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Canadians should start their holiday shopping early amid supply chain woes: experts

FILE - Shoppers wear a face masks at the Burlington Arcade in London, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali) FILE - Shoppers wear a face masks at the Burlington Arcade in London, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

Experts are advising Canadians to plan ahead and start their holiday shopping early if they don't want to be disappointed amid ongoing global supply chain issues and shortages affecting various sectors.

David Soberman, professor of marketing at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, told that COVID-19 outbreaks continue to roil factories, shutting down production for weeks at a time, with a ripple effect on other sectors of the retail market.

"The thing is that the world was shut down for almost a year and a half due to the pandemic," Soberman said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

He explained that the pandemic led to reductions in the number of people working in ports and factories, and companies have since had a difficult time resuming full operations.

"This is true not just in North America but you know in Asia where many of our products come from," Soberman said.

In addition, he said the pandemic has created demand for certain products that wasn't previously there. Soberman says if anyone is planning on gifting board games, furniture, books, bikes, toys, video games or appliances for the holidays, they should starting looking into buying those products now.

"People really want to buy something, but when there's too much demand and the capacity isn't there, you're going to end up with shortages and they're very sporadic across categories and also across geographic areas," Soberman said.

However, he noted these shortages will impact Canadians on a "person-to-person basis." Those who aren't interested in these products likely won't be affected, he said.

"People may have something specific that they want to buy, and that might be the thing where there's a shortage. So consumers are going to have to learn to be perhaps disappointed more frequently than they usually are," Soberman said.

Michelle Wasylyshen, national spokesperson for Retail Council of Canada (RCC), says retailers continue to struggle with supply chain challenges and labour shortages, but are working to prepare as best they can for the holiday shopping season.

"As an industry we're still not black to pre-pandemic 'normality'," Wasylyshen said in an email to on Wednesday. "There is plenty of product on the shelves across Canada, however, it might not always be the product or brand that consumers are looking for."

Wasylyshen said "challenges are expected" for some popular items, such as electronics, because of the ongoing chip shortages.

However, she said some larger retailers have prepared for this and have "record amounts of inventory on hand" that will help them "weather the storm."

Similar to the 2020 holiday season, Wasylyshen said shoppers should get a head start on buying gifts regardless of shopping in-store or online.

"It won’t be as bad as last year, but it’s best to not wait until the last minute to do your holiday shopping," she said.

Soberman noted that uncertainty can cause stress for consumers and if they're not buying gifts now, he said they should at least start to "do their homework" and find out if they will be planning on purchasing a popular product that may be out of stock if they wait too long.

"The thing about these shortages and what's going on is you can't necessarily tell which products are going to be out of stock or unavailable or backordered until you… try to buy them," Soberman explained.

"Shopping in advance might pay off because you're going to be able to know in advance what you could get and when you get it," he added.

Marty Weintraub, a partner and national retail practice leader at Deloitte Canada, said he doesn't expect supply chain issues to impact all retailers, however, consumers should expect to pay more for the products they want.

Weintraub told in a telephone interview on Wednesday that increased shipping container costs due to a spike in demand for consumer goods combined with disruptions caused by COVID-19 may raise prices for most goods.

He explained that larger businesses will be able to absorb these costs due to higher margins, but those who can't will have to increase the prices of their products.

Weintraub said retailers are anticipating more "revenge shopping" this holiday season, with consumers making up for lost time with a surge in spending. He noted some retailers increased their supply months ago to combat this.

"A lot of retailers have upped their orders and they bought earlier and bought higher quantities because of that behaviour… because they're afraid to be out of stock," Weintraub said.

However, Weintraub noted that forecasters predict popular items and trends a year or more in advance, and the products that businesses have already stocked up on may no longer be of interest to consumers.

Despite this, Weintraub said Canadians have become "a lot more understanding" of product shortages and shipping delays amid the pandemic.

"We're a little bit more apathetic, I'd like to think, and if a product is not there we'll look for something similar and we'll be a little more OK with that," he said. Top Stories

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