If you start holiday shopping on Black Friday, you might already be too late. Here's why

Dale Denwalt
Oklahoman

If you've waited this long to start shopping for the holidays, it might be too late.

Massive supply chain disruptions have caused shipping delays, diminished stock on retail shelves and higher prices at checkout. Retailers are doing what they can, but the era of Black Friday kicking off the shopping season isn't a reality anymore as some goods could end up being delivered after the holidays.

Which grocery stores are open on Thanksgiving? Here's a list of some in Oklahoma City

Oklahoma City-based Jasco Products saw it coming, and attempted to account for the bottleneck. In March, the company took a bet and over-ordered popular items from manufacturers so they'd have enough stock to meet demand by September, according to Jeff Cato, vice president of digital marketing and e-commerce.

Containers are stacked at the Port of Long Beach in Long Beach in Calif., Friday, Oct. 1, 2021. California state lawmakers held a joint legislative hearing at the Capitol in Sacramento, Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021, to discuss the supply chain disruptions. While congestion at the state's ports have slowed deliveries of imports, it's also made it harder for the state's farmers to export crops to markets in Asia.

The longer that retailers wait for the stock to arrive, the more time customers have to wait if they ordered those items.

"Some of that has come through for us, and some of it we're still getting in today," Cato said. "I think it paid off dividends in a lot of ways, but we have products we're still waiting to get here over the next 30 to 45 days."

Jasco develops and builds a wide array of consumer electronic products under popular brand names, including power and data cables, home lighting and smart home controls. The company sells over 3,000 products, and increased orders on some of the more popular items by up to 50% in anticipation.

They weren't the only ones looking that far ahead, though. 

"I think that's added to a lot of the congestion," Cato said.

FedEx crews work the morning shift sorting packages for delivery at the FedEx offices in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Friday, Dec. 13, 2019.    [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]

The supply chain bottleneck has several causes, chief among them the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on global and regional shipping.

On top of that, manufacturing in China has been throttled by international tariffs and a power shortage that often leaves factories in the dark. Electronic devices, including the ones sold by Jasco Products, are affected by the worldwide computer microchip shortage.

"The limited availability of those chips are tough, and therefore the cost went up," Cato said.

Another Oklahoma business, Simple Modern, also has had trouble sourcing the final products they sell to major online retailers like designer bottles, tumblers and accessories.

It's especially frustrating this time of year because so much retail business is dependent on the holiday shopping season.

"Like everybody else, there's a huge (fourth quarter) surge for our business," said Simple Modern CEO Mike Beckham. 

It's especially true for his licensed products branded with Disney or sports team logos.

"As an example, collegiate (products) you see something like 60% of your volume for the entire year happen in about a two or three week period during during the build up to Christmas," Beckham said. "So if you miss on what you're trying to do in Q4, you just kind of missed for the year."

Oct 16, 2021; Long Beach, Calif., USA; Cargo containers being offloaded from a ship in the Port of Long Beach.  Supply chain issues have caused shortages of goods throughout the country with cargo ships waiting off shore in Southern California to off-load. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY

E-commerce businesses like Simple Modern can receive blowback for not meeting the demands of both consumers and the retail outlets they supply. Lately, however, Beckham said retailers have been more lenient about the setbacks.

"There was a week where Target sent us their weekly order for 56,000 units and we could only fulfill 6,000 of that. With Amazon, we're consistently only fulfilling about 40-something percent of the (orders) they're sending us," Beckham said. "Typically the retailers are pretty draconian with you when you can't fulfill orders. But right now, everybody has this issue. And so there's a little bit of a reprieve in the fact that everybody's dealing with it."

In October, President Joe Biden unveiled plans to help tackle bottlenecks within the U.S. supply chain, including plans to turn ports into 24/7 operations. Meanwhile, shipping companies FedEx and UPS as well as retailing giant Walmart said they would expand their efforts to ease the strain.

“This is the first key step for moving on entire freight transportation and logistical supply chain nationwide to a 24/7 system,” said Biden.

Employees work inside an Amazon Fulfillment Center in Grapevine, Texas, at 2601 W Bethel Rd. A similar facility is being built in Oklahoma City at 9201 S Portland and is expected to open in 2019. 

photo by David Dishman, The Oklahoman

Oklahoma Congressman Frank Lucas has cosponsored legislation that would require the Secretary of Transportation to relieve congested ports during either a national state of emergency or when ports are congested by 50% or more.

“Our nation is facing detrimental supply chain challenges and Americans are paying the price. Slowed global production, pent-up economic demand, and multi-sector labor shortages are fueling the supply chain crisis leaving billions of dollars’ worth of goods sitting idly on cargo ships or stuck in backed-up ports,” said Lucas, who represents northwestern Oklahoma in Washington, D.C.

If adopted, Lucas' bill would give trucking companies federal grant money to transport goods from a port of entry to a destination point. It would also temporarily waive operating standards should those standards be more stringent than the federal standard, allowing U.S. Department of Transportation compliant trucks and drivers from other states to relieve ports and transport goods across the country.

Continued shifts in consumer shopping habits, with increased demand for online sales and home delivery, are also affecting industrial space needs across the country. In Oklahoma, the amount of space being used is near an all-time high, with speculative construction underway in hopes of serving, among other businesses, various e-commerce related tenants.

At the State Fairgrounds on Saturday, hundreds of early birds filed into the Centennial Building to get their holiday shopping started at the Santa Market Craft Show for Alzheimer's, but supply-chain issues apparently weren't on the mind of shoppers.

A half dozen folks polled on Saturday said they always like to get their Christmas shopping started early. Some were out in support of Alzheimer's research, and many shopping Saturday drove in from out of town to shop.

Leslie Shaw, of Healdton, did both.

"We like to get out and get our shopping started early, it's a family tradition," Shaw said. "It's just a chance for us to get out and spend some time together, and we really love the cause."

But is there hope? Cato said he would have told people to start their holiday shopping in early October, well before the historical Black Friday retail rush that happens after Thanksgiving.

"Let's face it, we're pretty spoiled. You may need that item by a certain day and you just may not be able to get it either because they don't have inventory. (Online) retailers may take just a little bit longer than usual and they're only going to get more congested the closer we get to Christmas," he said.

Another option is to shop for locally made products rather than ordering everything online. Doing so would take pressure off the international distribution chain, and perhaps off your holiday shopping list, and help you have what you want, when you want it. 

Contributing: Staff writer Dave Cathey