Delayed for the Holidays: How to Shop in a Supply Chain Slow

Congestion at distribution centers and transfer points in the global supply chain can cripple your holiday shopping.


You are likely to see shortage of popular gifts and delivery delays as the holiday shopping season begins. In US ports, retail distribution centers and all intermediate points, congestion in the global supply chain reduced stocks of clothing, toys and tech products.

But your vacation shouldn’t be ruined by overdue gifts or gifts you can’t find at all. Outside of advance shopping, which is just about too late, there are plenty of ways to always find the gifts on your wishlist. Here are some ideas, and don’t forget to check it out CNET 2021 Gift Guide and our guide to finding the best Black Friday deals.

Buy locally

Shorten those shipping distances to the other end of town by supporting local retailers. Whether it’s an independent store or a big box chain, some companies will ship directly from the store to your doorstep (thus avoiding distribution centers where bottlenecks can arise). And if you’re late for the game or don’t want to risk buying even local shipping, there are plenty of retailers that have the option to buy online and pick up in store as well. If you need to broaden the search, look for goods that don’t have to be shipped from overseas. This way you can prevent your gifts from going through busy ports.

Buy in a store

I know … you probably haven’t been to the mall much in the past 20 months. (Honestly, I miss this experience.) And you may have lost the habit of shopping in stores even before the pandemic. But the beauty of shopping in person is that if it’s off the shelf, it’s yours (provided there’s no Cabbage Patch Kid situation). Go ahead, brave the crowds, wear a mask, and go out for lunch on the way.


A container ship unloads its cargo at the Port of Oakland in California.

Kent German / CNET

Buy small

Small businesses will always be prone to post office delays, but they will be able to better manage their inventory and production and will likely provide more personalized customer service if something goes wrong. You can also use sites like Etsy or eBay to search for crafts, home decor, or artwork made by independent producers.

Second hand shop

Collectibles, souvenirs, and vintage clothing or toys can make wonderful gifts, and used items can have less impact on the environment. Suppose you have an airline geek (cough cough) in the family. So what would you say a security card of a retired airliner? One of the best gifts I have ever received was a British Airways Concorde security card. Or maybe you know someone who collects Disney theme park pins? Collectors will appreciate the thought and effort, but just confirm what they collect (and still need) first.


Concorde security cards and a 2003 auction catalog of discarded Air France aircraft parts remain valuable gifts

Kent German / CNET

Buy something intangible

Things like spa treatments, classes (my husband bought me a great one year flying lesson), weekends, and magazine / newspaper or streaming TV subscriptions didn’t to be shipped. The same goes for gift cards and vouchers, but only if you buy them in person or electronically. Physical gift cards that need to be mailed can also be sent to delivery purgatory. I found out last year when I bought my niece a physical gift card two weeks before Christmas and it always arrived late. So check the delivery times before clicking.

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Supply chain issues likely to last after the holidays


Or don’t worry

This is more difficult advice when you have kids, but it can work for adults. This year you really have the best excuse in the world (as long as you didn’t wait until the last minute) if a giveaway is late. To give them something to open the same day, you can buy something small that represents the gift to come. Last year, for example, the Nespresso machine I bought for my father did not arrive on time. To excite him for what was to come, he opened a box of coffee capsules on Christmas morning.

About Marilyn Perkins

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