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Supply chain and labor shortage concerns lead to earlier start for Black Friday deals

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Black Friday in October? No, you didn’t hear wrong. Best Buy, Walmart and other retailers are already kicking off holiday discounts to coax people into shopping earlier this year.

Nancy Lystash in New Jersey loves holiday gifting.

“Between my husband, my mother, my brother and all the dogs, because we do have six dogs in the family, they usually get, like, anywhere from 20 to 25 gifts a piece,” she said.

She said the gifts aren’t expensive, but they take a lot of time to put together. She’s already more than halfway done with her shopping this year, because she’s been hearing the same thing at store after store. Buy now, because if we sell out, we might not get more.

“And so they started to light that fire of panic underneath me. And then two days later I saw all the ships in the Los Angeles port just sitting out there,” she said.

She’s talking about all the images of ships waiting to unload goods. That, plus factory closures abroad and trucking and labor shortages here, are reasons why Katherine Cullen at the National Retail Federation said retailers are urging customers to shop early.

“While they have items available in store now or online right now, they may have lower inventory levels than they typically would for the entire holiday season,” she said.

Retailers are sweetening their “buy now” messages. Best Buy’s Black Friday deals start today. Walmart is giving Walmart Plus members early access to Black Friday discounts throughout November. And Target will refund customers the difference on purchased items if prices drop before Christmas. Cullen said early data show consumers are listening with a record number of people holiday shopping early this year.

Diana Smith, a retail analyst at Mintel, said before the pandemic, people were already starting to shop earlier for the holidays.

“They’re shopping consistently throughout the year, whenever there are deals, and putting things to the side for the holidays,” she said.

She said more than 40% of consumers holiday-shop year round. Smith said people who shop late this year may be left with gift cards.

Oliver Chen, a retail analyst at Cowen, said despite all the warnings, most of the big brand name stores are ready. Many stocked up early and rented extra storage space. He says some have even chartered their own container ships.

But, “not everybody could afford these decisions, and/or had the appetite or risk to do that. So in some ways what’s been happening are the big retailers are getting bigger,” he said.

At the same time, local small businesses could get a boost. Chen said supply chain problems have made a more thoughtful shopper emerge – one who thinks more carefully about where goods are made. 

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