BRAUN: Christmas shoppers to face shortages thanks to pandemic

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 If you want to celebrate Christmas with gifts, a tree and all the trimmings, you should start shopping now.

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Supply chain chaos is going to create shortages at the retail level this holiday season. Advice from every corner is the same: if there’s something special on your wish list, buy it when you see it — like, now.

The U.S. Toy Association recently held a press conference — in conjunction with the Port of Los Angeles — to spell it out for people: there are going to be shortages.

Global supply chain issues will hit the toy industry hard, and consumers are warned that the most popular toys could all be sold out by Black Friday (Nov. 26), the day after U.S. Thanksgiving.

Most toys (85%) are made in China. They arrive here via the biggest ports — all backlogged now — and there are other delays all along the line. There are plenty of toys; getting them here in time is the issue.

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According to Bloomberg , hot items for kids this year include a learning robot from Fisher-Price, Tamagotchi virtual pets, and a Blues Clues play kitchen, if you can get them.

And L.O.L. Surprise Dolls and Little Tikes cars may be harder to find by December.

The BBC reports Barbie dolls and Paw Patrol products are expected to be in short supply in the U.K.

And, simultaneously, demand just keeps increasing. The pandemic kept people at home, fuelling the quest for at-home entertainment, hobbies, and amusements. Toy sales jumped 15% in the first six months of the year.

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Toys, Christmas decorations, trees, some electronics (Apple has announced fewer iPhone 13s because of a chip shortage), cars, appliances, sports shoes, and many other items made in Asia will be affected.    

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It’s all hard cheese for retailers, some of whom count on the weeks leading up to Christmas for the biggest part of their annual sales.

Of course, size counts.

Big box retailers have the financial heft to take matters into their own hands; Costco and Home Depot, for example, have contracted their own container ships,  while Canadian Tire bought a chunk of port facility Ashcroft Terminal Ltd. , in August, to make transport into Canada more nimble.

“The bigger players can take the supply chain issues into their own hands. It’s the mom-and-pop shops that may take a hit,” said Retail Insider CEO Craig Patterson.

“The bottleneck at all major ports is so bad now the Port of Los Angeles is running 24/7. Some things can be flown in, and we might see that at the last minute — maybe things like Tiffany jewelry.

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“Dollarama,” he joked, “may not be chartering planes.”

There will be price increases, said Patterson, as is usual when demand exceeds supply. This is not the year to do all your shopping on Christmas Eve.

Early birds may be the winners all around, as Patterson reported he has already spotted a few Black Friday sales.

“You do have to be on the ball and paying attention. If you have your heart set on something, get it now. There’s no guarantee it will be there later.”

You will have a competition. Some people saved a lot of money during the pandemic, Patterson added, and they’re ready to shop now.

“High-end retailers will do well. Some luxury retailers are already doing better than they did before the pandemic, jewellers especially.”

The pandemic means people have had to face their own mortality, Patterson said.

“The status quo has really been shaken up. We’re not here forever. People have taken notice and are spending accordingly.”

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