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Holiday shoppers are stockpiling gifts to make sure there's something to unwrap

“If need be, I can always return [the presents] later — but I want to make sure I have gifts in hand,” said one mom who has bought more than usual this year.
Shoppers carry bags along the Strip in Las Vegas on Nov. 7, 2021.
A global economy out of sync with the rush of consumer demand has helped create the supply chain crisis heading into the lucrative holiday season. Bridget Bennett / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

As the supply chain crisis drags on, some holiday shoppers are doubling down, stockpiling gifts in case their favorite items don’t arrive in time. 

About 20 percent of shoppers said they plan to order more gifts in case some are delayed or canceled because of global shipping bottlenecks. The figure jumps to 44 percent among millennials, according to a survey published last month by Oracle Retail, an analytics company.

“We see a consumer who is anxious to spend,” said Mike Webster, Oracle Retail’s senior vice president and general manager. “They are eager to shop and anxious about the execution.”

A global economy out of sync with the rush of consumer demand from countries that have lifted some pandemic restrictions, like the U.S., has helped create the supply chain crisis heading into the lucrative holiday season.

Retailers have shipped imports early and ordered more supplies to keep shelves stocked for eager shoppers. Imports are at record highs — up by more than 20 percent last month compared to 2019 — but companies are still experiencing longer lead times, which can cause them to order more supplies, further backing up ports, according to a research note published last week by Panjiva, the supply chain research unit of S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Retailers' holiday ad campaigns are encouraging shoppers to buy early to avoid shipment delays. But still, some shoppers are stockpiling.

Shoppers are “likely to shop earlier and buy more items,” said Nate Shenck, the head of retail for the management consulting firm BCG North America. “We’ve already observed stock-up behavior and buying earlier, and consumers developed buying-in-bulk behavior over the pandemic.”

Consumers developed buying-in-bulk behavior over the pandemic.

Abby Escobar, who runs a shopping deals group on Facebook, said she is nearly done with Christmas shopping for her family and three kids.

“Everyone is worried about not getting stuff on time,” she said.

Last month, a stack of children’s books she ordered for her 4-year-old, which would normally have taken two days to arrive through Amazon Prime, took a week to show up.

Amazon told NBC News it would investigate the delay. David Fildes, Amazon’s investor relations director, said in a July earnings call that pandemic-driven shopping has outpaced the company's transportation network capacity, leading to longer delivery times. The company continues to invest in its network to meet its one-day delivery goals, he said.

Escobar said she has decided on fewer but higher-quality presents for her two teenagers, like new Apple AirPods or a MacBook. But her 4-year-old son is likely to get a few extra presents this year. She typically gets him about 10 small presents, but this year she already has about 15 or 16 gifts for him.

“If need be, I can always return later — but I want to make sure I have gifts in hand,” she said.

This year’s holiday season is expected to shatter records, according to the National Retail Federation, a trade group. Holiday sales in November and December are expected to grow by 8.5 percent to 10.5 percent from 2020 levels, to $843.4 billion to $859 billion, according to the group

At the same time, the country’s largest ports are still backed up. The number of ships waiting in line to unload at the Port of Los Angeles rose to 99 on Friday, according to the Los Angeles Port Authority. The average wait time rose to 16.9 days, double the level two months ago, it reported.

Walmart, Home Depot and other retailers have secured chartered vessels to import seasonal goods before the holidays, and they have added more items to their original orders from overseas. Retailers are also narrowing their product assortments and encouraging shoppers to shop early and consider substitutes for items that may be out of stock. 

“Even though they’re taking a lot of action this year to make sure stores are full and things are shipped in time, they’re still concerned about availability,” said Shenck of BCG North America. “They recognize customers are worried and are taking action.”

Eric Nyman, the chief operating officer of Hasbro, told investors in an earnings call last month that transit times are as much as 50 days longer, compared to pre-pandemic levels. The toy and entertainment company has added truckers and additional ocean carriers to move products quickly onto shelves for the holidays.

“We feel confident that there will be plenty of Hasbro toys and games here for the holidays,” he said. “And I think that’s the headline we want to stress.”

There will be plenty of Hasbro toys and games here for the holidays.

Alicia Myers, who runs a holiday discounts Facebook group in Springfield, Missouri, said she bought a few additional gifts in case other presents don’t arrive in time. For instance, a child’s boxing punching bag she hopes to give one of her kids has been out of stock for several weeks. She bought two backup presents that will take its place if the bag doesn’t arrive. 

“We’ll probably gift them anyway,” she said. “With bigger items, we always have a backup plan in case there is a delay — which we had before.”