Usually, at this time of the year, around the beginning of the fourth quarter, we write a blog about expectations for the upcoming holiday season and offer tips for retailers to start now to have a successful experience.

This year looks different. Between COVID lingering worldwide and other problems along the supply chain, both retailers and shoppers need to start thinking about holiday shopping now. We understand if you’re not ready to put up the tree and sing Christmas carols, but if you want gifts to be part of your holiday season, that needs to happen now.

What’s the urgency?

It seems to be a perfect storm of circumstances coming together to make things difficult this year. Retail experts have been saying to expect delays with getting items on the shelves by the Christmas shopping season for several months. Those warnings have become more urgent in that the delays and supply shortages are no longer an “if it happens” but a “how big will it be” situation. Some are even saying it could be worse than last year’s delays where some didn’t get their items until a month or more later than expected.

In this article from Tech Republic, manufacturing issues, transport speed due to port problems, and lack of technology adapted by retailers after last season are all major contributing factors.

The article shares a survey by ACG Global, which is a network of 90,000 midcap corporate executives, that found that only 18 percent of companies have “adopted technology platforms to solve their supply challenges since the pandemic began,” the article said.

“ACG’s survey also found that 41 percent of respondents faced supply chain challenges over the past 18 months including delayed or canceled shipments of inventory or raw materials (27 percent), insufficient technology to capture or analyze data (6 percent), a lack of internal supply chain management expertise (5 percent) and high transportation costs (4 percent),” the article continued.

Another complicating factor is the labor shortage, both in retail and drivers for logistics. Retail Dive reports that the employee shortage in retail was worse than this time last year as of July.

“The number of retail job openings reached 1.2 million in July compared to 876,000 last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,” the article said. “In July, the retail industry had 906,000 hires, a drop of more than 250,000 from the month prior.”

Retail Dive reports that the conditions have not improved much, spurring a growing number of retailers to up their pay and other benefits. Still, about 700,000 people are expected to be hired as holiday temp workers this season.

The driver shortage is a growing problem across our industry, plaguing logistics agencies of all sizes. At On Time Logistics, we implemented a plan last year to retain most of our holiday workers, which has helped us be more prepared for this year.

Finally, changes at the United States Postal Service are happening just in time to cause potential problems during the holidays. First-class mail is expected to slow considerably, with some saying it will be the same basic timing as what the country saw in the 1970s. For people in this decade, 40 years later, that will likely cause some irritation. This change will affect common holiday items such as some small packages and letters (think: Christmas cards!).

What can be done about it?

With so many contributing factors, one must accept that the situation is already largely out of their control. But between retailers preparing and consumers shopping, we have a few tips to help.

Start now

In case it’s not clear enough, you need to start preparing now if you haven’t already. If you are a retailer and haven’t ordered inventory, consider paying rush fees to make sure everything arrives. It’s often better to satisfy customers and lessen profits because those happy customers will be more likely to stick with you.

If you’re a consumer, start ordering items now. Don’t expect them to still be in stock as the holidays approach. If you like to order online then ship the items from your home to their destination, starting early is even more important.

Consider communication channels

It’s past time for retailers to consider that their shoppers use multiple channels to both communicate and shop. Not only should retailers provide multiple channels, but they need to make sure they are managing those channels well. If there is a platform people are likely to contact you on, and you can’t manage it, communicate that and offer viable alternatives.

And for customers, work with the retailers, especially the small ones still suffering from the pandemic. Work with their communication and ordering methods so they can keep everything in order and are less likely to make a mistake.

Are you a small business needing to get your products delivered for customers in Little Rock or Northwest Arkansas? What about a larger retailer needing a regional final mile delivery provider that serves Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri? On Time Logistics is an elite regional logistics provider and we would love to help make your holiday season more jolly!