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Just starting your 2021 holiday shopping? Here’s how to buckle up for Black Friday

Diane Sartain, owner of Tutoring Toy in Salt Lake City, helps customers.
Diane Sartain, owner of Tutoring Toy in Salt Lake City, helps customers on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021.
Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

If you’re slapping your forehead for flouting advice circulating for months that amid a global supply chain crisis, an early start to 2021 holiday shopping would be a survival necessity, there’s no need to panic.

Yet.

Sure, many online and brick-and-mortar retailers kicked off versions of their holiday sale seasons weeks ago, and earlier than ever, but most are also still reserving plenty of extra and/or limited time deals for the once-traditional kickoff on the Friday following Thanksgiving and through the busiest weekend of the year, including the online-focused Cyber Monday.

Patience, and a healthy dose of flexibility, will be the keys to completing gift lists this year, and it’s not too late to strategize about getting what you want to your own door, and the doors of your loved ones, in time for upcoming celebrations.

A survey conducted the first week of October by data analyst firm Morning Consult found about 50% of U.S. shoppers had launched early starts to their 2021 holiday shopping, but many of them, even with a jump, ran into challenges finding goods destined for gift wrapping.

Some 51% of early shoppers report stores being out of at least one item they were after, while 54% say a hoped for product was out of stock online and 49% will have to wait out a back order or delayed delivery on an early purchase.

Those frustrations are likely to get progressively worse as experts see no near-term solutions to shipping and supply chain snarls on the horizon. Shopping dead ends could make “omnichannel” the buzzword of the season as shoppers mix their holiday spending among apps, websites and in-person retailers to find the items they’re after.

Savvy local brick-and-mortar stores appear to be well prepared to serve a bigger slice of the holiday shopping volume coming back through their doors and, for some, that is already happening.

Bill Sartain, owner of iconic Salt Lake specialty store Tutoring Toy, said in a Monday interview that his shop has been serving an unusually high volume of early holiday shoppers over the past weeks and, in spite of navigating ongoing availability and supply chain challenges, is well stocked for the season.

“People have gotten the word on supply chains,” Sartain said. “We’re certainly seeing earlier shopping and higher volumes on a daily basis than we have historically.”

Bill Sartain, owner of Tutoring Toy in Salt Lake City, helps customers on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021.
Bill Sartain, owner of Tutoring Toy in Salt Lake City, helps customers on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021.
Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

Sartain said his store, which has been a staple for many Utah families since 1988, has been prepared for the earlier-than-usual crowds and timed its pre-holiday ordering and inventory buildup accordingly.

While he noted there have been some spotty availability issues and longer than normal lead times, Tutoring Toy is part of a 100-member buying cooperative of similar, specialty retailers in the U.S. and Canada that has given the store a measure of market wherewithal it wouldn’t be able to swing on its own. And that’s been a plus in the current circumstances that are the culmination of COVID-19 related slowdowns, pervasive labor shortages, energy issues in some manufacturing countries and record-high consumer demand.

Sartain said changes wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic have made it a little trickier to estimate how this year’s holiday shopping patterns will play out, particularly over the last few weeks of the year.

“It’s typical to see an explosion in store volume over the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Sartain said. “But with the steady and substantial increases we’ve already seen, I’m left wondering whether the trend will continue or if we’ll get a slump.”

Code Neider, left, and his wife, Tristan, carrying their newborn son, Rhett, shop for toys at Tutoring Toy in Salt Lake City on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021.
Code Neider, left, and his wife, Tristan, carrying their newborn son, Rhett, shop for toys at Tutoring Toy in Salt Lake City on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021.
Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

As a whole, the full 2021 holiday shopping season is expected to be relatively slump-free, and an annual report from Adobe Analytics is predicting U.S. holiday sales online to hit $207 billion from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31, setting a new record. That represents a 10% increase from 2020, a number considered to reflect strong growth after a year where the pandemic made e-commerce an essential service.

Thanks to the pervasiveness of online options to holiday shop when it suits you, the once traditional major shopping days have lost a bit of their shine.

Adobe reports Cyber Week (Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday) is expected to drive $36 billion in online spending — 17% of the entire holiday season. But, the growth for that extended weekend is slowing, coming in at just 5% ahead of 2020 spending for the five-day period.

Adobe expects Cyber Monday to drive $11.3 billion in sales, up 4% over last year and remain the biggest day of the season, and the year. Black Friday 2021 is predicted to come in at $9.5 billion, 5% over last year, and Thanksgiving at $5.4 billion, a 6% increase over 2020. All three major shopping days are growing less than the season overall.

But, waning growth for the days that used to rule them all isn’t keeping national retailers from trumpeting in-store and online deals targeting the holiday weekend and the days leading up to the big bash.

On Monday, CNET reported many Amazon device sales (Echo, Fire tablets, Fire TVs, Ring security systems) started last Friday as did Best Buy’s sale, featuring a big discount on the Apple Watch SE. Target launched its Black Friday deals on Sunday as did Staples.

Walmart lit the fuse on its Black Friday sale Monday, Macy’s joins the fray Tuesday and Amazon is set to launch a 48-hour window of special prices Thursday.

For those who are shipping care packages and gift boxes on their own, it’s worth noting this year’s deadlines for the major U.S. carriers.

Forbes reports those wishing packages to arrive by Dec. 25 and who plan on using the United States Postal Service need to ship packages by Dec. 15 for ground service, Dec. 17 for first-class mail service, Dec. 18 for priority mail service and Dec. 23 for priority mail express service, for the contiguous 48 states — the same as last year, despite expected shipping delays.

Fedex set a deadline of Dec. 9 for domestic ground economy shipping and Dec. 15 for domestic ground shipping, and packages can be shipped through different express services between Dec. 21 and 24 to arrive on Dec. 25.

For delivery by Dec. 24, packages can be shipped through UPS through select express services between Dec. 21 and Dec. 23, and though there is no specific deadline, ground arrival dates can be determined through the company’s shipping calculator.

Sue Mcgill, an employee at Tutoring Toy in Salt Lake City, carries toys while helping a customer ahead of Thanksgiving on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021.
Sue Mcgill, an employee at Tutoring Toy in Salt Lake City, carries toys while helping a customer ahead of Thanksgiving on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021.
Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News