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The holiday shopping season seems to start earlier and earlier each year. There's a laundry list of problems plaguing the retail sector right now, including labor shortages, lack of inventory and eager consumers ready to spend, and this holiday shopping season is shaping up to be a mad dash.
If you're the type of person who waits until the last minute, it may be best to start now before your stuck paying higher prices or scrambling to find that special gift.
Here's what to keep in mind for the 2021 holiday shopping season, and why getting started sooner will be beneficial.
Supply chain and inventory issues
Your holiday shopping experience is likely to look different than years past. Between issues with supply chains, rising cost of goods, staffing shortages and problems filling shelves with merchandise, retailers are gearing up for a difficult few months ahead.
According to Salesforce, U.S. retailers will face an extra $223 billion in the cost of goods this shopping season. These rising costs are due to labor shortages and higher prices for shipping and manufacturing. The study suggests that retailers will bear the brunt of much of these costs, however, some of these expenses will likely be passed along to the consumer.
Deloitte suggests Americans will spend between 7-9% more than they did during last year's holiday season, totaling $1.3 trillion. And with prices increasing in nearly every consumer category, shoppers can expect to shell out more for presents than ever before.
The semiconductor shortage continues to place a tight squeeze on the supply of electronics, while these items continue to be very in-demand. This includes everything from computers and gaming consoles, to vehicles and home appliances. And with many items on backorder for months, it's best to start shopping for these products now to ensure they arrive before you need to exchange gifts.
There might be fewer sales (and they'll start earlier)
Demand for holiday-related gifts and items is looking to be as high as ever. In fact, Home Depot ran out of inventory for several Halloween items — in August.
Experts are predicting fewer big sales from retailers, even on marquee shopping days like Black Friday, because of high demand and a lack of inventory. According to the Roku and Harris Poll 2021 Holiday Survey, 36% of shoppers plan on spending more this year than they did in 2020. This is the highest number reported since 2018 from the annual survey.
For retailers that do offer sales, Kristen Gall, retail and shopping expert at Rakuten Rewards, says they'll start relatively soon. "Retailers know that if they don't sell their inventory before or during Black Friday, they will have significantly less time to move inventory. This means that stores are more incentivized to create deals earlier to beat their competition. We're now seeing holiday sales launch as early as October to capitalize on sales sooner."
However, those sales will look much different than in years past, and getting the best deal will take a bit more effort. "Consumers should be flexible to take advantage of sales and will likely need to shop and watch multiple retailers," she said.
If you aren't able to capitalize on sales early on, you may be stuck paying higher prices due to the ongoing supply chain issues. Gall added that the incurred costs from the supply chain gridlock "will trickle down to consumers in the form of smaller sales and promotions this season, including fewer expedited and free-shipping options."
Mix rising costs, low supply and shoppers anxiety about finding the right gifts, and the holiday season could quickly become a budgeting nightmare. However, Gall recommends that by starting early, you can minimize the financial impact that the holiday shopping season will have on your wallet.
"Your biggest advantage to saving [money] this holiday season will be time. The more time you have to shop, this will allow you to save money, gain the assurance in getting the gifts you want, and avoid the hassle and stress of scrambling to buy gifts at the last minute," she says.
Creating a budget can be as simple as mapping out your holiday expenses, either using a pen and paper creating an Excel spreadsheet or downloading a budgeting app. Whichever method works for you, it's important to not start the new year in a deeper hole than you anticipated. And, if saving money is of high priority to you, consider using a cash-back credit card for immediate savings.
In addition to planning ahead and creating a budget, you can also begin to strategize which credit cards will be best for your spending patterns. Banks continue to launch huge credit card welcome offers which can be a great way to earn a boatload of points or cash back for your holiday shopping expenses.
For example, the Citi Premier® Card if offering new cardholders 80,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in purchases with their card within the first three months of account opening (redeemable for $800 in gift cards).
Or, if you need some spending flexibility, you may want to consider a 0% intro APR card like the Citi® Double Cash Card, which offers a generous 0% interest period. Balance transfers must be completed within four months of account opening.
Check out our list of the best credit cards for holiday shopping to learn what card can net you the highest return on your spend.
This holiday season is going to be tough for many shoppers, especially for those who wait until the last minute. Because of several issues in the retail and manufacturing space, your safest bet to get the items you want, and for the best price, is to get started early.