May 26, 2023

Christmas arrived early at ABC & Toy Zone in Rochester.

No, Santa has not flown in early to greet children. It’s the way-early Christmas shoppers, showing up at the store months ahead of Christmas — worried that if they wait, the special gift they are looking for won’t be in stock.

Steven Nordhus, owner of the store in the Miracle Mile shopping center in northwest Rochester, said the mold for Christmas shopping has already been broken. Typically, the shopping season starts with a bang on Black Friday, sags slightly after that and then builds to a crescendo until Christmas Day.

ALSO READ: How one toy store found a way to avoid a supply chain nightmare before Christmas

But this season has been scrambled, and the change is seen in the larger-than-usual number of holiday shoppers showing up in the store in September.

“We noticed a bigger increase than normal of toys going out the door,” Nordhus said. “We’re seeing probably November sales in October.”

Supply chain disruptions and labor shortages are rippling through to stores like ABC & Toy Zone. On the supply side of things, a smaller percentage of its purchase orders are being filled, from toys to shopping bags, Nordhus said.

Anticipating pandemic-related distribution problems, the store planned ahead, he said, and explored channels for obtaining toys that “we probably would not have gone with, had it not been the case of what’s going on.”

Experts blame the bottlenecks on a supply chain built for efficiency rather than redundancy. The result is that highly sought-after products may be scare this Christmas season.

“The biggest wildcard of the holiday season is product availability, so you might be out of luck if you wait too long to buy a hot toy from a kid’s wish list,” said Laurie Schacht with The Toy Insider, in a USA Today article.

With supply chains flashing warnings, retailers including Amazon and Target have started to offer holiday promotions even earlier than normal. And shoppers are jumping at them. The latest retail sales figures show U.S. consumers are spending at a faster rate than expected, up more than 15 percent in September.

Consumers are doing what they usually do when there is a perceived shortage. They are hoarding — in a Christmas context.

“Thankfully, the shortages don’t hit everybody all at the same time and not all products at the same time,” said George John, a professor the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. “What it’s led to is stockpiling by consumers. We’re acting like our own little warehouses.”

John said what makes navigating the current shopping season so challenging is its unpredictability. In the current context, it may make sense to rush out to get that got-to-have gift if you are worried about its availability. But given the current uncertainty, what is in short supply now may turn into a “pretty good supply” later in the season. It makes waiting a sensible approach.

John counsels shoppers against over-reaction and panic buying. The “sad fact” is that 40 percent to 50 percent of all gifts are returned.

“It means that if we’re kind of calm about it, we shouldn’t panic,” John said, “because chances are that the very thing you bought for somebody is going to be returned anyway.”

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