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Store shortages could cause trouble for holiday shoppers: 4 steps to take now

See ways to avoid holiday shopping headaches amid a slowdown in shipping and distribution that has caused supply shortages across the country.
/ Source: TODAY

If there is ever a year to avoid last-minute holiday shopping, this is it.

Shipping and distribution delays continue to hamper businesses across the country as dozens of cargo ships linger at the nation's largest ports, and trucks, railways and warehouses remain understaffed in the effort to transport those goods.

The empty grocery store shelves that were a staple image from the start of the pandemic are starting to appear again thanks to rising shipping costs and stalled goods stemming from effects of the pandemic around the world.

COVID-19 Empty Target Shelves
Empty store shelves, a staple at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, are now appearing once again as retailers struggle to stay stocked. Smith Collection / Gado via Getty Images

Data from late September that 16% of beverages, 14% of snack foods and 14% of frozen items were out of stock at the nation's grocery stores, according to Information Resources, Inc.

Large retailers Costco and Sam's Club have started limiting how many paper and cleaning products customers can purchase. The country's largest retailer, Walmart, has taken measures like chartering its own cargo ships, diverting shipments and hiring more than 20,000 permanent supply chain workers to help ensure products get delivered on time and the shelves are stocked.

 "We’re buying more products than ever before, whether they be online, pick up at stores or at a big box retailer, and the American importer is struggling to keep up with that demand," Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, told NBC's Kristen Dahlgren on TODAY Tuesday.

"I think it’s, for a time, the new normal," Jonathan Johnson, the CEO of, told Dahlgren. "I think we can expect this well into 2022."

With that in mind, here are tips to buying food and gifts during the holiday season.

  • Start shopping now for nonperishables you will need for holiday dinners.
  • Consider buying and freezing items like turkey and other meat when you see them in stock.
  • Look for generic brands as a substitute for out-of-stock items.
  • Build the price increases into your budget because meals and gifts will most likely cost more this year.