The global supply chain has been a hot topic lately. So much so that it’s hard to escape it, whether you’re watching the news or scrolling through your Instagram feed.
While there were whispers of issues throughout the summer, people are really starting to notice the impact. Items are running out, shipping is delayed and/or incredibly slow, and prices are increasing. With the holiday season right around the corner, it’s only going to get worse. But what’s causing the issue—how should conscious consumers change their habits in order to shop smarter and more sustainably?
Tyler Harris, vice president of distribution for Komar Brands, is here to help. Working for a large apparel company, he says most of his work with the supply chain revolves around the “last mile”—getting the goods from the ports to their distribution centers. Instead of just hearing about supply chain issues in the news, he’s dealing with them firsthand.
Here’s everything you should know before going about your holiday shopping this season.
What’s Causing the Global Supply Chain Crisis?
If the global supply chain crisis looks like it’s only getting worse, that’s because it is. “The supply chain in America today is being stretched to the breaking point,” Harris says. “The reasons for this a severalfold.”
One of the prime reasons behind the crisis is that the economy is “extremely hot.” According to Harris, “people have more money in their hands than they did before, due to many factors, and in turn are spending much more.”
That’s all age groups, too. According to survey data from Clutch, 48% of people between 18 and 34 say their spending has increased in 2021. In addition, 50% of people between 35 and 54 say their online spending in particular has increased this year. That increased spending makes it hard for supply chains to keep up.
2. Lack of Workers
COVID-19 has changed the world of work in many ways. “More Americans have been forced to stay at home with children during the pandemic and many have not returned to work,” Harris says. With more people at home or out of work, he says the labor pool “has become much more shallow.”
In April of this year, four million people quit their jobs with the largest exists happening in retail trade, transportation, and warehousing and utilities. That workforce shortage has impacted the supply chain in a big way, making it hard to keep up with daily operations.
3. Record Number of Containers
With all the additional imports to the U.S., Harris says he’s seeing record numbers of containers passing through the ports.
“This is leading to massive delays and a lack of space on steamship lines,” he says. “With a lack of supply, costs increase. The cost to ship a container from country of origin has increased by anywhere from 3x to 10x depending on which lines you’re taking advantage of.”
Shipping large items that take up a lot of space will be pricier, too. “More space means more containers which means more cost,” he adds.
How the Supply Chain Crisis Will Impact Holiday Shopping
Harris says the lack of items on store shelves is a direct result of a supply chain that’s stretched beyond capacity. “With so many more containers passing through our ports, we’re seeing record dwell times to get goods through the last mile and to the hands of consumers,” he says.
If it’s already causing issues now, just wait—Harris predicts that will only get worse during the holiday season. Typically, shelves are overflowing with goods for consumers to bring home, wrap up, and place under the Christmas tree. This year, things won’t look quite the same.
“It’s absolutely possible that we will see stores with shelves that are a bit more barren than years past,” says Harris. “Goods are running late. Items will be shipped to the store at the last minute, and both retailers and wholesalers will be working to expedite goods however they can.”
Online shopping is changing, too: While the pandemic has driven more consumers to shop online, Harris says to expect continued delays with any e-commerce orders. It’s impossible for the supply chains to keep up with this demand.
How to Be a Conscious Consumer This Season
If this supply chain crisis can teach the world anything, it’s that there’s no better time than now to rethink our shopping habits. Primarily, ditching the last-minute holiday shopping runs and starting early.
“With the supply chain not having enough capacity, it’s best to order early and get your shopping done ahead of Black Friday,” says Harris. “Otherwise, you’ll be left with bare shelves.”
Shopping early is also beneficial for the planet. It allows you to shop more mindfully and only purchase what you need, helping you avoid the dreaded holiday rush when you frantically toss a bunch of items into your cart at the last second. It also gives you an opportunity to skip big-box stores and support small, sustainable businesses that sell eco-friendly products.
“Shopping slow is important because it allows you to shop with your values. You can be more thoughtful about who you’re supporting,” says Laura Wittig, CEO and co-founder of Brightly and the Brightly Shop. “Shopping early also takes stress off of small businesses. They’re better able to prepare and meet demand.”
Since Harris estimates shipping issues may continue into 2023, these supply chain issues aren’t going away anytime soon. “It takes a long time to properly add capacity to the supply chain,” he says. “New vessels, cranes at port terminals, and expanded distribution centers are all required to meet the new capacity demands of a post-COVID supply chain.”
This year, make your list and check it twice. Instead of allowing a pile of packages to wind up on your doorstep every week, adopt a more mindful shopping routine that’s better for your wallet and the world.