The holidays have always been defined by disappointing out-of-stock messages on the most popular items. But the pandemic-induced supply chain snarls have created unprecedented shortages across all types of products, from the chips that go into gaming consoles to more mundane items like ties and pajamas.
That has many customers buying early as shortfalls are only expected to worsen as the holiday season moves into the final stretch.
According to AP, on Cyber Monday — the biggest online shopping day of the year — the prevalence of out-of-stock messages rose 8% compared to a week earlier, according to Adobe Digital Economy Index. From November 1 through November 29, the number of out-of-stock messages soared close to twofold compared with pre-pandemic levels in January 2020 and up 258% from November 2019, Adobe said.
In response, stores like Kohl’s have added new online tools to help push shoppers to substitutes if their top choice is gone. Shipt, a grocery delivery service owned by Target, now offers customers substitute suggestions based, in part, on their prior shopping behavior. And technology company Obsess, which creates virtual shopping experiences for such brands as American Girl and Ralph Lauren, added tools that recommend next best items if the shopper clicks on something that’s out of stock; it also offers quizzes to help figure out what they would like.
But there are plenty of shoppers who won’t be happy with alternatives, particularly when it comes to must-have toys like Spinmaster’s Gabby’s Dollhouse Purrfect Playset and Moose Toys’ Magic Mixies Magical Misting Cauldron. Some are resorting to eBay where they’re paying three times more than the suggested retail price. Experts also believe they will turn to more to gift cards if they don’t like what they see.
A lot is at stake for retailers. If shoppers can’t get what they want at one store, they could go to another competitor or just not buy an alternative. That could dampen holiday sales, which are expected to be up anywhere between 8.5% to 10.5% for the November-December period, compared with the year-ago period, according to the National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group.
Experts say that the pandemic trained shoppers to try new brands and items when their first choice couldn’t be found. For example, when consumer product makers and essential retailers saw a huge run on toilet paper in the spring of 2020, it forced shoppers to abandon the brands they’d been loyal to and seek out alternatives.
Things got more complicated as Americans enthusiastically emerged from months of pandemic lockdowns, eager to shop again. Retailers and manufacturers of all types were caught flat-footed as they also contended with a shortage of containers that carry the goods, bottlenecks at ports and a shortage of workers needed to unload the goods. And global chip shortages have increased the list of hard-to-find gadgets. Many industry analysts believe the supply chain issues will not be resolved until next year.