I inherited a great trait from my mother. I Christmas shop all year long. Little by little, a closet grows from empty to full well before the first fall leaf has dropped. It saves the big purchase at the end of a year, and it keeps me thinking of people I love year-round.

I have always loved Christmas, truly loving to give more than receive, but LOVING to receive as well. You can see little Jennifer here with her smiling, conniving, face and hands ready to rip open some gifts.

This year is poised to be a potential shopping nightmare. Be more like the Hardy women. Start ASAP.

It was one thing when we couldn’t find toilet paper in 2020. It’s another thing when little Bobby’s present is on backorder in 2021. Get ready to wrap pictures of the present that might come by Valentine’s Day if you don’t start early.

Chalk it up to another “Unprecedented Event”

It’s a 2021 problem that event Santa can’t fix. This year President Biden is getting involved.

The problem? Inflation and higher shipping costs combined with the pandemic ripple effect have kept products from seamlessly moving to manufacturers, distributors, and stores.

The President has ordered shipping ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach to start working 24/7 to get those shipments off the boats and into stores. He said he’ll put in more federal support if needed and eyed private businesses who might be part of the bottleneck problem.

“And if the private sector doesn’t step up, we’re gonna call them out and ask them to act,” the president promised. “Because our goal is not only to get through this immediate bottleneck but to address the long-standing weaknesses in our transportation supply chain that this pandemic has exposed.”

So far UPS, FedEx, Samsung, Home Depot, Walmart, and Target have all taken steps to keep the supply chain going.

“The pandemic has impacted nearly every inch of the retail industry, changing channel preferences and altering category spend mixes while also exacerbating labor and supply chain shortages, which could limit growth in some holiday favorite categories, such as electronics and appliances,” said Aaron Cheris, the head of Bain & Company’s Americas Retail practice. “However, heading into this holiday season, we also see important tailwinds for nominal retail growth, including boosts from inflation, rebounding employment, healthy savings rates and wage growth.”

I feel it every time I Instacart my groceries. I might have 15 items in the cart, and I’m lucky if 10 of them are in stock. I spend so much time texting back and forth with my shoppers I might as well add them to the Christmas list.

RetailMeNot did a holiday shopping survey to find out just when people are going to start shopping.

  • 39% of people plan to shop earlier this year
  • 41% will start well before November 1
  • 37% started shopping before October 1
  • 30% are noticing the delay trends and plan to shop earlier than any other year

Retailers are bending to this demand too – having early Black Friday or Holiday Specials long before you’ve even thought of putting up the Christmas Tree.

Even with the run on goods people are still planning to spend more this year. 15% more according to the survey.

Target, my own Mothership, is already advertising toy sales front and center on their website.

I’ve even tried to order a few Amazon “necessities” (I include clothing in this, FYI), and the delay for a simple Christmas Sweatshirt was an arrival date of December 3 – 13. I looked on October 10.

More people are planning to shop online this year, a trend during the pandemic, or use a hybrid shopping experience of ordering online and picking up curbside (I’m personally hooked on this!).

The biggest thing people want from online orders is free shipping. It’s not too hard to come by in the holiday rush, and if you aren’t offered it – Sara Skirboll of RetailMeNot’s Shopping & Trends Expert division says just ask.

“I try to never pay for shipping. There are so many free shipping codes and promotions being offered during the holidays that shoppers should expect free shipping. And, if the retailer or brand you want to shop with isn’t offering, use the chat function or pick up the phone and ask. A courteous ask can go a long way with customer service representatives.”, Skirboll said.

When you do shop online, do some investigative work ahead of time.

There are things like Deal Finder and Ibotta that either help you find the best deal (and in-stock items) or give you cashback for the work of looking for a deal.

Here’s are a few more hacks from personal experience.

  • Create an email account JUST for retailers’ deal emails. This keeps it from clogging up your regular email and you can go to the email, search for the most recent email from them, and see if there is a coupon code.
  • Put what you want to buy in an online cart. Now, this is risky with stock being so low, but it does work out for me more times than not in a 24 hour period. If you have an account with a retailer, put the items you want in the cart. Don’t buy it. Walk away. Often you’ll get an email the next day of “You have items in your cart. Do you want 20% off that?”.
  • Do research. For example, Bath & Body Works has their “Candle Day”. Word is this year it will be December 3. It’s always in early December, and it’s always a rush to get the candles and you’ll need to be strong to carry your stash out. It used to be these candles were $8 on Candle Day, but prices go up each year and now it could be more than $10. Let’s say for example you buy 4 candles on this day. It’s a savings of $2.75 from the “Buy 2 Get 2 Free” sale days. Candles are great for the peripheral people in your life like the dentist, hairdresser, mail delivery person, etc.

For the kids, they aren’t going to understand why their favorite gifts aren’t under the tree if you don’t start early. That is unless you want to spend Christmas explaining inflation, shipping procedures, and talk even more about the pandemic.

In my day, it was Cabbage Patch Kids and Pound Puppies that made me smile on Christmas morning. I vividly remember this Christmas thinking I wasn’t getting either because demand was SO high. My mom, God bless her, found them both!

The hot gifts this year, whether it’s an electronic or toy, might be hard to come by. The store shelves are bare in some areas. And no, there’s nothing “in the back.” Then there’s the “chip shortage” impacting car sales.

The Institute for Supply Management–Greater Grand Rapids (ISM-GRR) said in September that there is “no end in sight” for this problem. So don’t expect a brand new car with a bow in the driveway Christmas morning. Drive by any car lot in your town and you’ll see what I mean.

“We’ve hit a spot that supply is tight, and we have to pay the price,” said Brian Long, director of supply chain management at Grand Valley State University. “This has happened during many crises. I remember standing in line for gas not that many years ago. We had to pay the price even though it was ridiculous, and obviously, over time, that crisis did resolve itself. That, I’m afraid, is going to be the case here too.”

If all of this kills your Christmas spirit, here are some ways to give gifts that don’t come with any shipping, stocking, or staffing challenges.

  • Give a gift of a family vacation. Get a brochure of the place you are going and wrap it up. Maybe it’s Memorial Day weekend at Lake Tahoe. Maybe it’s the trip to Disney. Perhaps you just want to see the Outer Banks in June. You are giving a gift that still gives the family something to look forward to.
  • There are plenty of homeless pets that could use a new home for Christmas. Maybe do a Christmas Eve trip to the shelter and pick out your Christmas pup or kitten?
  • Give a gift of a specialty of yours. Are you super organized? Offer to organize your best friend’s closet. Wrap it up in a mess of wrapping paper and put a certificate in there. People like me can offer “free dogsitting for a year” (that’s a win/win!). Are you good with makeup or hair? Offer a free “makeover” or “scalp massage”.
  • Find a family or friend photo and have it put to wood, canvas, or puzzle. Walgreens offers great discounts on these items and they are ready in 24 hours. It’s a way to cherish a sweet memory of times gone by, as we don’t print and display photos nearly as much as we should with all the pictures in our phones, away from all other eyes.

Someone who does believe in the spirit of Christmas and that all things will work out in the end like in the movie “Elf”? Treasure Secretary Janet Yellen.

“There may be isolated shortages of goods and services in the coming months,” Yellen said. “But there is an ample supply of goods. I think there’s no reason for consumers to panic about the absence of goods that they’re going to want to acquire at Christmas.”

I’m not going to give you the gratuitous “It’s not about the gifts” speech here. I’m just going to tell you that you can control how “Merry” the Christmas is by being proactive.

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