Supply chain backlog affecting holiday shopping for local small businesses

BOSTON — December holidays are still weeks away, but if your child has a wish list, you might want to start checking off those items soon.

“I love Barbie,” Savannah Martins told us while out shopping with her family.

“I would say I’ve started a whole month earlier,” said Jenn Marino of Norfolk.

Shoppers are finding those big-ticket items are a big problem to find.

“We are not getting everything that we actually want from places like Target and Walmart because shelves are actually empty,” said Sneha Srikrishnan of Walpole.

Blame the pandemic-challenged supply chain: manufacturing plants in Asia had closed for months, ports are congested, and there are labor shortages.

“Every link in the supply chain is being affected, causing delays because of bottlenecks,” said Anna Nagurney, of the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst. “And it’s very very time-sensitive, it’s like you can’t be getting your Christmas gifts in the middle of January. Children will be really disappointed, you can’t give them IOUs.”

Nagurney says big-box retailers can afford to charter their own ships to different ports—but smaller retailers don’t have that luxury. Instead, they’re finding other ways to keep products on their shelves.

“It’s basically been a lot of phone calls, a lot of checking up with reps with vendors themselves trying to see where things are, a lot of times they don’t know where things are, they’re on a ship somewhere,” said Jim James, the owner of Park Street Books and Toys in Medfield.

James says some toys like stuffed animals are hard to find and he’s had to reach out to different vendors and make larger orders to guarantee he’ll have something on his shelves. Another change this season—the prices.

“There’s some vendors where there’s 10% increases and if we didn’t increase our prices a bit then all of a sudden the profit margin is tiny and we couldn’t function,” said James.

“You want to be competitive price-wise so the consumer will come in your door time and time again but you also need to when you close the books at the end of the year you need to be profitable,” said Jon Hurst, the president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts.

Hurst adds with prices up everywhere and uncertain inventory, you may be disappointed if you hold out for those holiday deals.

“If you wait to the end, the price reductions may not be there, in fact, the prices may actually go up but also the challenges of even shipping, if you’re last a minute shopper getting it your destination, it may not happen,” said Hurst.

He says many retailers are offering sales now to get customers in the door. They’re staying optimistic, but encouraging people to shop early if they are looking for that specific gift to put under the tree.

“There are some things we’ve already sold out that we know we won’t get until February,” said James. “The supply chain won’t be solved by this Christmas but hopefully by spring and by next season.”

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