crowds walk by a holiday shopping display with a big red bow and a Christmas wreath
Lai Seng Sin/Associated Press
  • Major disruptions have wrought havoc on global supply chains throughout the pandemic.
  • As a result, holiday shopping may be even more frenzied than usual this year.
  • An expert shares how early you should start holiday shopping and other tips for managing the chaos.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Global supply chains have been fraught with disruptions throughout the pandemic. Issues like short-staffing among truck drivers, shortages of various items, and transportation disruptions like the Suez Canal blockage have all affected consumers this year in particular.

Now, with the holiday shopping season fast approaching, supply chain chaos could spell even more trouble for consumers.

"Supply chain management people have always been the heroes of the holiday fulfillment periods," industry analyst Bob Ferrari told Insider. "They've come through in extraordinary ways with how they've moved freight at the last minute, how they got materials aligned, how they've been able to air freight materials to where they need to be at the last minute. Now, all of those options are off the table. All of the disruptions that we have right now are going to limit the ability of supply chain management teams to deal with this."

Given all the uncertainty, here are some of Ferrari's tips to make your holiday shopping go as smoothly as possible this year:

  • Get it done before Black Friday: Start as soon as possible. "The Black Friday holiday weekend is traditionally where a lot of consumers have done the bulk of their shopping," Ferrari said. "If an item is going to be in short supply, by the time the Black Friday holiday weekend comes along, the inventory of that particular item will probably be depleted at that point."
  • Consider holiday shipping deadlines from FedEx, UPS, and USPS: "Keep in mind that there's probably going to be a carrier suspension of movement during the holiday period, depending on what the volume situation is," Ferrari said. "Don't wait too long because the ability to actually get to you may be in jeopardy at that point."
  • Be selective about where you shop: "At this point, everything is so constrained that it's scale and influence that sort of win out here," Ferrari said. For this reason, Ferrari notes that big names like Amazon and Walmart may be safer bets if you're looking to buy from larger companies since they charter their own container ships, for example.
  • Buy domestic: "If a product is primarily within the United States and you are a US consumer, chances are you might be able to get your hands on that," Ferrari said. "If the item on the other hand reflects a global-based supply chain, then you have to deal with that reality, too." He suggests buying gifts like specialty foods or food assortment baskets, for example, since a lot of food items are often sourced domestically.
  • Shop local: "I would look to the local areas where people are residing," Ferrari said.
  • Prepare to pay more: Ferrari cautions that the steeper discounts typical of the holidays may not arrive this year because of extra costs from combatting supply chain disruptions, product shortages, and more. "If you really want a particular item, you may need to be prepared to pay more for it," he said.
  • Do your research: "You've got to do your homework," Ferrari said. "You've got to really understand what items are probably likely to be available in terms of where are they coming from and where are they in the pipeline at this point." He suggests looking at the manufacturer's website for a product to see if they have information about inventory availability.
  • Set realistic expectations: "Depending on what you're looking for, what you're seeking to buy and where it's coming from in the global supply chain, there's got to be some realism here that, in some cases, it may not be there for the holiday," Ferrari said. "But it will eventually be there."
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