In the history books, we will all be able to plot out each point of the pandemic by what essential item was in short supply. In the beginning, we struggled to keep our homes stocked with bread flour, personal protective equipment, and toilet paper. As time wore on, dumbbells, bikes, graphics cards, and children’s play couches were overpriced or just impossible to find.
As we enter our second pandemic holiday season, delays and stock shortages have sadly persisted up and down the supply chain. Faced with a shortage of computer chips, Toyota cut back on production. Construction companies can’t get raw materials or labor. There are no shipping containers. In May, I ordered a new nightstand for my daughter’s bedroom—it won’t get here until December.
Thanks to generous shipping policies from companies like Amazon, we all got very used to having everything we need instantly at our doors. That isn’t the case anymore. Here at WIRED, we'll begin producing our yearly gift guides soon. But as a personal favor to you, our readers, I urge you to begin your holiday shopping … now.
Which Industries Have It Worst?
Nearly every industry has been impacted by supply chain shortages. But a few of these will affect our holiday shopping the most.
Computer chips have been in short supply throughout the pandemic. As we reported earlier this year, almost every device you own is made up of specialized microprocessors that require specialized factories to make them. The companies that make these microprocessors (disclosure: my spouse works for one) can’t turn on a dime; their workflows take months, if not years, to pivot and increase output.
Nearly every major company has assured us that its respective supply chain issues are under control in time for the holidays. However, that is belied by the fact that key products have already come under pressure. For example, the Apple Watch almost always launches alongside the new iPhone, yet this year it's releasing later this fall due to production delays. The Google Pixel 5A is only available in one color and size and is only sold in the US and Japan. If you have your heart set on one particular gadget, this probably isn’t the best year to wait for Black Friday discounts.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also driven us inside to read books. For those of us who haven’t yet converted to the Kindle, paper books will also be hard to come by. Paper manufacturers have scaled down their operations due to the spread of the Delta variant, and a nationwide paper shortage is delaying the production of everything from envelopes to paper shopping bags. If you want to send Christmas cards or gift a copy of the latest Becky Chambers, you shouldn’t wait.
The shipping container shortage has particularly affected industries with overseas manufacturing, which means that popular plastic toys like L.O.L. Surprise dolls are clogged up in ports overseas. The White House recently appointed a port envoy to smooth out the logistical barriers in international shipping, but it’s unlikely that this will have much of an effect before the holiday season.
Our Best Holiday Shopping Tips
On the Gear team, we are more or less professional shoppers. As we’ve been preparing our coverage for the holiday season, I have tips to share that might be helpful.
Start early. It starts with reading this article and drawing up a list. As much as we love Black Friday, this is not the year to wait for major discounts if you have your heart set on gifting a Dyson vacuum or new iPhone. It might not arrive by the holiday, or it might be out of stock for the foreseeable future.
Be realistic. We get as excited as the next consumer over the latest, greatest thing. However, many manufacturers, like Google, are already whittling down their inventory to make sure they can keep items in stock. Do not fixate on one specific style or color. Flagship products, like classic crewneck sweaters and jeans, will be easier to come by.
Check the retailer. Bigger retailers, such as Walmart, Home Depot, and yes, Amazon, are able to maneuver around port congestion by chartering their own ships, switching from ocean freight to air freight, or buying their own planes. If you want a highly specific item, you can increase your chances of getting it on time, or at all, by ordering from a larger retailer.
Check the shipping deadlines. The manufacturers and shipping container industries aren’t the only links in the supply chain problem that are suffering. On the Gear team, we have many bones to pick with delivery people that sling packages at our houses like deadly shuriken. But every shipping company, from FedEx to the US Postal Service, has seen severe staffing shortages this year. Be patient and leave cookies in your mailbox.
Keep your shopping domestic and local. The best way to make sure your loved one receives a present is by picking it up yourself. This is a great year to walk to your local toy or book store a few weeks early. These are a few of our favorite small and local businesses. You can also search Etsy and filter by country or zip code.
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