Small plastic spiders slipped on polyester webs this week at the Skylark Bookstore as readers scoured the shelves for the latest spooky Halloween reads. But booksellers had a whole other holiday in mind: Christmas.
This year, supply chain tightening and labor shortages are making it harder for businesses small and large to stock their shelves with the items customers want at affordable prices, posing a huge risk. for the procrastinating vacation buyer.
To avoid an unsuccessful last-minute rush this holiday season, businesses are urging customers to shop early.
âThere are just no guarantees,â said Kelly Gilion, owner and designer of Plume, a boutique and bakery on K route. âI don’t know what’s going to be left on my shelf on December 24. . “
Skylark has been posting a chalkboard up front for over a month with a similar message: “Buy now to ease the strain on the holiday supply chain.”
Manager Carrie Koepke said the store was forced to hedge its bets this year on the books readers would buy. And once management places the order, there’s unlikely to be another chance on some high-demand items until next year.
âNormally we have more flexibility in determining what interests people,â she said. “We just don’t have that this year,â¦ so there’s a lot of guesswork going on.”
Which items are the most affected? There are shortages in almost every industry in the United States, affecting stores and shoppers around the world. As the holiday season approaches, toys, books, clothing and bikes are just some of the items that pose a high risk of issues related to supply issues and backlogs.
Melissa Frier, manager of the Aardvarx tobacco and gift shop, sighed at the mere mention of the supply chain issues. She said the store has seen its share of pandemic challenges. An employee told the story of a man who waited an entire year for a particularly elusive shirt with a cat face on it. Finally, the shirt arrived in early October. (When asked if he still wanted the shirt when he arrived, the customer’s response was emphatic: âHell yes!â)
Although Frier said this was an extreme example, it shows the supply chain issues affecting companies across multiple industries.
And while items are available, they can cost more than last year.
Gilion said Plume, which designs and sells children’s essentials like bibs and blankets as part of its business, has struggled to find the necessary materials at the prices it is accustomed to.
She said the cost of the fabric has increased by 40-45%, a huge increase for an item typically sold for $ 20 or $ 25. Some of this cost may have to be passed on to the consumer.
âWe try not to have to increase the prices, but at the end of the day, the prices go up everywhere,â Gilion said. âThere is a trickle-down effect. “
Plume also struggled to find packaging, such as bags and wrappers, as well as boxes for his bakery. In December, the company will fill its largest order of cupcakes: 9,000 cupcakes. But Gilion had an uphill battle finding the boxes to deliver them.
While the boxes have been secured for this order, Gilion said the effort shows the uncertainty many business owners currently face when trying to find their products.
The global roots of a local problem
Most business owners blamed COVID-19 for their most recent supply chain issues. That’s because at the start of the pandemic, “demand didn’t really collapse, it fell off the table – fell off the cliff,” said Anthony Ross, associate dean of research at Trulaske College. of Business from MU and expert in supply chain management.
It was as if the whole world was taking a break from a fast-paced and incredibly busy global marketplace. Shipping companies have canceled delivery routes, businesses have ordered fewer products, and consumers have reduced their purchases to essentials like toilet paper and toothpaste.
âIf you remember (at the start of the pandemic) you could take the freeway andâ¦ not see but maybe four or five cars,â Ross said, recalling the eerily empty streets now emblematic of lives put pending during locking. âPeople weren’t moving, which means the trucks weren’t moving. “
That’s problematic for a country where much of the economy depends on trucks to move items from point A to point B. And when demand increased last summer, companies were left behind: trucks and the ships were out of position; it has been incredibly difficult to recruit and retain staff; and the price of raw materials has increased significantly.
Spread these complications globally and you’ve got a bogged down and messy reboot in the global economy. And fixing it takes time.
âTravel time is the same. The distance between the port of Tianjin, in China, and the port of Los Angeles is the same. I mean, the Earth isn’t moving, âRoss said. âWhat has changed is the time the product has to wait to be loaded and unloaded. “
How are companies doing?
Half of small businesses say supply chain disruptions have had a significant impact on their business in recent months, according to a September survey of the National Federation of Independent Business. And 86% of homeowners expect the problems to continue into the next year.
Ross predicted that a coping mechanism used by businesses would be âdemand management,â or attempting to influence the buying habits of consumers in a way that supports the supply of retailers. Encouraging early purchases and recommending available alternatives are two forms of demand management.
âA lot of people think there is a perfect gift,â Koepke said of holiday shoppers. âWe can always help you find the perfect gift, even if it’s not the one you had in mind.
For other companies, the strain on supply has led to a change in their ordering and selling practices.
While Frier said Aardvarx is mostly caught up with pandemic arrears, she anticipates more problems as the holiday season approaches.
In an attempt to avoid these issues, she has “ordered like crazy” to make sure the store has the items her customers need and turned “every square inch” of space into storage.
âI have ordered two or three times what we normally order, and if we get half of it, so much the better. If we get more, even better, âshe said.
Kilion said she is doing the same at Plume, putting “boxes where we’ve never had boxes before” to make sure the store has the stock it needs for Christmas. She said she was hoping to find the “sweet spot” that all retailers are looking for.
âYou don’t want too much inventory, but you also don’t want to run out too soon,â she said. âThe last thing you want as a retailer is to have your shelves empty in December. “