Holiday shopping? Here’s how to navigate supply chain slowdowns

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Shipping delays and supply chain slowdowns have added well-documented challenges to the 2021 holiday shopping season – for both retailers and customers.

There’s a lot that goes into making this year a rough one to navigate in order to get presents in front of the people who are supposed to get them, but gift-buying stress is far from unavoidable.

“Start early, early, early across the board,” explains Reilly White, an assistant professor of finance at the University of New Mexico’s Anderson School of Management. While it took just weeks for the supply chain to shut off when the pandemic began, he says, it’s taking months or even years for it to ramp up.

“When everything’s humming, it works. But the thing is, a lot of products have six-month, 12-month lead time,” White said. It might take until 2022 or beyond for the supply chain for complex electronic appliances to normalize.

And when items are gone this year, don’t expect an automatic restock in a few days.

White suggests being flexible with shopping needs and also looking locally.

"Just keep your eyes and ears open. Watch for it. You know, we’re here. Let’s support our community, let’s support our local artisans. They need it," says Ramona Montoya Chesley, a seasoned retailer who runs the Farm Shop at Los Poblanos, a farm, restaurant and hotel in Albuquerque’s North Valley.

She says it can pay off to supplement a small gift with a local experience, like a kitchen tool and cooking classes or art supplies and an instructional session with a local artist. Local theaters and museums also offer memberships that can turn a holiday gift into a year-round present.

As stores continue to adjust to pandemic shopping, Montoya Chesley says this holiday season has been both a challenge and a return to purchasing that, in some ways, looks more like it always has.

“Last year it was so difficult because a lot of people just didn’t come in. They were scared to come in,” she says. “So a lot of times it was, you know, I’ll order online then I’ll come and pick up and I’m gonna get in and get out as fast as I can. So it’s actually nice to see people enjoying shopping again and walking around the shop and picking things up and having conversations about what they’re going to buy.”

UNM professor White says retailers who could afford to resupply or hang on to items they had before the slowdown were in the catbird’s seat when the pandemic loosened its grip on stores.

That was partly the case at Los Poblanos, which sells many food and bath products it makes with its own ingredients, and online sales last year made up half the annual total. This year, in-person shoppers are back, and the shop has been able to dodge some supply issues by avoiding overseas orders.

“We really try hard to buy quality products, but we also try to buy products that are made in the United States. It’s something that’s really important to us,” says Ramona Montoya Chesley, who runs the Farm Shop at Los Poblanos. It’s a principle that’s paid off this season. “We’re not waiting for ships from China. So it’s a big deal.”

Montoya Chesley adds “When I order things from Europe, I make sure that the order is large and that it’s going to be worth shipping. I mean, we started ordering for Christmas in July.”