2020 was a year like no other with the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across the globe. Many people steered away from crowds at the stores and turned to their computers instead. Last year, most people shopped online and in stores, but a full 22% surveyed by Lending Tree said they would do holiday shopping solely online (only 11% said the same about heading only to brick-and mortar stores). 

Now it’s holiday season 2021 and COVID-19 hasn’t gone anywhere. As much of the world shut down last year, the supply chain bottlenecked and the effects are lingering.

Shoppers might be surprised at the lack of selection when they go to buy. 

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There are cargo vessels with nowhere to dock, truck drivers are scarce and everything from toys to appliances are proving hard to find, according to a report from The Washington Post.

Companies like Bed Bath and Beyond, Nike and Kohls are all expected to have less inventory this holiday season.

In Nike’s most recent conference call with investors, Matt Friend, Nike’s chief financial officer, spoke about product now taking double the amount of time to move from Asia to North America. Add to that the problem that 80% of the company’s factories in Vietnam are currently closed. Friend told investors the company has lost 10 weeks of production. He said a few factories plan to reopen soon but that holiday production has been delayed.

“We’re optimistic that available inventory supply will be improved as we head into fiscal year 2023,” Friend said.

You read that right, Nike is hopeful it will have more shoes on the shelves more than a year from now.

So start holiday shopping as soon as your budget allows and consider a few factors:

Return windows

Shopping in October means you could be cutting it close when it comes to whether a gift recipient may be able to return something. Stores like Costco and Nordstrom are famous for their generous return policies, and Target allows most returns 90 days after purchase. But places like Best Buy and Apple only allow about two weeks for their standard return windows. Before you buy, make sure your purchase will be returnable after Dec. 25.

Early Black Friday

Amazon has already launched “Black Friday-worthy” sales saying customers can confidently shop early “knowing they are receiving incredible deals.” Target will run its “Deal Days” from Oct. 10 through Oct. 12 discounting thousands of items. The company will also price match through Dec. 24. Even if you purchase something at Target in November and another company has a lower price in December, Target will match that price.

Fewer sales

With the inventory shortage expected this holiday season, some industry analysts are warning customers that they may have to pay full price for that “must have” toy. “With supply being a problem, we’re not expecting to see much of a discount on these products,” Julie Ramhold with DealNews.com told CNBC.

Shop local

If you’re worried about a gift arriving on time, ignore online shopping and walk to your local store instead to pick out that perfect present. Small businesses were hit hard during the pandemic and with the current labor shortages, this is the perfect time to shop local. You can also check with your local government to see if yours is one of several places offering “shop local” incentives. Cities like Holladay, Utah, and Kenai, Alaska, are using pandemic stimulus money to give vouchers to residents for use at local businesses.

Reward the deliverers

There’s also a shortage of delivery drivers right now. FedEx said it is having “declining operating results” due to inadequate staffing. One Amazon driver told Business Insider he was told to hand out business cards to “drivers, landscapers, anyone we see on the road.” He said if Amazon hires the person as a result, he gets a $300 bonus. So think about showing a little gratitude for the drivers you do have dropping packages at your door. Join the trend of leaving a thank you sign, snacks or water bottles for them. YouTube is full of heart-warming videos of delivery drivers showing pure delight over such a small gesture.

Keep these tips in mind and get shopping. For added incentive, note that the Lending Tree survey found that by this time last year, 25% of consumers had completely finished their holiday gift buying.