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2021 Holiday Shopping, Shipping, and Shortfalls

October 28, 2021

The pandemic continues to play a major role on all things related to holiday shopping and gift giving this season, and the same questions are on the minds of many consumers:

  • Shopping – How early do I need to start thinking about holiday shopping? Will popular products be more expensive?
  • Shortfall – Even if I’m willing to pay more, will the items I want be available?
  • Shipping – Will I get holiday items I order in a timely manner?

As the season has begun and we continue to inch closer to the holidays, diving into some of these questions is important for understanding where the industry is at and how consumers are feeling this year.

Holiday Shopping/Spending

There’s no doubt you have seen this messaging everywhere: Shop early for the holidays or you may not get what you want. The question is: How early should you start shopping/buying?

According to Big Village’s CARAVAN omnibus survey, conducted in August and October 2021, there is an increase in the number of shoppers who are more likely to start holiday shopping earlier this year as compared to years prior, due to concerns of product availability and supply chain issues. There is also a faction of shoppers who will be shopping early to boost their holiday spirit. (An added bonus, if you shop early to boost your holiday spirit, you are more likely to receive the gifts in a timely manner and keep that holiday spirit intact!)

Many retailers have noticed the shifted shopping mentality that a large portion of consumers have this year and are planning on offering deals and shopping incentives much earlier than the typical Black Friday shopping “holiday” in order to avoid congestion in stores. Supporting that decision, roughly two-thirds of people from the CARAVAN survey said that they plan on going to retail stores during less-busy days/time this year, to limit the potential exposure to COVID-19.

Despite prices being higher for many products, about half of the shoppers we asked said they’d be willing to pay more if it meant getting the most important items on the shopping list. However, many consumers are feeling the effects of inflation impacting their ability to buy holiday gifts this year. Shoppers are likely to make more thoughtful choices as they decide how to allocate their holiday gift giving budgets.

Holiday Shopping Shortfalls

Many consumers are concerned about how product shortages will affect their holiday shopping and gift giving this year. There has been a lot of coverage on the microchip shortfall that continues to affect the automotive and tech industries, where product supply is at a deficit compared to the demand. But what other typical holiday items might be in short supply if they are produced overseas? The answer is toys, games and holiday décor. Many toys and games are made of multiple pieces and materials, making it challenging for retailers to obtain and keep items in stock.[1] Additionally, seasonal décor isn’t typically kept in warehouses all year round, so it’s likely that stock will be limited. If you see something you want, you should consider purchasing it sooner rather than later.

Many of the product shortages can be attributed to the glut of cargo ships sitting right off the shores of many ports. There could be some relief coming, as the White House recently shared that it is working with large ports and retailers to expand hours of operation.

Holiday Shipping

When ordering holiday gifts online, take the time to check the origin of where your items are being shipped before you place the order. Given the fact that cargo ships are clogging ports everywhere, it’s likely that at least an item or two from your orders will be stuck floating on a ship just off the coast of a port.

In addition to supply chain shortages, domestic shipping companies’ schedules will also play a crucial role in the shopping season, especially when ordering a gift, and then shipping the gift. Many delivery companies have already issued deadlines and guidelines to help ensure your packages arrive to your recipients on time. Unfortunately, many gift givers are relying on getting the gifts first, then wrapping, packaging, and shipping the gifts to eager recipients. A change that is likely to occur for this season is having shoppers send gifts directly from a retailer to the recipient in order to bypass themselves, the intermediary.

How to Approach Holiday Shopping This Year

The best advice that can be given under these circumstances is to start your holiday shopping process earlier than you normally would and hatch a plan. Make a list of those for whom you’ll be purchasing gifts, brainstorm potential ideas, and heck, even ask for a Christmas list. That way, you will have the inputs you need to start doing comparative shopping and you will know whether or not you have time to order online vs. making the trip to the store.


Written by Vicki Wheatley, Senior Director and Project Manager at Big Village Insights.


[1] BHG, Christmas Planning Tips: By Emily VanSchmus, October 11, 2021