Shipping issues could lead to sparse shelves this holiday

Published 9:00 am Saturday, October 30, 2021

As the jack-o-lanterns are replaced by tinsel and mistletoe, many are already beginning to plan for holiday shopping.

However, due to supply chain issues that are affecting businesses from food distributors to fuel distributors, shoppers may see fewer items on shelves this season and may have to look into ordering their gifts even before their Halloween candy supply ends.

KPMG, a multinational professional services network, performed a survey on over 100 retail executives on their expectations for the 2021 holiday shopping season.

At the time the survey was taken in September 2021, retailers were expecting strong sales during this seasonal period compared to 2020.

Yet, 82% of executives surveyed also acknowledge that they are either “somewhat” or “very concerned” about inventory shortages.

Supply chain disruption is a key factor, KPMG said, continuing to present inventory challenges again this year. Difficulties pertaining to shipping container capacity, port congestion, driver shortages and COVID-19 concerns pose significant risks.

Meanwhile, prices are rising due to a surge in shipping costs. At this time last year, ocean freight rates from China to the U.S. West Coast were $3,847 per 40-foot container. Now, the same container will cost $17,377 to ship, according to Freightos, a Hong Kong-based online freight marketplace. This leaves many items — including toys — stuck at ports and off shelves of retailers.

When asked about how Walmart plans to deal with these shipping issues ahead of the holiday shopping season, Walmart referred the LDN to one of its press releases published Oct. 8, written by Joe Metzger, Executive Vice President, Supply Chain Operations, Walmart U.S.

“Knowing the challenges the overall supply chain system is facing, we’re taking additional steps to navigate the hurdles and minimize disruption, so we can deliver for our customers this holiday season,” Metzger writes. “We’ve worked with suppliers to source holiday merchandise earlier than usual and are finding ways to move those products inside our supply chain network as quickly as possible. We have been laser-focused on inventory levels since the start of the pandemic and reported higher inventory in the second quarter this year than a year ago. While we’d like to see inventory, levels continue to improve, we’re on the right track.”

Metzger explains that Walmart will charter ships and divert shipments through less congested ports, as well as hire than 3,000 drivers and 20,000 permanent supply chain positions to help move products through its facilities.

As they prepare for the onslaught of increased holiday shopping, some local businesses are already voicing concerns.

Pretty Good Books bookstore in downtown LaGrange is already expecting a hit.

“We’re [having issues] getting new stuff,” owner Joshua Rigsby said. “If someone wants the latest edition of [a book], we can get it now, but we probably won’t get it until the beginning of next year.”

If a customer orders a less-sought after books to gift for the holidays, there’s a chance that the book may arrive in time, Rigsby said, but books in demand right now may not. Some books, he said, are backordered, meaning the publisher of a particular book has sold out of the copies they have. In those cases, those books will not be reprinted until the following year.

“Some of them we stocked up on early because we knew this was going to be an issue,” he said. “We can try other avenues to get the books, but some of them are just not going to be available. If someone wants the hot new title in time for Christmas, they need to order it now.”

The bookstore also accepts used books, which notably they are not in dire need for, Rigsby said.

Meanwhile, businesses such as The Mind Clothing on Main Street in LaGrange are ready for the incoming holiday shopping season.

“I’m proactive and right now I’m already working on stuff for next year,” said owner Brandon Todd. “I’m expecting [inventory] to be shipped out and get to me within two weeks, if it’s delayed two weeks, at least I ordered it two to three months in advance.”

Todd, like other businesses, is planning Black Friday specials and had ordered more merchandise to level his inventory.

Others who may be affected by the shipping issues include organizations that sponsor toy drives in the community.

The Hogansville Pilot Club, which sponsors Hogansville’s version of the Empty Stocking Fund, is not aware yet how their efforts to obtain toys and gifts will be impacted.

“We haven’t gone out and bought any toys just yet. We start purchasing toys about the first of November,” said Elaine Carr, a Pilot Club member who organizes the Empty Stocking Fund.

LaGrange’s version of the Empty Stocking Fund, ran by LaGrange Personal Aid, remains in good shape so far.

“I don’t think the LaGrange Empty Stocking Fund will be affected,” said Paul Stedman, executive director of LaGrange Personal Aid. “I started shopping for toys on sale and clearance back in February of this year just in case there were shipping problems closer to Christmas.”

Stedman said his organization also has funds set aside for toys and gifts that may not be in its inventory and also receives extra supplies and funds from Toys for Tots.