As global supply chain challenges escalate, start holiday shopping now


It’s more than a week away from Halloween, but cargo backlogs and pandemic-related labor and material shortages have reached a point that parents should prepare their children’s wish lists for Santa Claus before putting on their costumes and going out for treats.

If you start your Christmas shopping after Thanksgiving, you are preparing for a very stressful December, especially if you want to buy something that requires a computer chip. Game consoles, smartphones, vehicles, training devices and other electronic devices are likely to be extremely rare.

As an expert in global supply chain management, I suggest families plan well in advance as we anticipate even more supply chain disruptions in the months to come, delaying manufacturing. and worldwide delivery.

We have so much to look forward to and be happy about this season – just not reliable inventory and shipping within 12 days of Christmas. If you wait for the weather to cool down before ordering, expect that you won’t see the box on your doorstep for six to eight weeks.

From truck drivers to computer chips, shortages are forcing businesses and policy makers to try and find quick fixes. But the global supply chain network is complex and interconnected – it is not possible to cure with Band-Aid approaches. A disturbance, such as Closure of the Suez Canal for six days in March after the blockage of a freighter or the recent Oil spill off the Californian coast, has domino effects on other supply networks.

Even tech giant Apple is not immune. The company is set to cut the number of iPhones it produces by some 10 million units for 2021 due to the shortage of computer chips.

With COVID-19, the world has not been functioning at a normal level for almost two years. The full return to pre-COVID-19 markets will take place for the foreseeable future. It’s better for people to get used to it rather than expecting complete relief and a full recovery, especially as we head into the holiday shopping season.

The Political initiatives of the Biden administration are a good start to alleviating bottlenecks. But it needs a better, more holistic approach to be effective.

Extending working hours at US ports is an effective immediate action to speed up shipments of goods nationwide. And the infrastructure bill tackling US competitiveness and investing in green innovation for the long term could help prevent the next supply chain crisis.

But making vaccinations mandatory in the private sector will further exacerbate labor shortages, and require global companies to disclose their proprietary and strategic information the US government will cause other governments to require US companies operating in their country to do the same. Instead of quick fixes, we need to be stable and fair and lead well.

It’s important to note that other countries don’t necessarily do better than the United States, as all of them struggle with similar issues and with limited options.

The United States is in a better position than many other countries because our domestic production base for essential grocery items such as food and toilet paper is relatively healthy and strong.

Items such as toys, furniture, and manufacturing and entertainment products that need to be imported from Asia can experience delays and shortages.

Various factors contribute to supply issues, including labor shortages and the late arrival of assembly parts from other countries. For example, trade tensions between China and Australia caused a shortage of coal and steel in China, which brought manufacturing production to a halt.

Consumer demand patterns have also changed, causing tension in the production and distribution models of major industries, including restaurants, hotels, meat processing, beverages and fruit.

When inundated with deliveries for Santa, the transportation and logistics industries will focus on priority items – high-value items are the first priority for shipping over smaller, cheaper items.

People tend to engage in panic buying when faced with uncertainties and rumors, which further exacerbates supply chain disruptions.

A new consumer standard is that key items may not be readily available, and many businesses don’t know when they will come in. The best approach is to get used to it and find the wisdom and patience to deal with it.

Now is the time to discuss vacation plans with family members and clarify expectations. Be innovative in diversifying your gift portfolios. Choose items available from local and regional sources.

It would be stressful to come up with all the gift ideas alone. However, the holiday season can be fun and even memorable if it’s planned, together, in advance. And be sure to send out your Christmas cards early.

Paul Hong, Ph.D., is Distinguished University Professor of Global Supply Chain Management at the University of Toledo Neff College of Business and Innovation.

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