Supply chain shortages push need to start Christmas shopping early

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It’s only October, but it’s already time to start your holiday shopping in earnest.

For years, Thanksgiving and Black Friday have marked the official kickoff to the holiday shopping season and the time of year when shoppers get focused on holiday spending. Last year, retailers pushed a longer shopping season with more online sales amid the pandemic. 

This year, the third week of November is too late to get started. 

With widespread supply chain disruptions and labor shortages continuing, procrastinating on purchasing some gifts – especially toys and electronics – could end up hitting your wallet.

Prices also are rising and product inventory will be more limited because of consumer demand and availability.

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►Christmas shipping deadlines 2021: FedEx, UPS and USPS say these are the last days to ship gifts

“The biggest wildcard of the holiday season is product availability, so you might be out of luck if you wait too long to buy a hot toy from a kid’s wish list,” said Laurie Schacht with The Toy Insider. “Shopping for holiday gifts in October may seem like something only the overachievers do, but this year it will be essential to finding those coveted toys in time for the holidays.”

According to a RetailMeNot survey of nearly 1,100 consumers, 37% of shoppers began their holiday shopping between August and September if not earlier. Another 22% said they’d start shopping in October and 24% planned to start in November ahead of Thanksgiving.

“Black Friday and early December are going to be in the center of a perfect storm of high demand, low staffing, slow shipping and difficulties restocking,” Kristin McGrath, a shopping expert and editor at deal website RetailMeNot, told USA TODAY.

But for the most part, retailers have not yet shared holiday plans, but details are starting to trickle in. Amazon kicked off an early Black Friday sale, and Sam’s Club said it is doubling the number of sales it holds compared to last year.

Even the White House knows people will have a hard time finding gifts. “There will be things that people can’t get,” a senior White House official told Reuters.

Here are the top tips to getting all the gifts your family wants and saving the most money:

Shop early sales for limited inventory

Take advantage of early sales. Last-minute shoppers may struggle to get their hands on in-demand items and pay more for them.

“Time and money may be working against consumers this fall,” Mike Bailey, director of research at FBB Capital Partners in Bethesda, Maryland. “Supply chain pressures are making products more expensive and harder to find when consumers want them.”

Use programs like Target’s price match guarantee

It’s like a case of bad FOMO – you’re worried about missing out getting the gift but also don’t want to miss the deals that could come later if the price drops.

As a bargain shopper, I wondered if we will see any discounts on the new iPad like we have in past holiday sales. So I decided to break tradition and not to wait because I noticed it kept selling out. 

But I waited until Target’s new holiday price match guarantee was in effect, and the extended return period on electronics also helped. With Target’s guarantee, shoppers can request a price adjustment on all items purchased Oct. 10 through Dec. 24 if the retailer “lowers the price later in the season.” As part of its existing policy, Target will continue to match select competitors’ prices within 14 days of purchase and as always exclusions apply.

Look for other retailers to announce similar programs in the coming weeks.

Save receipts and check return periods

Amazon and Target’s extended return periods make it easier to buy early. Make sure to save your physical in-store receipts where there isn’t a digital record available and check other retailers’ return periods.

I take photos of my important receipts and usually clip or tape the physical copy to the item.

Set in-stock alerts

Sometimes it’s not about the deal but getting the item on your list whether it’s a toy, television or a sweater. I almost ordered the iPad multiple times but it kept selling out. It was unavailable to purchase near me, so I signed up for in-stock alerts on Target.com Sunday and hours later got a notification that I could place an order.

In-stock alerts helped me score last year, too, when toys from the top Netflix kids show Cocomelon were on my Walmart shopping list.

I’ve used the in-stock notifications mainly at Target and Walmart and signed up for the alerts either on my laptop browser or phone. Once you get the alert, you’ll need to act fast as supplies will go fast and it can take multiple attempts.

Watch Facebook groups for deals

Not all of the best bargains are widely advertised so one way to learn the deepest discounts is through crowdsourcing. Some of the groups I’m in include Costco Fans and Costco Products & Reviews; Target Deals, Clearance & Couponing and Target Couponing; and Walmart Clearance Finds and More.

Sticking with store-specific groups is helpful, but a word of warning: Seeing what everyone else is buying can make you shop and spend more.

►Is the impulse buy dead?: Americans are shopping less often and limiting impulse buys as COVID breeds a more cautious consumer

►Walmart’s new Nextflix store: Walmart opens Netflix Hub with Stranger Things, Cocomelon merchandise; Squid Game shirts coming soon

Follow USA TODAY reporter Kelly Tyko on Twitter: @KellyTyko. For shopping news, tips and deals, join us on our Shopping Ninjas Facebook group. 

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