‘Buy it now’: The time has come to start holiday shopping or risk missing Christmas

If you haven’t started holiday shopping, you might be falling behind. The culprit is supply

If you haven’t started holiday shopping, you might be falling behind.

The culprit is supply chain disruptions. This year, more than any in recent memory, it is imperative to get an early start checking off items for those on your naughty-or-nice list, retail analysts say.

“Inventory concerns, combined with constantly changing needs, have the consumer shopping in the ‘here and now’ mode more than ever before,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry adviser of The NPD Group, a market research company that studies consumer behavior and the retail industry.

Bottlenecks in the global supply chain — from congestion at ports to shortages of truckers — have left stores scrambling to keep shelves stocked and online inventory available.

“It will be a challenging holiday season,” said Rob Handfield, a professor of supply chain management at North Carolina State University. “I wouldn’t say people are in trouble if they haven’t started shopping yet, but they should start sooner rather than later.”

There are items in containers on ships waiting to dock. It takes weeks to unload and distribute them. Merchandise currently in stores arrived in the U.S. in October, Handfield said.

He said some retailers canceled orders knowing merchandise won’t make it in time for the holiday.

“If you see something you want and it’s available, buy it now,” Handfield said. “It’s concerning what’s happening. There isn’t a lot anyone can do right now to change what’s happening with the supply chain.”

Some retailers, such as L.L. Bean, also have urged shoppers to buy now. “If you see what you want, don’t hesitate,” the company website says. “The earlier you shop, the better off you’ll be.”

Shoppers seemingly have taken notice.

About half — 49% — of consumers planned to begin their shopping before November, according to the National Retail Federation’s Consumer Holiday Survey released last month. Up from 42% last year, it’s the highest at any point dating to at least 2011.

According to the retail federation, 47% of shoppers say they are concerned they will have difficulty finding items, most notably electronics and clothing.

The impact could be most notable with smaller retailers that don’t have the resources to offset some of the supply chain shortage impact, said Jason Killmeyer, a supply chain expert who lives in Downtown Pittsburgh.

Larger retailers such as Walmart, Target and Amazon can charter planes to transport items. Smaller businesses don’t have that luxury.

Companies that will get the first items from suppliers will be those with the biggest contracts, said Killmeyer, who as a consultant managed a supply chain risk management program for a federal agency.

It’s best to plan early for the holidays. Buy now, he said, and expect possible additional shipping costs to help offset higher fuel expenses.

“Get to the post office or UPS store or to FedEx now,” said Audrey Guskey, a professor of marketing at Duquesne University who has studied holiday trends for more than 30 years. “They give recommended times to mail and ship packages for a reason. They are usually accurate.

“If you wait any longer than this week to mail something, then you have to just keep your fingers crossed and hope for the best. I would get the letter or package out early and not take that risk.”

The Postal Service expects to process more than 12.6 million pounds of mail this holiday season. It expects the week of Dec. 13-18 to be the busiest mailing, shipping and delivery week of the season.

The Postal Service adjusted its mailing and shipping schedules in early October, announcing that as many as 21 million pieces of mail — letters, periodicals and packages sent via first class — could take longer to arrive. Additionally, the Postal Service announced in August that packages sent between Oct. 3 and Dec. 26 would be subject to a surcharge to offset higher shipping costs.

The earlier an item is mailed, the better, said Postal Service spokesman Steve Doherty.

“We are ready for the holiday season,” he said. “We have everything in place.”

The Postal Service anticipates Dec. 19 will be its busiest day online, with 12.5 million consumers predicted to visit the website.

The Postal Service (for the 48 contiguous states) and FedEx set Dec. 15 as their deadline to ship, via ground transportation, packages in time for Christmas.

UPS recommended checking its website for a quote for Christmas eve delivery. UPS will not pick up or deliver on Christmas day.

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 724-853-5062, [email protected] or via Twitter .