Out-of-Stock Messages Up 258 Percent This Holiday Season Compared to November 2019

The supply chain shortages hitting the United States are affecting the holidays, with many gifts already out-of-stock and stores having a hard time stocking shelves.

The pandemic-induced supply chain issues have created shortages on all types of products, from clothes, toys, computer chips and more. As the gift-giving season gets closer, the shortages are expected to worsen, driving customers to buy early and snag an item whenever they see it on the shelf.

The number of out-of-stock messages between November 1 and November 29 on online stores rose by 258 percent compared to November 2019, and close to double compared to pre-pandemic levels, according to Adobe Digital Economy Index.

On Cyber Monday, widely known as the most popular day of the year for online shoppers, the out-of-stock messages appeared 8 percent more than the week earlier, according to Adobe.

The out-of-stock issues could drive shoppers to find the products at another store, or buy an alternative for the product. Experts told the Associated Press that due to the pandemic, shoppers are now used to trying new brands when their preferred choice is unavailable. One example cited was the toilet paper shortage in spring 2020, which forced customers to purchase other brands.

The shortages would not just leave customers without the specific products or gifts they want, but could hurt smaller retailers and bring down total holiday sales.

A survey from the National Federation of Independent Businesses, a small-business lobbying group, reported 39 percent of businesses said supply chain shortages are severely impacting them. Another 50 percent said the impact has been mild or moderate. Just 10 percent said there has been no impact on their business by supply chain shortages.

Jim Silver, CEO of Toys, Tots, Pets & More, a toy industry review website, told the AP he recommends shoppers go online to see which stores have items in stock but to also look for toys like board games that are made in the U.S.

"Things that are made here are going to have better stock inventories," Silver said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Supply Chain Shortage
The supply chain shortages hitting the United States are affecting the holidays, with many gifts already out-of-stock and stores having a hard time stocking shelves. A lone shopper pushes a cart past a display for Christmas sales in a Costco warehouse late Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, in Lone Tree, Colo. David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Like many shoppers, Kathleen Webber understands the struggles of getting the right gifts for her three children this holiday shopping season amid widespread shortages.

She promised to buy her 23-year-old son the Sony Corp. PlayStation 5, but he hasn't been able to get his hands on the popular game console. So now Webber says she may have to get him the next best thing — a used smart phone.

"I just don't know where to get one," the Yardley, Pennsylvania resident said of the PS5. "It's like the Tickle Me Elmos" from 1996.

Some shoppers like Danny Groner aren't being choosy.

When Groner realized he needed a new tie for a wedding in early December, he found the perfect answer on Amazon: a $7.99 skinny black and white tie that he was told would arrive in time.

But four days later, he received an email message informing him the tie was out of stock and it wouldn't arrive until January. That sent the New York publicist into a fit of desperation and forced him to go back on the site for any tie that would meet the fast-approaching deadline.

"It didn't matter to me whether it was ugly — it got here," says Groner, who settled on a yellow and blue checkered tie.

In response, stores like Kohl's have added new online tools to help push shoppers to substitutes if their top choice is gone. Shipt, a grocery delivery service owned by Target, now offers customers substitute suggestions based, in part, on their prior shopping behavior. And technology company Obsess, which creates virtual shopping experiences for such brands as American Girl and Ralph Lauren, added tools that recommend next best items if the shopper clicks on something that's out of stock; it also offers quizzes to help figure out what they would like.

But there are plenty of shoppers who won't be happy with alternatives, particularly when it comes to must-have toys like Spinmaster's Gabby's Dollhouse Purrfect Playset and Moose Toys' Magic Mixies Magical Misting Cauldron. Some are resorting to eBay where they're paying three times more than the suggested retail price. Experts also believe they will turn to more to gift cards if they don't like what they see.

Things got more complicated as Americans enthusiastically emerged from months of pandemic lockdowns, eager to shop again. Retailers and manufacturers of all types were caught flat-footed as they also contended with a shortage of containers that carry the goods, bottlenecks at ports and a shortage of workers needed to unload the goods. And global chip shortages have increased the list of hard-to-find gadgets. Many industry analysts believe the supply chain issues will not be resolved until next year.

Victoria's Secret told analysts last week that nearly 50 percent of its holiday merchandise is in transit. It said it ordered 200 million units of merchandise for the fourth-quarter holiday period, but 90 million of those items are delayed because of supply chain clogs.

"Today, we have 30 percent less PJs in our system than we had a year ago," Victoria's Secret CEO Martin Waters told analysts. "That is clearly bad for business."