Holiday shoppers urged to start early as some store shelves already empty

BOSTON — The holidays are just under three months away which might make shoppers think they can wait to get everything on their lists and to get gifts shipped in time.

Retail experts say shoppers might end up feeling more frustrated than festive this year unless they get going earlier than usual.

According to www.creditcard.com, about 27% of shoppers plan to begin their holiday shopping by the end of September.

At Assembly Square in Somerville, we mostly found procrastinators, however.

One woman laughed and said, “that’s not me!”

Another said she better get started now after being told others were already checking people off their lists.

One man chuckled “I haven’t even contemplated what anyone’s getting.”

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“I would recommend that people start shopping yesterday,” said Nada Sanders, distinguished professor of supply chain management at Northeastern University.”

Sanders believes this holiday season is shaping up to be a perfect storm for the retail industry.

Factories in countries like Vietnam are facing COVID shutdowns.

Congested ports in the U.S mean what does arrive often can’t get unloaded in a timely fashion.

“Consumers are not going to be able to get the goods that they want by the usual holiday time,” explained Sanders. “Lead times are extremely long, massive shortages, price hikes. It’s not going to be good.”

Ted Rossman, a senior industry analyst at www.creditcard.com said “part of the reason there are shortages in the first place is because there is so much demand.”

Many people have plenty of money and are in the mood to spend it, added Rossman.

Some sectors will be particularly hard hit.

“Videogames are the number one that comes to mind,” said Rossman. “Videogames and consoles because they’re caught up in the whole semi-conductor shortage that has affected so many things like cars, and really all forms of electronics.”

Rossman expects retailers to move the season up earlier, offering Black Friday type deals before Thanksgiving. “I think we’re in for a long duration season.”

The message to shoppers is pretty clear. They should act fast when they see something they like because it might not be there if they wait and go back to later.

“We don’t necessarily know what the hot toys or clothing are going to be, but when something’s gone, it might take a while to restock,” explained Rossman.

Online shoppers need to be mindful of inventory levels and shipping schedules.

Labor shortages could make delays more likely. “Just make sure to build in enough delivery time to that so it actually gets to you or your recipient,” said Rossman.

Professor Sanders believes shoppers need to adjust their attitudes about immediate gratification. “We’re pretty spoiled. Amazon has set the stage. I want it today.”

COVID-related pressure might cast a bit of a shadow over the holiday season, but some shoppers are not going to let the Grinch win.

One man told Boston 25 News, “I’m really excited for the holiday season because that’s my favorite time of the year, so I’ll be shopping.”

The supply chain problems won’t settle down until next summer at the earliest and may stretch into 2023, according to Sanders. For now, she says our new normal will be longer lead times, higher prices, and fewer choices.