Like many shoppers, Kathleen Weber understands the struggle of finding the right gift for her three children amid widespread shortages this holiday shopping season.
He took his 23-year-old son to Sony Corp. Had promised to buy the PlayStation 5, but couldn’t get his hands on the popular game console. So now Weber says she might have to get her the next best thing – a used smart phone.
“I just don’t know where to get one,” the Yardley, Pennsylvania resident said of the PS5. “It’s Like the Tickle Me Elmos” from 1996.
The holidays have always been defined by depressing out-of-stock messages on the most popular items. But the pandemic-induced supply chain snoring has led to unprecedented shortages in all kinds of products, from chips that go into gaming consoles to more mundane items like ties and pajamas.
Many customers are buying early as shortages are only expected to worsen as the holiday season moves into the final stages.
Some buyers, like Danny Groner, are not being liked.
When Groner realized she needed a new tie for a wedding in early December, she found the right answer on Amazon: a $7.99 slim black-and-white tie that she was told would arrive on time.
But four days later, he received an email message informing him that the tie was not in stock and would not arrive until January. This put the New York campaigner in desperation and forced him to return to the site for any tie that would meet the fast-approaching deadline.
“It didn’t matter to me that it was ugly—here it came,” says Groner, who settled on a yellow-and-blue checkered tie.
According to the Adobe Digital Economy Index, on Cyber Monday – the biggest online shopping day of the year – the prevalence of out-of-stock messages rose 8% compared to a week earlier. Adobe said that from November 1 to November 29, the number of out-of-stock messages increased by two times compared to pre-pandemic levels in January 2020, and by 258% from November 2019.
In response, stores like Kohl’s have added new online tools to help push shoppers to alternatives when their top picks are gone. Shipt, a grocery delivery service owned by Target, now offers customers substitute suggestions, in part, based on their prior shopping behavior. And technology company Obsess, which creates virtual shopping experiences for brands like American Girl and Ralph Lauren, added tools that recommend the next best item if the buyer clicks on something out of stock; It also offers quizzes to find out what they want.
But there are plenty of shoppers who won’t be happy with the choices, especially when it comes to toys like Spinmaster’s Gabby’s Dollhouse Perfect Playset and Moose Toys’ Magic Mixes Magical Misting Cauldron. Some are taking to eBay where they are paying more than three times the suggested retail price. Experts also believe that they will turn to gift cards if they don’t like what they see.
There is a lot at stake for retailers. If shoppers don’t find what they want at one store, they may turn to another competitor or just not buy a substitute. This could reduce holiday sales, which are expected to be anywhere between 8.5% to 10.5% for the November-December period, according to the National Retail Federation, the country’s largest retail trade group.
Experts say the pandemic has trained shoppers to try new brands and items when their first choice is not found. For example, when consumer product manufacturers and essential retailers saw a heavy rush on toilet paper in the spring of 2020, it forced shoppers to abandon the brands they were loyal to and seek alternatives.
Things got more complicated as Americans enthusiastically emerged from months of pandemic lockdown, eager to shop again. Retailers and manufacturers of all kinds were caught flat-footed as they struggled with a shortage of containers, roadblocks at ports, and a lack of workers needed to unload goods.