‘Exposed the thin edge that we were skating on:’ Expert discusses supply chain issues, early Christmas shopping

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In this Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, photo, a man looks at artificial Christmas trees for sale at the Balsam Hill Outlet store in Burlingame, Calif. About 80 percent of Americans who put up a Christmas tree now use a fake one and tree growers worry about those numbers growing as millennials begin to form traditions with their young children. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

HENRIETTA, N.Y. (WROC) — “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” may not ring as many jingle bells this year, as more businesses, news outlets, and many others are saying that sooner might be better when it comes to holiday shopping.

CBS News puts it bluntly in a recent article headline while referencing California ports: “If you’re shopping for the holidays, start now.”

But RIT professor, supply chain expert, and co-founder of a site called “The Logistics Managers Index” — which works with industry leaders on an ever-evolving survey to identify growing trends — Steven Carnovale, isn’t quite as worried about holiday shopping delays and price hikes.

“My gut tells me that artificial Christmas trees could be on the rise, pricing wise because they’re made of plastic entirely and there have been issues,” he said. “Should people do it? The answer to that is largely dependent on the risk tolerance of people.”

Carnovale stopped short of predicting that other Christmas-time-specific items will be out of stock, have issues, or be increased in price because of material issues, but says storage could be the issue depending on the product.

“I imagine people are saying, go out and buy now, or when it’s available because the shortage could come as a result of reduced capacity with shipping or warehousing,” he said.

He adds that your level of urgency really depends on if you’re willing to have a gift come in a little late. But he did point out that there are still many items that are Christmas favorites, including gaming consoles and laptops are still in short supply.

Possible holiday shopping issues may be another in the long line of supply chain issues that our country and the world has faced, from chicken wings, to foam, and yes to toilet paper.

Carnovale says this was caused by two things: the shutdown from the pandemic, but also a shift in how supply chains function to keep up with ever-changing upgrades and new prodct.

“In the mid-to-late-80s, there was a transition away from holding lots of inventory for whatever industry you were in… (to) a lean supply chains,” he said.

In addition to stores having fewer stockpiled product, large companies moving overseas for manufacturing and other manual labor needs meant longer and leaner supply chains.

Add to that, the deep pandemic shutdown.

“It kind of exposed the thin edge that we were skating on,” he said. “So the demand did not change. The desire to consume — broadly speaking — did not change. The supply consumed. And so that’s how we’re here. It’s either the pent up demand and the backlog of everything that’s happening is still working its way through.”

Carnovale also said that material and travel restrictions, as well as reduced capacity are the likely reasons why we’re experiencing these 18 months after the shutdowns.

He suggests for those unlike him — he said with a smirk that he’s “not generally holiday gift giving guy” and will likely give cash in envelopes — or those not dead set on being perfectly on time for Christmas with pristine new gifts, to either get gift cards, be willing to wait a complete weeks, or try (safely) secondary markets like Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist.

As for the overarching supply chain issues that continue to happen, Carnovale says these trends are a pendulum, and given all of the issues that are cropping up, businesses might revert back to the overstock philosophy like in the 80s… But says that businesses and shippers may more go to a regional-based transport system.

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