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Will Supply Issues Affect Holiday Shopping This Year?

Cargo ship docked at the Morehead City port.
Cargo ship docked at the Morehead City port.

As we enter the holiday shopping season, North Carolina State University experts say consumers may encounter supply-related roadblocks when checking off their shopping lists. 

Robert Handfield, Bank of America University Distinguished Professor of Supply Chain Management at NC State, spoke with The Abstract to explain what’s happening within the global supply chain and what shoppers can do about it. 

“If you know you’ll be wanting a certain item and you see it now in the store – go for it,” Handfield says. Because of shipping delays, “if you order it online, you may have to wait several weeks to get it – or not get it at all.”

Handfield said we can expect delivery delays when ordering apparel, electronics, appliances and manufactured goods such as bicycles. “Anything manufactured overseas can expect to be delayed,” he said. The reason for the delays: a labor shortage in each link of the “chain.”

“The overall workforce in the supply chain is less than it was pre-COVID,” Handfield says. From the manufacturing factory, to the loaders at international ports, to the unloaders at domestic ports, to truck drivers, to warehouse workers, there is a labor shortage. 

“Some of these labor shortages existed pre-COVID, but COVID just made it worse,” he says. People were forced to stay home, then got used to staying home and ended up liking staying home, so they didn’t go back to work.

What shouldn’t we expect to see? A paper shortage. Most paper products are made within the United States, so there would be no international shipping lag. Therefore, items such as toilet paper, paper towels, boxes, bows and wrapping paper should remain stocked and available. 

Handfield doesn’t foresee a major issue with holiday grocery shopping. He does suggest going ahead and buying and freezing meat products such as a turkey or a ham, but he doesn’t anticipate a major shortage in the stores before Thanksgiving. 

Handfield does say consumers should expect to pay more for items than they have in the past. “Prices of everything are going up” he said. The increased prices are due to the need for laborers, the cost it takes to get from point A to point B, and overall price inflation. 

Handfield’s advice to holiday shoppers is: “Don’t be shocked by the prices. Shop early. Don’t wait until the last minute.”

Additional NC State faculty are available to speak on the supply chain disruptions. Visit our supply chain experts page for their contact information.

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