Holiday Shopping Tips: How to Get Around Delays and Shortages

Instead of fighting the crowds, be creative and do things differently this year

Hands holding a gift Photo: Kseniya Ovchinnikova/Getty Images

You’ve heard all the warnings. Shipping delays and supply chain glitches are going to make holiday shopping even more difficult this year. 

Some of the biggest delays have been with large appliances, laptops, and some types of cars. But supply chain problems have led to spot shortages for a broad range of products.

Those concerns have prompted many shoppers to start their gift buying early. As a recent report by Bank of America (PDF) found, 65 percent of consumers had started preparing for the holidays by early October, with one-third having already purchased a seasonal gift.

More On Shopping

That said, there are still products available for the holidays, especially if you’re flexible, and Black Friday deals have already begun. Check CR’s deal coverage, including bargains on top-rated laptops, mattresses, and ranges.

Even so, unless you started buying presents before Labor Day, you may feel like you’re already behind. But there’s no need to feel stressed. Fact is, there are plenty of options for gift-giving that don’t involve close monitoring of package tracking alerts.

Instead, consider supporting your local merchants, where you can find a wide variety of gift choices. You can also provide holiday cheer by making thoughtful online purchases, such as giving tickets or paying for services, rather than buying items that may get stuffed into a closet or tossed on a shelf.

“Purchasing local handcrafted items or the gift of an experience, such as a concert, can be more personal and more fun,” says Deborah Small, professor of marketing and psychology at Wharton Business School.

Here are some suggestions:

Go Local

Nearly 1 out of 4 shoppers plan to purchase gifts and other holiday items from a local or small business, according to a recent survey by the National Retail Federation. And many merchants are offering deals and other enticements during the holidays, especially on Small Business Saturday, which follows Black Friday.

For gift options, check out your local clothing retailers, bookstores, and artisan shops, says Kristin McGrath, editor at RetailMeNot, a shopping website. If there’s a winery in your area, grab some bottles to bring to holiday meals, and check out farmers markets in your area for treats to bring to family dinners.

By choosing something handcrafted or locally grown, or making a purchase that helps support a neighborhood business, your gift will be more personal and authentic, says Small.

Spread Out the Joy

One way to sidestep shipping issues is to sign up for monthly subscription boxes, which can start up in January, says McGrath. There are subscriptions available to meet a variety of interests and age levels, including mystery books, games, and clothing. You can also order boxes designed by Black-owned businesses and local businesses in different cities. You can find different subscription box options at cratejoy.com and Amazon.com.

Another shipping-avoidance strategy is to buy your loved ones gift certificates for a local spa or restaurant that they like—that way, they can fit the splurge into their schedule, perhaps after the holidays. Research has shown that people tend to appreciate experiences more than material gifts, says Small. So consider giving gifts of memberships to museums or symphonies, or even a National Parks pass, which will give them access all year long. 

The Gift of Learning

You could also help your loved one learn new skills or acquire more knowledge by purchasing classes, such as lessons in woodworking or guitar playing or film history. Many classes are offered online as well as in person—check out MasterClass or a local college. 

Demand for classes has boomed during the pandemic, but many schools are now offering deals.

“We had a big increase in business during the worst of the pandemic,” says Alex Steele, president of Gotham Writers, a Manhattan-based company that offers a variety of writing courses and seminars. Steele says that things have begun to calm down lately, and while he still has plenty of clients, he does plan to offer a 10 percent discount sale on all the classes his company offers. 

“I have plans in the works to have some discount deals on gift certificates for the holidays,” says Robyn Mierzwa, who runs Makeville Studio, a woodworking shop in Brooklyn, N.Y., that offers classes and certification courses in carpentry.

Go Digital

By opting for a virtual gift, you don’t have to worry about whether it will arrive on time. And digital gifts, such as a streaming service, can provide something your friends or family members can enjoy everyday, whether it’s Netflix, Amazon Prime, Spotify, or just a favorite news website.

Disney+ has launched a $1.99 first-month membership deal for its stand-alone subscription, and CR’s guide to streaming services lists pricing for other options.

Another strategy is to give your friend or family member a gift card to a store you know they love, which is a bit more personal than a generic gift card. That way, you won’t have to worry about whether an item is in stock or how long it will take to ship.

If you can’t identify a favorite outlet, you can always give an all-purpose card, such as one from Amazon or American Express. Chances are, the recipient will be fine with it. Based on CR’s nationally representative survey (PDF) conducted in July of 2,184 U.S. adults, 41 percent of Americans say they would rather receive a gift card over a gift, 44 percent have no preference, and only 15 percent say they would rather receive a gift.

Give Charitably

Donating to charity in someone’s name is a great idea for a gift and easy to do online, says Anindya Ghose, professor of marketing at New York University Leonard N. Stern School of Business.

Still, it’s important to make sure that you are giving to a worthy charity that will fulfill its mission. You can check a charity’s track record at watchdog websites, such as charitynavigator.org and the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance.


Photo of CR Money editor, Penny Wang.

Penelope Wang

I cover everything from retirement planning to taxes to college saving. My goal is to help people improve their finances, so they have less stress and more freedom. What I enjoy: walks through the city, time with family, and reading mysteries, though I rarely guess who did it. Follow me on Twitter (@PennyWriter). 

Image of Octavio Blanco, editor at CR with Money CIA

Octavio Blanco

My mission: To write stories that broaden readers' horizons and offer new solutions they can apply to their lives. Who I write for: My family, my friends, my neighbors, myself, and—most important—you. My passions: Music, art, coffee, cheese, good TV, and riding my electric bike (for now). Find me on Twitter: @octavionyc