Poll: 77% of U.S. adults face shopping issues ahead of holiday season

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Holiday shopping is always stressful, but it can be even more harried when you throw in a load of supply chain issues that lead to high prices and bare shelves.

More than three in four U.S. adults (77 percent) say they had shopping issues related to products in October, a new Bankrate survey found. Problems ranged from high prices to shipping delays to the inability to find an item in a specific color.

These product debacles may be adding to holiday stress, according to the survey of 2,372 U.S. adults done in November 2021. More than one in three of those celebrating winter holidays (36 percent) said they feel more anxious due to supply chain problems.

The best thing anxious shoppers can do this season? Wrap up holiday shopping early, says Trae Bodge, a smart shopping expert.

“Shop early, allow plenty of time to receive things and have a plan B—especially if you’re looking to buy a hot toy seen on every list, an item that’s trending on TikTok or any electronics,” she says.

A holiday season rife with shopping hassles

Just about everyone who celebrates winter holidays can rattle off a list of reasons seasonal shopping is stressful: crowds, money and the pressure to find the perfect gift while “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” plays yet again.

Now, supply chain issues sparked by the pandemic have snowballed, making holiday shopping even harder and ratcheting stress levels up a few notches. The poll found that consumers who experienced issues this year have faced an array of product problems, including:

  • Higher-than-usual prices (55 percent)
  • Out-of-stock or backordered items (47 percent)
  • Delays in shipping (35 percent)
  • Lack of product selection (31 percent)
  • More quality issues than normal (12 percent)

Less than one in four (23 percent) said they hadn’t experienced any product-related shopping issues.

2021 Holiday Shopping Issues Poll
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So you may have to let go of the idea of finding the perfect gift in the right color and size with all your desired features at a bargain price, says Tinglong Dai, professor of operations management and business analytics at the Carey Business School at Johns Hopkins University. “This year, people will be getting less with more instead of more with less,” he says.

But will you be left without a turkey for your table or unable to get the interactive Baby Yoda toy your kid desperately wants? Product categories in which consumers who faced shopping issues reported the most problems include food (66 percent), clothing (37 percent) and electronics (24 percent), according to the survey. And more than one in four (27 percent) parents of babies, young children, tweens or teens say they’ve had trouble finding toys.

Money-saving expert Andrea Woroch, who offers budgeting tips for busy moms, has noticed toy prices going up with fewer options in stores. This means you might need to work harder to find deals—but it can be done.

“I’ve begun tracking prices and buying when I see toys on sale,” she says. This way, she managed to get one of the season’s hot toys at a bargain price. “I grabbed an L.O.L. Surprise! Doll at Target for nearly 30 percent off,” she says.

Consumers changing their holiday shopping habits

Holiday shoppers are adapting and changing their behavior to deal with these product problems. Almost three in four (73 percent) said they are making changes in when and how they shop.

The poll found that those who do winter holiday shopping plan to change their behavior by:

  • Doing holiday shopping earlier (37 percent)
  • Shopping online more (26 percent)
  • Buying more at local small businesses (21 percent)
  • Giving more gift cards (20 percent)

Less common changes included giving more experiential gifts or buying used or refurbished products. Some survey respondents wrote that they plan to craft handmade gifts or give baked goods.

Gen Z shoppers were more likely than any other generation (83 percent) to say they plan to switch up how they shop for the holidays. Almost as many (79 percent) of millennials had plans to make changes compared with 71 percent of Gen Xers and 68 percent of boomers.

Despite higher prices, holiday shoppers have not cut themselves from their gift lists. The survey found more than half (57 percent) plan to buy themselves a gift or spend money to treat themselves this season. That number was even higher for those who live in western states (63 percent), millennials (63 percent), Gen Zers (61 percent) and men (60 percent).

The survey shows most holiday shoppers are proactively taking steps like shopping early to head off problems caused by supply chain issues, Bankrate senior industry analyst Ted Rossman points out, noting that many retailers also started holiday promotions in the fall. He says: “This should help to limit the negative effects resulting from supply chain disruptions.”

Supply chain issues ramping up anxiety

Despite taking steps to adapt to an unusual holiday season, many consumers feel anxious this year, especially younger generations. Millennials (46 percent) and Gen Zers (45 percent) were more likely than Gen Xers (37 percent) and boomers (25 percent) to say they’re fretting about supply and shipping problems this year, the poll found.

That makes sense since many Gen Z and millennial shoppers have grown up expecting to click on an item and get it in days, says Bodge, whose 15-year-old daughter was recently surprised to find an item would take weeks to arrive, even with Amazon Prime. “Now they’re getting a rude awakening,” she says of younger consumers. “Those of us who are older can remember when it used to take six weeks to get a package.”

And parents of kids under 18 are much more likely (44 percent) to be feeling anxious this season than non-parents (35 percent) or parents with grown children (30 percent), the poll shows.

Anxious parents should set expectations with their kids, let them know what’s going on this year and ask for gift alternatives, Bodge says. “Maybe say, give me three or four things you want, not just the new PlayStation 5 that’s going to be impossible to get as the season progresses.”

But high prices may cause even more headaches later if shoppers turn to credit cards, according to Rossman.

“Given the sharp rise in inflation, figuring out how to pay for all of these holiday gifts may prove to be more difficult than finding presents to put under the tree,” he says.

Tips for weathering holiday shopping woes

In addition to shopping early, there are other ways to make your holidays bright in a season full of high prices, shipping delays and less availability. Here are six holiday shopping tips for 2021:

  1. Plan and track your spending. Try using the Santa’s Bag app, which lets you list each recipient, the budget for their gift and the amount you actually spent, Woroch recommends. “You can check in at any time to see your total spending on all gifts, which can deter you from making impulse purchases and cue you to cut back,” she says.
  2. Cut the number of gifts you need to buy. If you usually have a holiday shopping list a mile long, this may be the year to pare it back. You can do that by switching to a Secret Santa gift exchange or going in on a few bigger gifts as a group. “Many people will appreciate this strategy,” Woroch says.
  3. Put a bow on a gift card or certificate. Have you ever felt a bit guilty reaching for a gift card as your holiday gift? This year, don’t sweat it. You can give recipients a generic Visa or Mastercard gift card, a card to their favorite retailer or a gift certificate from a local business they love.
  4. Grant a big wish. Talk to your recipients about what they really want, says Sami Cone, a Nashville TV host and parenting book author. For example, her 17-year-old daughter wants to revamp her room. So, she says, a homemade certificate saying, “You have X dollars to redo your room,” might make a great main gift. Her 15-year-old son is saving for a car, so she’s thinking that asking relatives to contribute to his car fund might lift gift-buying pressure while getting him closer to his wish.
  5. Reap extra savings through cash back apps. “I’m finding deal sites are offering a lot of generous and exclusive opportunities to save,” Bodge says. For example, Rakuten has 10 percent to 15 percent cash back from hundreds of retailers, which you can stack with a sale. “If you don’t look for offers like that, you’re leaving money on the table,” she says.
  6. Avoid shipping. If there’s an item you have to have from a big retailer, order online for curbside or in-store pickup to get it in your hands sooner and avoid order cancellations, Woroch recommends. Also, consider supporting your local small businesses. “You will find items that are unique and beautifully curated and wrapped by hand,” Bodge says.

Finally, try not to rack up credit card debt chasing your vision of the ideal holiday this year. “It’s important to set a realistic budget and stick to it, especially with so many other factors out of your control,” Rossman says.

Written by
Allie Johnson
Personal Finance Writer
Allie has written about personal finance and covered credit cards extensively for more than 10 years. Allie covers avoiding credit card debt, choosing credit cards wisely and earning and maximizing credit card rewards.
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