have experienced slowdowns and shutdowns and don't have enough containers to ship retailers all the product they need at one time.

This, compounded with the prioritization of Covid-19 supplies, could mean something you order wouldn't get delivered until January.

"[American distributors] are scrambling to ship empty containers back to China and they will refill them," Grawe says. "This could cause shipping delays up the supply chain."

This supply chain is not where it needs to be in order to support the huge peak in shipping demand that happens during the holiday shopping season.
Scott Grawe
chair of the department of supply chain management at Iowa State University

If you're not traveling to see your family this year and sending a gift you would like to reach its recipient by Christmas, that is a "riskier game than in prior years," Grawe says, "because of the increase demand for UPS, FedEx, and Amazon delivery services. If you're trying to time it just right, it may not get there in time."

Some of the major services even have shipping deadlines as early as December 15 for basic ground shipping if you want your package to arrive by December 25.

So order from retailers early, and ship gifts early, too.

Here's how to save money on holiday spending

Video by David Fang

3. Black Friday is right now

Shopping now can not only help you avoid both barren shelves and shipping delays but also save you money. This year, Black Friday is happening the entire month of November, Kristin McGrath, shopping expert at Offers.com told Grow.

"Retailers are compensating for the loss of in-store Thanksgiving shopping by making Black Friday into an entire season," she said.

Walmart spread the spending holiday over three events, the next and last of which is November 27. TargetHome Depot, and Best Buy have all already released some deals, as well. And Sam's Club is hosting many savings events throughout November, including their annual Thanks-Savings event. This year, it will be a 10-day sale, running now to November 29.

Remember that health experts don't recommend shopping at the mall, but if you must, wear a mask and be quick.

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