Last holiday season was anything but normal for most of us. Due to Covid-19, we could not gather with our families to celebrate Christmas. My visit with my mom was limited to a few socially distant moments on her front porch. Hopefully, it will prove to be the last season like that.
However, that does not mean that this holiday will be normal. Far from it. Supply chain problems have already seen to that.
Here we sit, still two months out from the actual holidays, and already we’re seeing supply chain chaos that could make it tough to find the gifts we want to put under the tree. Although many warehouses are jammed to the rafters with inventory, it’s not necessarily the right inventory. Many of the items we’re hoping Santa will bring in his sleigh are actually in short supply.
As for what’s behind the shortages, there’s no one answer. A string of interconnected problems have contributed to this mess—or what my publisher, Gary Master, calls our “whack-a-mole supply chains.” His characterization is spot on: As soon as we solve one problem, another pops up.
Covid-19, of course, has been the main culprit. Inventories that had already been “leaned” in recent years were whittled down even further in 2020, leaving businesses ill prepared when demand came roaring back to record levels. On top of that, carriers were unable to bring the cargo capacity that was lost in 2020 back online fast enough, as the ships, trucks, trailers, and chassis—and the workers needed to make them all move—were in short supply.
The woes continued into the new year. In March, the Ever Given containership jammed the Suez Canal for six days. Then in August, a terminal at one of the world’s busiest ports, China’s Ningbo container port, was closed for two weeks due to Covid quarantines. Vessels stacked up there and at other ports. As of late August, there were 47 containerships anchored outside of Long Beach and Los Angeles waiting for berths, further delaying subsequent sailings and disrupting container flows.
As of this writing, the supply chain challenges were not expected to ease much until later this year. By then, it may be too late for importers to obtain the holiday items they need in time for Black Friday. Consumers probably won’t see as many deals as they have in past years simply because there will be no excess inventory that retailers need to clear out.
So, as we sit here in October, my advice is to do your holiday shopping now while you can still get the items you want. It might be the only way to assure a Grinch-less season.