Christmas Shoppers Buy Gifts Early to Beat Shipping Delays and Price Increases

By Alice Kantor

 The most wonderful time of year started in September for Lori Pinkley. 

The 58-year-old from Cocoa, Florida, doesn’t usually shop early for Christmas gifts. But with news about a supply chain crisis looming, Pinkley was worried about delays. So at a time of year when many are just getting back into the swing of things after summer vacation, she felt the need to ask her four grandchildren for their Christmas lists. 

Photo by Any Lane from Pexels

“They need to be able to count on grandma to get the cool stuff,” she said. 

On both sides of the Atlantic, data show that consumers started holiday shopping early this year. Nearly two thirds of U.S. consumers started preparing for the holidays as early as October, according to a Bank of America survey. In the U.K., one in eight adults said they had bought or pre-ordered festive items earlier than usual, according to a recent survey by the Office for National Statistics. 

“There is a lot more excitement from the consumer side earlier this year than what we were expecting,” said Anastasia Kouvela, a partner in the Boston Consulting Group’s consumer and operations practice. “There is proactive behavior to manage the supply chain so it doesn’t become a problem right before Christmas.”

Many consumers also say another fear has added greater urgency to their trips to the toy store: inflation.

Laure-Hélène Picot, from Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, said she couldn’t help but notice prices rising on gifts. With three children, 12 nieces and nephews and a whole group of friends to give gifts to, she felt she had to plan early to beat price rises. 

The 35-year-old ended up buying one of her sons a metal detector for 60 euros ($68.81) and a digital tablet for her other son for 70 euros. She says she splurged on two Polly Pocket dollhouses for her daughter, shelling out 25 euros.

“I’m really happy I started shopping early this year. It’s been easier to manage my budget and spread the cost,” she said.

Retailers have warned that supply chain snarls may interrupt the usual holiday-shopping season. In Europe, H&M and online retailer Boohoo reported issues with delivery delays this fall. In the U.S., Nike has said that Covid-19 triggered factory closures, leading to months of production being wiped out. Bed Bath & Beyond’s CEO warned that disruptions for his company could last well into next year. Others note that customers simply can’t expect to find everything they want in store. 

That almost happened to Laëtitia Kamiri. The 29-year-old stay-at-home mother from Ronchin, France, had a Barbie-themed wishlist from her four-year-old daughter. She found a few of the items easily, but had to hunt through four different stores until she finally found a highly coveted Barbie walk-in closet.

“Everyone wanted it. It was all disappearing so quickly,” she said, adding that she paid 46 euros for it at a discount shop. “I think we got lucky.”

Despite the pressure, experts warn about shopping in a hurry. Panic buying can lead to greater — and even useless — spending. 

What’s more, there’s no guarantee that early shoppers will be able to nab better deals. 

“We are in a unique year,” said Boston Consulting Group’s Kouvela. “How aggressive the deals are might depend on how much stock there is left and whether retailers will need to incentivize purchases.”

Budget setting is always important going into the holidays, Josh Miller, a senior vice president at KeyBank, wrote in an email. At the same time, consumers worried about finding the best prices might price check items online with multiple retailers to ensure they’re getting the best deals. 

Some consumers are taking an entirely different tack, simply sitting out the early rush.

Nick Fitzsimons, a 59-year-old IT consultant from the British city of Leicester, is one of them. He isn’t going to start shopping in earnest until Christmas Eve, or even Christmas Day.

“One advantage of doing it this way is that by the afternoon of Christmas Eve, about an hour before the shops are about to shut, things like wrapping paper will be greatly reduced in price,” he said. 

That is, if there is any left.

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