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The Pandemic Might Cause Some Headaches For Holiday Shopping And Shipping

This holiday season, shoppers may need to buy presents earlier than usual or utilize pick-up locations.
This holiday season, shoppers may need to buy presents earlier than usual or use pick-up locations.

E-commerce paired with a pandemic poses a first-time problem for both shoppers and manufacturers this holiday season. This combination may force shoppers to get creative this year.

This holiday season, more people want to make purchases, but in some cases, there might not be enough of that thing they want.

That's according to Scott Grawe, chair of the Department of Supply Chain Management at the Ivey College of Business at Iowa State University. He said shoppers can also expect a “significant capacity crunch” when it comes to e-commerce deliveries. This means it may take longer for deliveries to arrive at doorsteps.

“It means that you might have to get a little bit creative in a couple different ways," Grawe said. "You may just need to shop a little bit earlier. If you see the product that you plan to buy, and you see it on the store shelf today, or you see it online today. Go ahead and make that purchase today."

An imbalance of supply and demand can also pose a challenge for small businesses who may not be able to keep up with delivery orders, but are still competing against larger companies.

“It creates a unique challenge for them. So we know that customers are shopping online this year. They need to be able to make their presence known," Grawe said.

He said a creative way to buy presents and help out local businesses is to take advantage of gift cards and pick-up orders.

Grawe explained this "shipaggedon" started when businesses were shut down at the beginning of the year. Since then, companies have been playing a game of catch-up, combining backorder shipments and current high demand from consumers.

Since this is the first time economists have been presented with e-commerce combined with a pandemic, Grawe said it's harder to predict exactly how the market will behave.

"The pandemic has created a lot of surprises. There are companies and experts scratching their heads really trying to figure out what's the consumers next move," Grawe said.

He predicted once a COVID-19 vaccine is introduced into health systems around the globe, the supply chain may return to a more "normal" flow. But, he said, in order for that to be possible, consumers would need to have confidence in a vaccine. Otherwise, online orders may remain high and delivery dates may continue to be pushed back.

Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines