July 24, 2024


Unlimited Technology

How to Beat the Holiday Shopping Supply-Chain Blues

Maybe you’ve made a list and checked it twice, but you haven’t bought anything yet because you’re waiting for Black Friday sales.

Don’t. This year, if you want your gifts to be sitting under the tree by Christmas, you’re going to have to start your holiday shopping now.

Shortages have hit the shelves of all stores, even ones we’re never accustomed to seeing empty, like those in supermarkets and big-box retailers before the biggest shopping days of the year. Yes, you’ve heard the supply chain is broken and there’s a semiconductor shortage. But what does that really mean, and what should you do to make sure stockings are filled? 

The Supply Chain, Explained

There’s so much in the news about how the supply chain is to blame, but it’s sometimes hard to follow just what’s going on. That’s because there’s not just one thing affecting the production and distribution of goods. Every single link on that chain is under stress right now. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, lockdowns meant necessary slowdowns and shutdowns along the entire supply chain, and that was fine since at first people stayed home and curbed their spending. But soon, they needed the equipment to work from home and entertainment options for their off-hours. They also needed cars to avoid using public transportation and renovated homes built around their new lifestyles. Distributors and retailers sold out of inventory quickly, so when consumers went to place orders, the goods and infrastructure around them were not ready.

The biggest factor in all this is the pandemic. The psychic fallout from it has caused many to rethink what they do for a living and they have changed careers. This has all led to a worldwide worker shortage that has caused things like a dip in manufacturing and backed-up ports where those products that are finished just can’t reach consumers. Meanwhile, costs for everyone involved have risen. 

Semiconductors in particular are in short supply because of a number of factors. First, there are all the reasons stated above. The surging demand for goods is largely for electronic ones, such as components for cars, office equipment, and entertainment devices. Current semiconductor manufacturing capacity was spoken for a long time ago. Then there are tariffs in place from the last US presidential administration that have limited imports from China to the United States. US semiconductor companies do not have the stateside factories to supply chips and building them would take years. 

When Will It End?

Empty shelves in stores of all sorts have been a common sight for a while now and they’re not getting filled anytime soon. Right now economists are having a hard time predicting when issues with the supply chain will resolve because the pandemic is still unpredictable. Some improvement relies on dampening demand. Certainly, none of this will clear up by the holiday season. Some aspects of it, like the semiconductor shortage, could last into 2022 and beyond.  

In addition to getting started now instead of waiting for Black Friday, you’ll also need to adjust your expectations about what gifts can be scored. Game consoles and graphics cards have been a hot item since last year, but the PS5 and Xbox Series X are still scarce and sell out almost immediately when they do get stocked. 

What You Can Do

If you want to make sure you fulfill some holiday wishes, write up those gift lists now. You can use an app like Giftster to help keep things organized. 

Once you’ve written up your lists by person, go through each list and mark your must-buys. These will be the things that you start shopping for immediately, particularly if they’re electronics or have electronic components. 

Next, price out those must-buys on price-comparison apps like ShopSavvy or a site that handles the task like Pricegrabber. 

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Look for coupons. Sister site RetailMeNot has a handy Deal Finder Chrome browser extension that automatically applies the best promo codes for you, before you place an order.

Consider alternatives for things that are out of stock or are simply still too expensive. We have hundreds of roundups in scores of categories with top product picks.

And if you’re shopping for an Xbox Series X or a PS5, BuyVia has stock trackers set up for each so you can try to keep track of where to find them that way. (But again, don’t expect to find any bargains.)

But What About Black Friday?

By the time the Friday after Thanksgiving rolls around, you’re going to want to have the majority of your gifts purchased and at least on their way to your door. Still, you can make the most out of Black Friday by using it to purchase extra gifts to have on hand, find substitutes for those things that are still not in stock, and just get some necessities at a good price.

For gift ideas that include everyone on your list, be sure to check out our full Holiday Gift Guide.

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