Christmas 2021: Everything you need to know about shopping, shipping and shortages

With Christmas being only a short 100 days away, gift shopping is something that’s sure to be on many consumers’ minds.

Like last year, the coronavirus pandemic will play a factor in the holiday shopping season in terms of purchase trends, shipping delays and item shortages. FOX Business consulted retail experts to get their insight on what American gift-givers should expect.

Here’s what they had to say.

Holiday Shopping Trends

Early shopping is the name of the game for the 2021 holiday season. Not only are people shopping early because they anticipate delays, but most experts agree it’s the best tactic you can use to try and get online orders or in-person store purchases on time.

"Getting ahead of the curve on holiday shopping is crucial this year. Many toymakers such as Mattel and tech manufacturers alike are struggling to navigate the supply chain and keep shelves stocked," said Brett Rose, the founder and CEO at United National Consumer Suppliers. "Unfortunately, this also means they are struggling to keep prices down. Once the prime shopping season comes around, it will be too late for most."

Rose also believes retailers will tamp down on promotions later into the holiday season in response to the current early shopping trend.

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At the same time, Mark Spencer – the senior vice president of commercial operations at Jane, a boutique deals website predicts holiday deals "will extend over a longer period of time" as a way to get shoppers through physical or virtual doors and drive up profitability.

"Toy sales are up 40% year-over-year," Spencer said. "Mask sales have increased 300% since the end of July." 

Retail experts expect online shopping and in-store digital experiences to see a rise in light of the COVID-19 delta variant.

Sherene Hilal, a senior vice president at the retail marketing technology company Bluecore, said consumers can expect more opportunities to shop from home, branded pop-up events and showcases where customers can interact with products.

She added, "New options like [buy online, pickup in store], extended return windows, free alterations, waived shipping fees, and online exclusives will all be more available to shoppers this season."

Shipping and Shortages

As millions of Americans prepare to get ahead of their holiday shopping, retail experts say shipping delays and supply shortages are imminent.

"With shipping delays, there will be products that will just simply be unavailable as we get closer to Christmas," said Gretel Going, the founder of Fortune & Frame – a personalized jewelry company. "Bulky items such as TVs, furniture, tables, and rugs are going to be the worst affected by shipping disruptions. Smaller categories such as personal accessories and jewelry will not see the same disruption due to the ability to ship by air."

She went on, adding that retailers will likely discount items that are in stock for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but it’s going to become a challenge "as supply shortages mount."

Paul Magel, the president of business applications at CGS (Computer Generated Solutions), said apparel and footwear sectors are positioned to have a "strong holiday season," but fulfilling demand won’t be an easy feat.

"Currently, many retailers are low on inventory and don’t have definitive dates to restock their shelves. Holiday shoppers will contend with lack of inventory and higher costs," he shared. "Supply chains are interconnected and complex — whether it is a blockage in the Suez Canal, a fire at a chemical factory or shutdowns from a pandemic, when any link in that chain is disrupted, the impact can be felt globally."

To try and minimize the effects of shipping delays and supply shortages, Hilal said direct-to-consumer brands might be a helpful alternative during the busy holiday season.

In her words, "It would be beneficial for consumers this season to explore new brands that may not be their typical go-to."

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