Delayed for the holidays: How to shop in a supply chain slowdown

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

CNET

You're likely to see shortages of popular gifts and delivery delays as the holiday shopping season gets underway. At US ports, retailer distribution centers and all the points in between, congestion in the global supply chain has cut into inventories of things like clothing, toys and tech products. 

But your holidays need not be ruined because of late gifts or gifts you can't find at all. Outside of shopping early, which it's pretty much too late for, there are plenty of ways to still find the gifts on your list.

Here are a few ideas, and don't forget to check out CNET's 2021 Gift Guide and our guide to finding the best Black Friday deals.

Shop locally

Shorten those shipping distances to just across town by supporting local retailers. Whether it's an independent store or a big-box chain, some businesses will ship directly from the store to your home (thus avoiding distribution centers where bottlenecks can occur). And if you're late to the game or don't want to take a chance on even local shipping, many retailers also have an option to buy online and pick up in-store.

If you need to widen the search, look for goods that don't have to be shipped in from overseas. That way you can avoid your gifts transiting the busy ports.

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Shop in a store

I know... you likely haven't gone to the mall a whole lot in the past 20 months. (Honestly, it's an experience I miss.) And you may have fallen out of the habit of in-store shopping even before the pandemic.

But the beauty of shopping in person is that if it's on the shelf, it's yours (provided there's no Cabbage Patch Kid situation). Go on, brave the crowds, wear a mask and go out to lunch in the process. 

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

Kent German/CNET

Shop small 

Small businesses will still be subject to post office delays, but they may have a better handle on their inventories and production and will likely provide more personable customer service if something goes wrong. You also can use sites like Etsy or eBay to look for crafts, decorative items or artwork made by independent producers.

Shop second-hand

Collectibles, memorabilia and vintage clothing or toys can make wonderful gifts and used goods can have less impact on the environment.

Say you have a (cough cough) airline geek in the family. Then how about a safety card from a retired airliner? One of the best gifts I ever received was a safety card from a British Airways Concorde.

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 safety cards and a catalog from the 2003 auction of the parts from a scrapped Air France plane remain treasured gifts

Kent German/CNET

Shop for something intangible

Things like spa treatments, lessons (my husband bought me an awesome flying lesson one year), weekends away, and subscriptions to magazines/newspapers or streaming TV services don't have to be shipped. The same is true for gift cards and vouchers, but only if you buy them in person or in an electronic form.

Physical gift cards that have to be mailed can also be sent to delivery purgatory. I found that out last year when I bought my niece a physical gift card two weeks before Christmas and it still arrived late. So check shipping times before you click.

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Or just don't sweat it 

This is tougher advice when you have kids, but it may work for adults.

This year, you really have the best excuse in the world (provided you didn't wait until the last minute) if a gift is late. To give them something to open on the day, you can buy something small that represents the gift to come. Last year, for example, the Nespresso machine I bought for my dad didn't arrive on time.

To get him excited for what was to come, he opened a box of coffee capsules Christmas morning.