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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

Warning: Holiday Crush and Delivery Delays Ahead

Updated: Dec 7, 2020

Not to freak you out, but we have another crisis in the making. Two forces are converging to create more seasonal stress than usual this year.

As if 2020 hasn’t been hard enough, we now have twin tsunamis on the holiday horizon. First, sellers of holiday merchandise are reporting an early rush and greater-than-expected demand for Christmas décor, which means inventory is selling out. (People want their joy now already!)

If a looming décor shortage weren’t enough to make you hit the buy-now button, the second pandemic-related trend is longer than usual shipping times, which means if we don’t hurry, we’ll have ourselves a merry little New Year’s.

Please pause here and take a yoga breath. We’ll get through this.

“Holiday décor buying across the board has been off the charts,” said Mac Harman, owner and founder of Balsam Brands, a leading maker of artificial trees and other holiday décor. Since July, holiday décor sales at his company have been up 50 percent over last year. “Some days were up 200 percent,” he said.

This is not just happening at his company. Treetopia also reported that sales were up 50 percent. “Because vendors didn’t plan for the demand, inventory is running out,” Harman said. The trend is also not unique to the United States. Balsam Brands’ online sales are also up in the UK, France and Germany.

Historically, folks start searching for holiday items and ideas in September. However, this year a Pinterest report pins the start of the Christmas crunch to April. Christmas-related searches for gift ideas, recipes and décor were 77% higher this past April than they were in the same month last year, the report said.

Call it the coronavirus crush.

“The rush started early and hasn’t stopped,” Harman said. “It’s only accelerated. “The day after Halloween, boom! We didn’t see it coming.”

Decorations have been going up earlier, too. Celeste Boehm, of La Cañada, Calif., wanted to get that Christmas spirit early. Though she normally puts her Christmas decorations up around Thanksgiving, this year they went up on Oct. 23, she said. “Staying home every day made every day feel the same. Having Christmas decorations up takes me to a happier place and fills me with a feeling of anticipation.”

Jen Lutz, of Hillsdale, Mich., also typically puts up her Christmas decorations around Thanksgiving. But this year the tree for her kids, ages 11 to 14, went up the day after Halloween. The rest of her decorations went up the following week. “It reminds us of good times and gives us something to look forward to,” she said.

Lutz and Boehm are not alone. “Customers started showing an interest in holiday décor far earlier than they have in years prior,” said Sarah Fishburne, director of trend and design for The Home Depot. “Clearly, people are craving the holidays and looking forward to bringing the joy home sooner.”

“A lot of people can’t wait for 2020 to end,” added Harman, “and they are going to try to make that come faster by making Christmas come sooner. They are tired of the stress from, you name it: COVID, politics, racial tension. They want the joy that Christmas brings, and they want it now.”

Only, due to widespread shipping delays, which have become the norm, they might not get it now. This holiday season, retailers may not be able to send products fast enough to meet consumer demands, industry experts warn.

The coronavirus has already driven online shopping and shipping to its peak. Adding holiday shopping and sending to the mix really puts a crimp in the Christmas stocking.

“The country simply doesn’t have the shipping capacity,” said Harman, who keeps a close eye on distribution. “It’s not simply a matter of hiring more drivers and getting more trucks. The sorting facilities are at their maximums, so stuff sits. I’m telling everyone I know to buy their Christmas presents now. Last minute won’t cut it.”

So you don’t get hit with the double whammy of a holiday décor shortage and shipping delays, here’s some advice:

· Get going. “Make a plan for what you want to buy for the holidays, and carry it out in the next two weeks,” said Harman. If possible, order any new holiday décor before Thanksgiving, which falls a bit late this year.

· Expect to find sold-out stock. Strong early holiday sales mean less inventory. If this was the year you wanted to buy that pencil-thin artificial tree, hop on it. The same goes for holiday wreaths, ornaments and other décor.

· Don’t wait for Black Friday deals. To encourage shoppers not to delay, The Home Depot started offering Black Friday prices Nov. 6, and those prices will last all season, said Fishburne. Other retailers are doing the same.

· Ship early. Make “Early is on time” your new mantra. Shipping capacity is tight. Items ordered on Cyber Monday could take an extra week to arrive. Many retailer websites have banners advising consumers to shop early to stay ahead of the delays shippers are experiencing. For packages to arrive by Christmas via FedEx Ground, the carrier recommends shipping by Dec. 15.

· Practice gratitude. Remember what the season is all about. Yes, we’ve all been through a lot this year. But rather than bemoan that sold-out Santa or that late delivery, let’s be grateful for what we have, for each other, and for this season of thankfulness.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some shopping to do.

CAPTION: Decking the halls early ― Jennifer Lutz, of Hillsdale, Mich., decorated a Christmas tree for her four kids, ages 11 to 14, this year the day after Halloween. She put up the rest of her holiday décor, including two more trees, the following week. “It gives us something to look forward to,” she said. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Lutz.

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