Leah Pickering, owner of Kazoodles toy store in Vancouver, placed an order for Christmas puzzles in May. On Tuesday, she found out that they might not arrive by Christmas.
“I don’t have any holiday puzzles in my hand, and this news makes me very uncomfortable,” she said.
Pickering is well aware of the ongoing supply chain issues that continue to cause shortages for many products: video game consoles, furniture, food.
Gift-giving this holiday season is expected to cause a massive gum-up of delivery systems, which it normally does every year, but this may be the worst. The biggest factor is likely a labor shortage affecting warehouse, shipping and trucking companies and delays in ports with shipping containers.
Local retailers across Clark County, from small shops to larger Vancouver Mall tenants, are stocked and ready for a busier in-person retailing experience with the transportation lags this upcoming holiday season.
“Shop early” is the advice from all, and the days that delivery companies can guarantee delivery before Christmas are fast approaching — but also a moving target that depends on the goods.
Prices are also undoubtedly increasing due to the supply chain shortages and pandemic-induced inflation that’s caused about a 5 percent increase in general prices, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Vancouver Mall is already in Christmas mode. A full interactive display featuring a scene and characters from the Will Ferrell movie “Elf” greets passersby in the mall’s center.
“Many retailers have more stock,” said Amy Tanska, marketing manager. “There’s pallet loads of extra products in dedicated storage space. It’s more than I’ve seen in recent years.”
The mall is also at near peak capacity with tenants, after eight new stores opened in eight weeks. Tanska is expecting a busier than average year, especially with no indoor crowd limits.
“Last year, it was all about curbside delivery. This year, people want to feel, taste and smell their gifts,” Tanska said.
At Bath and Body Works, store manager Melissa Mendez said she’s expecting huge crowds and double-digit revenue increases from last year; this year has already brought more business with the in-store capacity limit and social distancing restrictions lifted.
“Last year was good but not up to our expectations,” she said. “We’re expecting revenue to be what it was pre-pandemic.”
Becky Milner, owner of Vintage Books, is always surprised to see what will be the popular book everyone wants for the holiday season.
“(I) hope it is one we are prepared for,” she wrote in an email to The Columbian. “We expect to run out of a few things, and not be able to get more (because of the supply chain issue on publisher ends, and shipping issues).”
New and used books, socks, puzzles, tea, cards and soap are all strong sellers in the Vancouver bookstore, she said. This year in particular, biographies, signed books, natural history books and children’s books have seen greater sales.
“It delights us, to see the intent to share the joy of reading,” she wrote.
Every year, Black Friday is becoming more of a monthly event than just the day after Thanksgiving. Sales using the Black Friday theme have been showing up all of November. With the ubiquitous supply chain issues, this year is exceptionally full of early Black Friday deals.
“Black Friday is earlier and earlier every year,” Tanska said. “It’s become more of a season than a one-day event.”
“We always do see a huge influx of: ‘Amazon didn’t arrive before Christmas,’ ” Pickering said. “We see that for every holiday. Expect that to be more of the case this year.”
Pickering is still waiting on orders that were supposed to ship in July and August, but each manufacturer is different. Most are in the Midwest, but some are in Oregon, she said.
As a general rule, she’s noticed that it takes one to two weeks to get an order to begin shipment from warehouses, she said.
A big reason for the shipping issues is a shortage of truck drivers to deliver goods to stores. Another reason is shipping container chokepoints at popular ports, including the Port of Los Angeles.
President Joe Biden last month struck a deal with the Port of Los Angeles, where many of the shipping containers from China enter the United States, to operate around the clock to help clear the backlog of shipping containers in time for the holiday season.
On Wednesday, The Guardian reported that the backlog at the Port of Los Angeles was beginning to ease.
As a business that also ships toys and games, Kazoodles is telling customers outside of Washington, Oregon and Idaho to order before Dec. 6 to guarantee delivery before Christmas. Local customers can guarantee Christmas delivery if they order before Dec. 15. (Last year, Pickering’s guaranteed Christmas delivery dates for ordering were Dec. 15 and Dec. 20, respectively.)
“We’ll still ship after that. We just won’t guarantee delivery,” she said.
Pickering calculated the shipping estimates based on what UPS told her to expect.
The U.S. Postal Service’s recommended “send by” dates for the upcoming holiday season is Dec. 15 for retail ground services and Dec. 23 for priority mail express.
Tip: Shop early
Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce CEO John McDonagh said that the local retail community is telling buyers to shop early.
“Lots of concern about getting merchandise here in time or in sufficient quantities to satisfy their customers,” he wrote in an email to The Columbian. “The next biggest issue is staffing, like every other industry. The concern is twofold, having enough staff to serve the customers and then not over-working existing staff to the point of burnout.”
The Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce will be pushing its local gift shopping program Grow the 360 “so that as many as possible are thinking if I am going to spend, I’ll spend with the locals rather than reverting to online shopping,” McDonagh wrote.
At Fred Meyer, the stock is still high for most items, but the stores are prepared for a very busy holiday season, said spokesman Jeffery Temple.
“Product shortages vary by category. The reality is that many items are in stock now, but once they are out of stock, they will most likely be out of stock for the season,” Temple wrote in an email.
The store’s famous sock sale is planned to be center stage and doors will open at 5 a.m. Friday for an all-day sale.