For New Mexicans thinking they’ll just leave holiday shopping until the last minute this year, experts from the shipping and freight industry have some bad news.
“Holiday shipping is going to be chaotic and expensive this year,” was the blunt assessment from Ben Gilbert, a senior correspondent writing for Business Insider.
Carlos Fernandez, division vice president for Echo Global Logistics, described the delivery of packaged materials during this year’s holiday peak season as “shaping up to be especially challenging.”
Limited product options, higher prices and slower delivery times probably await both online and in-store shoppers, retail observers agree.
“For most consumers, that’s a problem they’ve heard about but haven’t given an awful lot of thought,” said Chris Morris, former director of Content Development for CNNMoney.com and managing editor of Yahoo! Finance, in an article for NASDAQ this month. “That patience (with limited product availability), though, could be tested as we move into the holiday months.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit global markets in 2019, experts expected the need for “containerized” trade – responsible for delivering most of the consumer goods from overseas to retail stores – would slow as the country fell into lockdown. But the surge in e-commerce from holed-up consumers shopping online actually increased demand for these products right at the time where ports, factories and freight companies were diminished from COVID outbreaks and protocols. Systematic disruptions in the distribution flow followed, and continue, as the economy lurches from sporadic supply and demand forces.
Like retail businesses around the country, New Mexico shops are being hit by delays and price increases right as consumers are starting to think about the upcoming peak shopping season.
“We’re definitely feeling it,” said Kei Tsuzuki, co-owner of Kei and Molly Textiles near Washington and Silver SE. “We used to get shipments every two weeks, and now our next shipment might not come in until November.”
Tsuzuki’s 12-person silk-screen and print shop – which she founded with business partner Molly Luethi in 2010 to provide work for immigrants and refugees – has taken steps to ensure they have enough merchandise to endure the holiday rush. “We are having to invest on the front end, and buying our inventory to make sure our flow is not disrupted,” she said.
“We definitely rely upon the global supply chain,” she said, adding that her company regularly purchases sponge cloths from Germany, and textile materials from Bangladesh, Pakistan and India.
Adapting to COVID-related distribution delays meant some strategic buys early on to ensure her clients would still have a good selection of holiday items from which to select their purchases.
“People usually wait until after Thanksgiving to holiday shop, but we will be stocked by the end of October, beginning of November,” Tsuzuki said. “We will have a lot of really nice gift items. We really have made an effort to diversify what we offer in our store. We are definitely thinking and being proactive about what we are offering for the holidays.”
The pandemic is still weighing heavily on the economy, the shipping and freight industry in particular. Retail expert Edward Rosenfeld, CEO of shoemaker Steve Madden, expressed his frustration during the company’s second quarter 2021 earnings call and webcast.
“In terms of the supply chain … we could talk about this all day. There are challenges throughout the globe,” he said. “There is port congestion, both in the U.S. and China. There are COVID outbreaks at factories. There are challenges getting containers. We could go on and on.”
Celeste Davis, owner of ChocGlitz & Cream on Albuquerque’s West Side, confirms those delays are hitting her shop, which sells fair trade chocolates and ice cream, and typically sees an uptick around the holidays.
“It would normally take a week at the most when I placed an order for my chocolates for our confections. It is 5 weeks out now. So that is something that really impacts us,” she said.
Sometimes it’s not only the delayed merchandise that causes problems for a business. Davis recalls walking into her Albuquerque store one morning to discover puddles of chocolate everywhere. Her air conditioner had broken down. She promptly ordered the required part, but its slow arrival meant more and more chocolate melted during the wait.
“Chocolate likes it to be about 68 degrees. In the evening, once we closed the doors, it probably got over 100 degrees,” Davis said. “We’re still trying to figure out how much was lost, dollar-wise.”
While deliveries to U.S. retail shops have improved from the early outbreaks of the pandemic, a statement by Allianz Global Corporate and Specialty reminds businesses that sailing will be far from smooth this year.
“Volatility in demand, constraints on capacity and the ongoing impact of COVID-19 are causing major congestion at ports and disruption to supply chains,” it stated in its 2021 Review of Trends and Developments in Shipping Losses and Safety report.
With COVID-19 cases continuing to escalate, local business advocates say it’s important for consumers to shop with pandemic limitations top of mind.
“Shoppers need to realize that it is going to take longer to find what you want, and you may not get exactly what you want, when you want it,” said Ernie C’deBaca, president and CEO of the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce. “So there will have to be a lot of patience involved.”
While sickness and death is the overriding tragedy of COVID-19, the pandemic has also presented an opportunity for consumers – weary of lockdowns and online shopping – to return “to the forgotten Main Street feel” of the shopping experience, said Jennifer Esquivel, owner of jennifleurs, a mobile flower truck business in Albuquerque.
“COVID has really shined a spotlight on the importance of supporting the local economy,” she said. “There is just so many layers and ways to support the local economy, and I think that if we all take a step back and think about it, there is room for everybody to find a way to incorporate local into their lives.”