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Holiday shopping may be difficult again this year, and you're advised to start soon

It's not unusual for holiday shopping to be a little hectic, but supply chain experts say it'll be a little more difficult because of supply chain issues including labor and container shortages.
It's not unusual for holiday shopping to be a little hectic, but experts say it'll be a little more difficult because of supply chain issues including labor and container shortages.

The supply chain is still trying to balance itself out after COVID’s first year. So Iowans should start their holiday shopping as soon as possible, if they haven't already.

The chair of Iowa State University’s department of supply chain management, Scott Grawe said there will likely be some empty physical and online shelves because of slow global shipping times combined with a national labor shortage.

"While you may not get the exact thing that you're looking for, there may be a perfectly good substitute out there as well. So as you're thinking about your holiday shopping plans, you may want to have a plan B and plan C available as well," Grawe said.

And if there is something that has caught your eye, go ahead and buy it now. He joked don't wait until Black Friday to get a discount because the longer shoppers wait, they'll save even more not being able to buy what they wanted.

Since many shoppers may find themselves in a pinch this year, Grawe predicted gift certificates may be a popular, and more reliable, present choice. He recommended choosing gift cards from local businesses to help boost their economy.

There's also a new strain of COVID-19 to consider this year, Grawe added, that complicates the shopping experience. The new delta strain threw a loop for the economy, which goes to show COVID is capable of surprises. But, as Grawe said, because shoppers were dealing with the pandemic last winter holiday season, experts have a better feel for consumer purchasing behaviors.

"It's not a cookie cutter, so it's not going to look quite like last year but we've had 18 months or so of living with this and seeing how people are buying and seeing that buyer behavior. So we kind of know what's coming, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we can predict it. We've got a general idea of what we're going to see," Grawe explained.

And "what they're going to see," he said, is congestion in shipping because of a lack of containers and also some price gouging. It's becoming more expensive to ship certain products overseas and even throughout the U.S. Although some companies will bear the brunt of those extra costs, Grawe said it's possible consumers will also see some of those increased prices.

"You can certainly expect it," Grawe said. "The companies are still looking to make a profit somewhere along the line. As we see, all of these supply chain costs start to creep further and further up. In order to maintain some level of profitability, the prices are going to have to be adjusted in the long run."

On top of previously listed obstacles, the ship "Ever Given," which blocked the Suez Canal for six days, still has an impact on U.S. supply chains because the U.S. has "ports that are still trying to play catch up."

"It's not like you can just open the floodgates and let everything that's sitting there waiting to come into the U.S. come in, they've got to come in through these ports,“ Grawe said.

What he's hoping doesn't happen is panic buying, like what happened with the toilet paper supply in 2020. Grawe stressed that will just shock the supply chain even more. No worries with the paper industry that he knows of, but maybe the toy of the year may be a little more difficult to get a hold of.

Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines