Smart Buying

Holiday Shopping in 2021 Will Be a Struggle

We’re starting our forecasting for Black Friday (and beyond) early — because you’re going to need the head start.

The holidays are alleged to include tidings of comfort and joy, and maybe those will come to pass. But in between, a vortex looms for shoppers looking to spend some of their pent-up savings.

The main culprit: a supply chain meltdown that stretches from manufacturing plants in Asia to retailers’ shelves. You can blame that for a shortage of items including appliances, hot electronics and (sorry, kids) toys. 

Add in a widespread labor shortage, from shipping ports to shopping malls, and that’s bad news all around with as Black Friday, the traditional day-after-Thanksgiving launch of the holiday shopping season, just weeks away. It’s November 26 this year.

“Some product categories may simply be unavailable, delayed, or available but with fewer deals and heightened pricing,” said Nathan Burrow, senior deals editor at the New York TimesWirecutter. “Other [product categories] will see excellent discounts. More than ever, shoppers should focus on product quality and price research to get the most out of the holiday shopping season.”

There’s also going to be a lot of competition out there, and by that, we mean other people who want the same thing as you. Deloitte’s annual retail forecast shows holiday retail sales to grow 7% to 9% this year compared to 2020 and online holiday spending increasing 11% to 15%. That’s a huge jump.

During typical holiday shopping seasons, deals experts advise shoppers to wait until the best prices lock in. This year, that advice is turned on its head.

“If you’re looking for certain items and start to see them sold out at certain retailers or delayed, we’d encourage you to consider purchasing early,” said Burrow. “With prices up and availability down, it’s also more important than ever to buy quality and know what you can afford to wait on.”

Consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch says the gift you’re wishing to buy may be hobbled by the ripple effect of the manufacturing-to-retail process. 

“Keep in mind, brands may import parts from various manufacturers in order to build their final product and if one is delayed or backed up, it sends a wave of disruptions in production and in the supply chain,” said Worach. “That’s what we are seeing here. We will also see huge delays in the shipping of large items, including big screen TVs, a hot Black Friday purchase, as well as furniture, appliances and cars. This is mostly due to the fact that products are stuck at the ports with no shipping containers to take them to where they need to go.”

The ongoing semiconductor shortage is causing everything from virtually empty new-car dealer lots, to the predicted shortage of big-screen TVs, and robotic vacuums, to name a few things that are loaded with microchips.

Kyle James, founder of the shopping advice website Rather-Be-Shopping, forecasts a holiday shopping season shortage of a wide swath of items, including artificial  Christmas trees and holiday decor, toys and board games, and furniture.

Kitchen appliances, already in short supply a year ago because of factory shutdowns due to the pandemic, will remain difficult to purchase, with wait times for homeowners stretching to months. So if you’re looking for that new kitchen suite just in time for holiday entertaining, it may already be too late.

If the gifts you want to purchase are in short supply or out of stock, shopping experts caution you about panic buying and to beware of “items from untrustworthy sources and items of really low quality,” said Burrow. “It’s sad, but in times of shortages there are opportunists that prey on hopeful shoppers. Make sure you’re getting your gifts from a trustworthy retailer and seller — if a price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Similarly, be aware of what you may be sacrificing when you choose to go cheap. A quality item that will last may ultimately net you (and your gift recipients) more value than something super-cheap on the front end.” 

What’s the Workaround?

More than ever, it’s best to have a plan to get your holiday shopping done and successful, experts say.

“I would focus on items where you have no flexibility, like a specific hot toy, a particular model of a gadget, or even a pair of shoes that are trending on TikTok,” said smart shopping expert Trae Bodge. “You should start looking for those items ASAP and wait on more general items, like candles, throw blankets, or holiday-themed gifts, which will be available and likely on sale as we get closer to the holidays.”

Watch for retailers, fully aware of coming shortages, to start sales earlier this year than in holiday shopping season’s past (Kiplinger in September advised consumers to begin their holiday shopping immediately).

Walmart is planning to roll out Black Friday deals weekly beginning at 7 p.m. Nov. 3 online and in stores at 5 a.m. Nov. 5 as part of its Deal for Days campaign. Deals that week include a Samsung Chromebook 4 for $87, a savings of $112 and a TCL 55-inch 4K UHD HDR Smart TV with Roku for $228. Other Deal for Days pre-Black Friday events occur on Nov. 10/Nov. 12, and include a Shark robot vacuum for $288, down $211, Barbie Dream Camper for $60, a $30 savings, and a Samsung Galaxy Tab A7 notebook computer for $139 after an $80 discount. The Nov. 17/19 Deal for Days hasn’t been announced yet, but that’s the last Wednesday-Friday before Black Friday. Walmart is again closed on Thanksgiving Day this year.

Best Buy has also announced Black Friday-or-before deals, including a Samsung 4K Smart TV discounted $150, to $599, as well as Chromebooks bottoming out at $99.

Meanwhile, Lowe’s has already launched its Season of Savings event (beginning Oct 28), a sale on a slew of items, including select vanities and smart home products at 50% off select tools, decor lighting and ceiling fans at 40% off, and a Google Next mini and smart plug for $24.99 from Nov. 4-Dec.1. The package regularly sells for $59.99.

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