As the strained world supply chain continues to be pushed to its limits in the aftermath of the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, one perfect storm awaits with the potential to shake an already bleak situation into a full-blown catastrophe: Holiday shopping.
Amid a global shipping crisis, a nationwide staffing shortage and a developing dearth of diesel fuel slowing down shipments on trucks, the crunch-time period of in-person holiday shopping from now until the end of the year faces many obstacles. Obstacles that could spiral into concerning levels when down-the-stretch shopping begins with Black Friday.
The nation’s labor shortage has caused increased wait times for everything from the fast food industry to accessing basic services like car repair or haircuts.
What to expect on Black Friday
Cincinnati’s Kenwood Towne Centre on Montgomery Road has pushed its hours back in anticipation of some of the challenges Black Friday could pose. The mall will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Black Friday rather than the normal early hours opening.
To prepare for Black Friday with staffing challenges, a number of retailers at the mall have bumped sales up early so folks can get discounts on items ahead of the one-day sale explosion, Kenwood senior general manager David Jacoby said.
“The sales have started early, just because they want to make sure they get the merchandising they need and I think people want to get what they want to get up front,” Jacoby said.
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Still, Jacoby anticipates a packed Black Friday at the Cincinnati mall and even though retail challenges exist, he expects the mall’s retailers to be equipped to handle any traffic that comes through.
“We’ll still be busy,” he said. “There will still be a lot of people that want to do the tradition Black Friday, shopping after Thanksgiving, thing.”
The mall has a designed curbside area where individuals can order something from the stores inside and have it delivered to their cars, Jacoby said. And mall Santa visits can be done in traditional fashion or through a distancing option that separates people by glass and dividers.
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Although Black Friday has the potential to exacerbate stress on low staffing this year, Steve Stivers, president of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, predicts minimal disruption at first.
“I worry less about Black Friday, as I do December,” he said.
But as the holiday season continues, expect some more disruption, he said.
Here are some recommendations from Stivers for holiday shopping on Black Friday and beyond:
Black Friday is traditionally the kick-starter to a period of ramped-up shopping. For that reason, given some of the concerns that exist this year, Stiver suggests setting aside time to get gifts for loved ones a tad earlier than normal.
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“We started our shopping in August,” he said, speaking about his family’s shopping practices.
Shop local and through small businesses
Stivers suggests a targeted effort to shopping local this season.
While ordering gifts and products online through services such as Amazon is typically a go-to option during holiday shopping season, the global shipping difficulties can put uncertainty into arrival times.
Stivers said the situation has made it difficult to track where products are coming from in order to weigh the issues happening at those shipping locations. But small businesses who cater to a more local base of consumers often have the flexibility and personal care, he added.
“I’ve seen small businesses do amazing things that bigger organizations just don’t have the flexibility to do,” Stivers said. “I’m sure a lot of them are already looking at alternative distribution opportunities to make sure they have products.”
‘Know where the opportunities are’
Although Black Friday typically boasts the biggest sales, there are many other opportunities to score the deal you want without the hassle of a stressed supply chain throwing wrenches at your shopping experience.
Stivers suggests looking into specific stores and keeping close track of when sales are happening, particularly if they fall outside of the Black Friday blowout. Meticulous planning, he said, can help you prepare for when to leap at certain discounts and help keep your sanity in the process.
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“There are all these other opportunities now,” Stivers said. “And I would ask any shopper, any American, to avail themselves of all the opportunities, including our small businesses that live in our communities and support the local sports teams and all that.”