Buy now or delivery delays could ruin your vacation


A cargo ship at the Meidong container terminal at the port of Ningbo Zhoushan in China. The port was hit by a typhoon in July and the terminal closed after a single positive COVID test in August. Port closures are one of the many factors slowing the movement of goods from overseas.

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The school year has just started, Halloween is approaching and Thanksgiving plans are still on the table. We understood. Your hands are full.

Still, consider ordering your holiday gifts now if they are an important part of your vacation.

Any product that you order online may take longer than usual for delivery. Global shortages of microprocessors, magnets and plastics have significantly slowed production. When products are available, shipping has stifled due to a combination of increased demand, COVID-related port closures and chaos created by storms. Seventy-three freighters await disembarkation at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach on Saturday, a record. Tennis balls, canapes and even pickles were hit.

Bottom Line: It’s impossible to know if a specific laptop, stereo, or jeans will be in stock before the holidays.

“If there is something you need or want, the risk of not having it in time for the holidays is likely,” said Mark Stanton, general manager of supply chain solutions at PowerFleet. . He advises people to shop before the holiday season, if possible.

Holiday shopping rushes are nothing new and the sale season begins earlier and earlier in the year. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, now marks the generally accepted start of the shopping season. Online sales often start earlier.

Holiday shopping has generated about a fifth of annual retail sales in recent years, according to the National Retail Federation, which said US retail sales totaled more than $ 787 billion in November and December 2020. Online spending accounted for more than 26% of that figure, the NRF said.

The shopping season is so ingrained in our culture that it served as the backdrop for Jingle All The Way, a comedy about a panicked Arnold Schwarzenegger looking for a toy his son wants. The film debuted in 1996, the same year that Tickle Me Elmo, a toy based on the Sesame Street character, caused fights between parents in the aisles of Walmart. Some desperate parents have been running after delivery trucks to get their hands on the fuzzy red monster toy, which blows up electronic laughs.

A single toy hasn’t dominated holiday sales as much in recent years. But an Elmo equivalent, if it comes out, will be harder to get than usual this time around. And the problem will not be limited to toys. Anything computerized, magnetic, or plastic – think electronics, appliances, and household items – could be hard to come by.

Missing materials

Microchips power everything that runs software, including cars. The chip shortage, triggered by a production delay at the start of the pandemic followed by an increase in demand, has meant manufacturers have struggled to produce enough computers, phones and tablets to fill orders , which have skyrocketed during COVID lockdowns.

Since chips are featured in many items, there is a shortage of products other than home electronics. It was so bad that Ford had to temporarily stop manufacturing its F-150, the best-selling vehicle in the United States, as it sought more chips.

Magnets, which are used in products ranging from toys to electronics, have also been in short supply. SDM Magnetics, a manufacturer, recently told customers that China has tightened regulations on the extraction of rare earth minerals used in magnets. This prompted some middlemen to retain mineral supplies, leading to the sale of fewer and more expensive magnets.

Plastic resin granules

Plastic resin pellets at a plant in Illinois. Storms have hit the plastics industry on the Gulf Coast over the past year, triggering shortages.

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A chain of events triggered by the early closures of the pandemic has also created a shortage of one of modern society’s most common materials – plastic. This means backlogs for cars and motorhomes, house siding and PVC pipes, and disposable restaurant supplies such as plastic cups.

Bindiya Vakil, a supply chain expert, wrote in the Harvard Business Review that the storms have exacerbated the shortage by shutting down oil producers in Texas and Louisiana that process chemicals used in making plastics. Storms on the Gulf Coast began with Hurricane Laura in August 2020 and continued with an ice storm in early 2021.

Plastics makers still haven’t caught up with demand since those setbacks. It was one of the issues that hampered the production and shipping of the Rainbow High dolls, a toy that MGA Entertainment CEO Isaac Larian recently told the Washington Post may not make it to the United States on time. for Christmas.

Port closures and shortages of sea containers

Shortages of components and materials aren’t the only reason the perfect gift for your loved one might not arrive in a U.S. warehouse in time for you to receive it by December. Goods from overseas are placed in shipping containers before being sent overseas. Then they are unloaded and sent to warehouses across the country. It is not happening quickly at the moment.

The slowdown in shipments is caused by both an overabundance of product flowing through the system and a shortage of containers and equipment. With an influx of product exiting ports, logistics companies are not always able to hire enough people to drive trucks and unload containers at their warehouses across the country, said Stanton, the expert for the Supply Chain. This slows down the flow of empty containers to ports in China and Vietnam and makes them even more difficult to obtain.

Satellite image of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, with dozens of ships offshore

Ships wait outside Los Angeles and Long Beach ports in August. The backlog of ships has worsened since then.

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COVID-19 and storms have also attacked the industry. If a port is closed due to weather conditions or an epidemic, later points in the delivery system are out of whack. In July, a typhoon hit a coastal area of ​​China that is home to several ports, shutting down air, rail and sea transport. In August, the Meidong Container Terminal closed its operations at Ningbo Zhoushan Port in response to a single positive COVID test. The decision effectively closed the third busiest port in the world.

The highly contagious delta variant could lead to more port closures in the future. Either way, the combination of disruptions has skyrocketed shipping costs, making it even more difficult for businesses to import goods. The system has also been plagued by random setbacks, such as in July when the cargo ship Ever Given lodged in the Suez Canal, shutting down a major shipping artery for nearly a week.

“It’s really that ripple effect that goes down the supply chain,” said Jen Blackhurst, professor of business analysis at the University of Iowa.

Alternatives to Advance Purchase

If you don’t want to spend the next three months tracking packages online, consider not purchasing items shipped from overseas. Sure, you might have laughed at the alternatives to what the Hot Gift was in the past, but this is the year to reconsider.

If you have the time and skills, you can make homemade gifts or hand out vouchers for babysitting or yard work, if that’s something the recipient will appreciate. Buying event tickets, museum memberships, or restaurant gift cards are also easy options – and let your loved ones enjoy an outing.

You can also think of locally made products. Many small businesses sell items made by local artisans online, either through an online ordering platform or through Instagram and Facebook pages announcing new products, says Rachel Smith, president of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. .

Gift box

You may have to think outside the box for giveaways this year. Locally made gifts, event tickets and refurbished electronics are usually already in the country, not waiting to be unloaded from a cargo ship.

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“Those local businesses that have added or improved their e-commerce platforms have weathered the pandemic better” than those that have not, Smith said.

Dan Wallace-Brewster, senior vice president of marketing at e-commerce services company Scalefast, says consumers are increasingly comfortable buying second-hand goods online. Retailers and device makers often sell refurbished electronics on their websites, and the discounts they offer mean your budget can go a little deeper than something new. Luxury brand resellers, like Real Real and the Vestiaire Collective, have also sprung up to offer big brands at prices lower than those offered by retailers or manufacturers.

The products these companies sell are usually already in the United States, which means that the global supply chain is of little concern. The quality of the products available on the sites as well as the growing acceptance by consumers have reached “a point where you might be willing to offer a used product on the cheap and not be ashamed of it,” said Wallace-Brewster.

If you’re still struggling the night before your holiday gift exchange, there’s another proven option: a gift certificate. It’s either that or tie a bow around a shipping confirmation for a gift ordered – but not delivered.

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