The holiday shopping rush is officially on and the turkey hasn’t even thawed yet in the fridge for Thanksgiving.
We’re just two weeks away before Black Friday and many big stores, like Macy’s and Walmart, are already flooding us with many after-Thanksgiving deals online.
From the looks of things, many people are already stocking up.
On a quick trip to Target late one Saturday night in early November, I spotted a shopper who had loaded up her cart with a massive box containing an artificial Christmas tree, a giant wheel of outside lights and other holiday trinkets.
Yep, just a week after Halloween, and even more shoppers milled about the holiday section at the back of the store that night, picking up ornaments and other decorations.
What’s the rush, one might wonder? It’s twofold: Many people want to bring the holidays back with a vengeance after the pathetic, scaled-down celebrations of 2020. At the same time, we’ve got all those scary warnings of supply chain havoc and potential shipping delays.
Shoppers scared of shortages and delays buy early
Retailers, of course, are playing into the fears of shortages and delays. Macy’s website, for example, leads with the tagline in early November: “Get holiday gifts on time!”
Many consumers seem ready to pivot and deal as best they can with whatever comes their way, based on TransUnion’s newly released 2021 Consumer Holiday Shopping Report.
“Overall, what we found is that consumers plan to spend more, shop earlier and try new retailers,” said Shannon Wu-Lebron, senior director of retail in TransUnion’s diversified markets business.
Wu-Lebron told me in an interview that consumers appeared far more cautious about their spending plans last year. But this year’s survey showed a 22% increase in the number of respondents who plan to spend more on holiday shopping — and that’s after two years of consumers talking about planning to spend less.
About 33% of those surveyed said they’re shopping earlier this season as they anticipated problems getting gifts because of supply chain issues.
Many are willing to shop at new places, if needed. According to the TransUnion survey, 44% of respondents said they will consider new retailers they are familiar with and 23% are open to new retailers even if they’ve never heard of them before.
All the buzz, which began building early in the fall, about supply chain disruptions is driving consumers to be more creative in their gift giving.
Giving the gift of something else
Concern about scarcity of some items has 25% of those surveyed saying they’re considering alternate gifts.
The survey didn’t ask what kind of alternatives consumers might be considering but some may be more willing to buy gift cards, especially for experiences like Uber rides, Netflix subscriptions or dinners out.
Anticipating a need to overcome stressful shopping scenarios, though, remains in the consumer DNA.
About 8 in 10 of respondents said they plan on doing at least half of their holiday shopping online this year. However, among that group, 53% said their biggest concern is the possibility that a merchant may not fulfill their order on time.
As a result, people tend to be shopping a bit earlier than last year.
A sizable group of consumers surveyed by TransUnion — 47% — said they began their holiday shopping in October or earlier this year. That compares with 45% in last year’s survey.
Many of these early shoppers are baby boomers, who are now between 57 years old and 75. Only 36% of Gen Z consumers — those age 24 and younger — began holiday shopping already.
No one really knows, of course, how the holiday season will play out. The exact items on your list could be readily available if you’re flexible and don’t have your heart set on a specific sweater or pair of boots.
It is wise to start paying attention to what’s available now and not wait too long if you run across a decent sale price.
And by all means, take extra care when you order online. Make sure the retailer has your correct email address and contact information if there is a problem.
This year, a retailer has emailed me twice about an order for a sweater made Oct. 26. First, I did not need to respond. But I was sent a second email to tell me that now the order has been delayed a second time — and might not be shipped until Nov. 26. The email stated that I need to call or email the retailer by Nov. 11 if I want to wait that long or the order will automatically be canceled and my money will be refunded.
We may have to pay attention more to such notices if there are supply chain glitches. And there might even be less room for error.
Last year, I ran into trouble with shipping a pair of pink velvet pants to my home because I didn’t pay attention to what was happening when I ordered online and auto-fill got into the picture. I had half the information correct and the rest was a mess. Needless to say, the pants never arrived but I was able to get a refund.
My advice: Double-check what’s being filled out and recheck any confirmation emails.
Stay on guard, especially if you are in a hurry
Remember, rushing to get through your holiday shopping list rarely goes well. You’re bound to get frazzled if you’re anxious to grab that last whatever — and end up possibly forgetting to use a coupon, leaving your purse unattended ready to be snatched by a thief or even foolishly losing your credit card in the store or parking lot. It happens.
The same’s true if you’re shopping online. If you’re in a rush, you might miss signs that you’re looking at a copycat but phony website. An online website can look like the real deal but cyber criminals are engineering sites that copy name brands, too.
Some scams start off on Facebook by offering a special coupon or prize associated with a popular retailer. Consumers should treat too-good-to-be-true prizes or deals as a huge red flag.
Scammers, of course, are very likely to once again play up the scarcity of goods angle.
Don’t fall for a fake ‘flash sale’
Hot on the trail of the Star Wars Galactic Snackin’ Grogu? Or a Nintendo Switch? The concern, of course, is that popular items could be much harder to find come December.
So beware of phony “flash sales” or other deals that you might spot on social media or online.
The Better Business Bureau is warning that consumers need to be aware once again of potential toy scams when it comes to a few “must-have” toys.
Some scammers could suddenly have a toy that’s out of stock everywhere.
The website will likely look very professional and feature pictures of the product. But consumers are at risk of receiving a counterfeit version or nothing at all.
And, no surprise, you’re not going to find anyone to provide you with a refund.
One shopper told BBB Scam Tracker about a bad deal searching for a Nintendo Switch OLED. Online the consumer found a deal for $99.99 — for an item that’s often priced around $500.
That should have been a clue right there. But the consumer bought the Nintendo Switch and then loaded up on a few PlayStation 5 consoles, again for $99.99 each. Another clue: A super bargain price on a hard-to-find PlayStation 5? A game console that typically goes for around $500 or more? And resold on eBay and elsewhere for $800 or more?
Sure, you’ll get emailed a confirmation number. But good luck getting anything else — or finding someone to help you track an order or get a refund.
A big risk is that you’ll spend the money and discover that the product will never, ever be shipped to you, according to an alert by the BBB.
Given that many people may be more willing to shop online now if they find an item is out of stock at many stores, it is a good idea to remember a few shopping pointers:
• Make sure you’re dealing with reputable stores and websites. Take time to research the seller.
• Don’t be fooled by extra-low prices. The BBB notes that “unreasonably low prices are a red flag for a scam on many products.”
• Check out the customer service number. Give it a call before you order. See if it’s real or not. “Before offering up your name, address, and credit card information, make sure the company has a working customer service number,” the BBB says.
Susan Tompor is the personal finance columnist for the Detroit Free Press. She can be reached at [email protected]