7 Ways to Beat Supply Chain Woes and Avoid a Shopping Nightmare This Year

A woman covers her eyes with a Santa hat as she stresses while wrapping presents.
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A third of consumers say they’re worried they won’t get everything on their wish lists on time this season — and expect to pay more when they do — according to a recent survey by Oracle, a cloud-based services company.

Like many industries, e-commerce and retailers are facing crippling snafus in the supply chain.

From labor shortages to skyrocketing shipping container costs, companies and retail experts are urging consumers to get their holiday shopping done now if they want gifts in time for Christmas.

None of this bodes well for procrastinators, who may need to rethink their shopping strategy and get creative this year.

7 Ways to Outsmart Supply Shortages for Holiday Shopping

We put together a list of alternative ways to buy gifts this season — along with some unique ideas that bypass ongoing supply chain hassles altogether.

1. Check Your Local Thrift Stores

Is that special item not expected to arrive on time? Checking local thrift stores is a smart way to find less expensive and unique gifts.

Thrift stores bypass the supply chain headaches plaguing other retailers. They don’t need to order products from overseas or anxiously await deliveries from clogged U.S. ports.

Instead, thrift stores take donations from the local community to keep shelves stocked.

Thrifting became a necessity for many people during the pandemic, but resale stores have been around for decades and their infamous deals can come in clutch during the holidays.

Out-of-stock messages online are expected to be up 172% this season compared with last year, according to the Adobe Digital Economy Index holiday forecast.

Thrifting also cuts down on waste by eliminating shipping envelopes and other packaging that clogs landfills. Shop thrift stores, consignment boutiques or even pawn shops for eco-friendly gifts.

Plato’s Closet, a chain of teen and twenty-something resale stores with over 480 North American locations, doesn’t even use plastic bags at checkout anymore in an effort to encourage sustainability.

It might be tough to find specific, trendy items at the Goodwill or Salvation Army, but discovering unexpected treasures is part of the fun for many shoppers.

“The possibilities are endless,” said Haviland Cardinal, a 30-year-old thrifting regular in Evansville, Indiana. “I love thrift shopping because you can get really unique and vintage items for cheap, and it’s also environmentally friendly.”

To score great gifts, check out a few different stores around town.

Inventory moves fast, so don’t hesitate if an item catches your eye or you might miss out. Browse shelves during off-hours in the middle of the week, when fewer shoppers are on the hunt for those one-of-a-kind finds.

A final tip: Many thrift shops have days when inventory tagged with certain colors are discounted. Check out the schedule before you shop to maximum savings.

2. Online Secondhand Stores Are Worth a Look

The online resale industry is booming.

This year’s secondhand online retail market is anticipated to top $65 billion — an all time high for the industry — according to a survey from Mercari, a secondhand e-commerce site.

Mobile apps and websites like The RealReal, Postmark and ThredUp offer consumers a way to find used items — mostly high-end clothing — at affordable prices.

Like brick-and-mortar thrift stores, these online resellers promote clothes and shoes sitting in people’s closets. They largely avoid the chaos of backlogged ports and other supply chain woes.

​​Gen Z and millennial shoppers have really flocked to these companies, especially during the pandemic. In June 2021, Etsy announced a $1.6 billion acquisition of Depop, a resale platform dominated by Gen Z shoppers (90% of users are under 26 years old).

If you’re on the hunt for luxury or name-brand fashion finds, you’ll have an easier time scoring them on these sites than traditional thrift stores. Plus you get the convenience of browsing items from the comfort of your home.

However, these online sellers still rely on shipping to get goods to your door. Check shipping details before buying, especially as Christmas draws closer.

An alternative to trendy online secondhand stores is Goodwill’s online store.

Goodwill, with over 3,000 physical U.S. stores, offers an online auction site featuring roughly 93,000 items up for grabs at any given time, including antiques, electronic equipment, art, collectibles, home décor and more.

Registration is free, and Goodwill accepts all major credit cards. You get the option to pick up your items in-store or select from available shipping options.

People shop at an outdoor market around Christmas.
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3. Browse Flea Markets, Craft Fairs and Art Shows

Buying local and shopping small are smart ways to find awesome gifts and support independent merchants at the same time.

Products shipped from Asia are facing the biggest supply chain delays, but items at mom-and-pop shops and flea markets are already on the shelves.

Craft, gift and vendor shows crop up in every community this time of year. Check your local events calendar or Facebook for pop-up markets and Christmas bazaars.

You can purchase items on-site and avoid shipping concerns altogether. And in the process support a local creator or business owner who — let’s face it — needs and appreciates your business much more than Amazon or Walmart.

If you are in the market for seasonal decorations this year, don’t wait too long to buy them. And stocking up post-holiday may be a thing of the past. 

4. Explore Independent Online Stores, Too

If you don’t want to leave the house, sites like Etsy and Shopify can also help you shop small.

Andrea Turner is an independent jewelry component supplier in Texas who runs a popular Etsy shop called Mindel Bead Co.

She told The Penny Hoarder she started prepping and buying supplies in July to position her small business to succeed this season.

Turner said that independent vendors like herself have an advantage over major online retailers still struggling to get raw materials and products from overseas.

“Our online storefronts will be fully stocked and ready for shoppers while the big box stores are still waiting to get their products off those cargo ships,” Turner said.

Just be mindful of delivery times, especially for custom orders from small vendors. Plan ahead and get your orders in sooner rather than later.

“Many times there is only one person behind the scenes, and that person is taking your order, pulling it, wrapping it up and adding that personalized touch,” Turner said.

5. Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace

Local people sell TVs, iPhones, toys, home goods and other popular items at reduced prices on places like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, making these sites an attractive option for last-minute shopping.

Apps, such as LetGo and OfferUp, also connect buyers and sellers in a digital space where you can exchange messages and see the item before you buy it.

Short on time? Sellers who live nearby are often willing to deliver purchases to you for a few extra bucks.

And if you need some cash for Christmas, selling your own stuff on Facebook Marketplace and other sites is a good way to earn extra money.

Be careful, of course. Scammers and con artists love the internet, so make sure to vet sellers. Ask to exchange items and money in a public place, like a police station parking lot or outside a grocery store.

When buying an electronic or small home appliance, ask to try the item out in front of the seller to make sure it works first.

If you go to someone’s house to pick something up, bring a friend or give someone the address of where you’re going.

Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist don’t have built-in payment mechanisms, so you’ll need to arrange payment directly with the seller ahead of time.

Most sellers only accept cash — and for good reason — so stop by the ATM on your way or ask if they have a Cash App or Venmo account.

A woman shops online.
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6. You Can’t Go Wrong With E-Gift Cards

E-gift cards can be sent virtually without relying on the post office. Amazon and Walmart let you buy digital gift cards and send them directly to your favorite person’s inbox.

Several major credit card companies give you extra value this time of year on gift cards purchased with cash back points.

Discover, for example, offers 20% extra value on gift cards from places like Applebees, Bath & Body Works and Under Armor. So if you buy a $50 participating gift card, your recipient will actually receive $60.

Discounted gift cards could save you 10% on everything you buy. We round up ways to score them. 

7. Wrap Up an In-Person Experience

Finally, ditch a physical gift altogether this year.

Giving the gift of an experience is not only thoughtful — you don’t have to worry about empty store shelves or shipping costs.

Buying a gift certificate to your mom’s favorite hair salon, covering the cost of a spa package for your beloved or scoring a concert ticket to your friend’s favorite band are just a few ways to avoid supply chain madness.

Groupon is a great place to score deals on local attractions and fun activities, from a round of mini-golf to horseback riding lessons.

Digital events — like virtual wine tastings and online cooking classes — grew in popularity during the pandemic, and still make special gifts for anyone who’s uncomfortable with large crowds or public outings.

Spending your money on experiences, instead of belongings, is also a smart solution for people who already seem to have everything they need.

Rachel Christian is a senior staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.