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Holiday shopping 2021: What to buy to avoid shipping delays

Here's what you need to know about supply chain issues.
Illustration of a Woman shopping on her tablet with sold out and shipping delay signs
TODAY Illustration / Getty Images

We're officially in mid-December, which means that the holiday shopping season is kicking into high gear. While typically you might be able to pull off a last-minute ordering spree in the final days before Christmas, this year, that strategy may not pan out as well as it has in the past; because if you wait too long to buy that hot gift everyone's been talking about, you could be out of luck.

Experts have been saying that a range of supply chain issues could affect the price and availability of popular products, making it harder to get presents on time. Below, we're breaking down everything you need to know about the predicted issues during the holiday season. Plus, we rounded up a handful of gift options that are sure to make it by the big day.

How will supply chain issues affect your holiday shopping?

The events of the last two years have taken a major toll on the retail industry. And a number of the resulting issues, like worker shortages and transportation delays, could affect how quickly you'll be able to get a range of products, from toilet paper to chicken tenders.

"When the world's manufacturers came back online, there was a surge in products that were ordered and just a finite amount of capacity of ships, of trucks, of warehouses, and the infrastructure that exists can't handle the volume," Craig Fuller, CEO of FreightWaves told NBC News correspondent Tom Costello on TODAY.

In a survey of retail executives conducted by the professional services firm KPMG, 82 percent of those polled said that they were somewhat or very concerned about inventory shortages this year.

And that's why some retailers are taking measures to try and speed up the process. Target, for example, has chartered its own container ship, which will allow the company to have control over the shipping process and hopefully avoid delays caused by additional stops and backed-up ports. Costco, Walmart and Home Depot have also done the same. As NBC investigative and consumer correspondent Vicky Nguyen reported on TODAY, Walmart is also using new technology like self-driving cars and drones in select areas to move products and deliver to customers. Many of these top companies have also kicked off season-long sales, helping people get a head start on shopping.

Even so, many customers are feeling the effects of these supply chain issues. According to a survey from Morning Consult, nearly half of the early shoppers who responded said that they've already encountered issues with an item being back-ordered, delayed or out of stock.

But the demand isn't slowing down. The National Retail Federation reported that holiday spending could reach a record high of $859 billion, a more than 10 percent increase from last year. Also on the rise? Prices. Salesforce has said that retailers could face an extra $223 billion in costs this season. And while companies will bear most of the burden of the increased costs, customers can also expect higher prices. In October, the Consumer Price Index, a measure of what consumers are paying for goods and services, jumped by 6.2 percent as compared to this period last year (the largest increase in more than 30 years).

And when it comes to items that will be hardest to find, experts expect that hot toys will be some of the first gifts to sell out. "All of the big brands that most people know, they've been able to get stuff into the country," The Toy Guy Chris Byrne said on the show. "The question is, how long is it going to last once it gets on the shelves? So again, if you see it, buy it."

But if you don't want to deal with all the potential issues and delays this late in the season, we get it. Instead of buying them a physical gift that might not make it in time, consider getting them an e-gift card that they can use once the items on their wishlist come back in stock or a fun experience that they'll remember for years to come.

Don’t forget to check out Shop TODAY’s 2021 Gift Guide to find the perfect present for everyone on your list!

Gifts that will arrive on time

Amazon gift card

If you don't know what to get someone, an Amazon gift card is the perfect option. The retail site has everything, so whether they're a techie or an avid reader, they're bound to find something that they love. They can also use the gift card to book a virtual experience from Amazon Explore.

MasterClass subscription

Whether they want to try their hand at baking bread or start a new creative pursuit, they can learn how from the best of the best on MasterClass. When you gift them an annual membership, which starts at $180, they'll have access to virtual lessons hosted by experts across multiple fields, such as Simone Biles, Tan France, Alicia Keys, Samuel L. Jackson and more.

Uncommon Experiences

Send all your giftees one of Uncommon Experience's fun classes, where they can learn how to paint, make cocktails or even get a tarot card reading. While many of the experiences come with kits that will get sent to them before the class begins, they also have some options that are product-optional, so you can skip the shipping altogether (although they'll have to get the materials themselves).

Sam's Club Membership

Sam's Club isn't just a great place to save on bulk groceries: The wholesale retailer also sells electronics, furniture and even clothing. When you give someone an annual membership (which starts at $45), they'll be able to shop at Sam's Club in store and online, plus score perks like same-day delivery and fuel discounts.

ClassPass gift card

For the fitness buff who is always trying out new workouts, give them a ClassPass gift card. Select their city and the amount you want to put on the card and they'll be able to use it to try out classes at some of the most popular studios and gyms in their area.

Bookshop gift card

Whether they're more of a non-fiction or fantasy person, book lovers can find an exciting new read in Bookshop's impressive selection. Plus, they'll be supporting local book shops while they do it.

Sur La Table electronic gift card

While they can use this e-gift card to stock up on cookware at Sur La Table, they can also put it towards one of the brand's virtual cooking classes. Starting at just $29, these classes cover a range of topics, from learning how to make classic cocktails to baking sweet treats. Classes are taught by expert chefs and each one lasts between 90 to 120 minutes.

Target gift card

Target's gift cards can be emailed or texted to recipients. And you can send it right away or schedule it to be sent on a specific day within the next three months, so you can buy it now and it'll show up in their inbox on Christmas morning.

Airbnb gift card

With an Airbnb gift card, travel lovers can finally take that much-needed escape that they've been talking about. For those who aren't ready to head on a vacation quite yet, they can book one of the company's online experiences, which range from cooking classes to virtual concerts.

Sephora gift card

Instead of stressing over which shade of nail polish or lip gloss to get your beauty-obsessed BFF, simply grab a Sephora gift card instead and let them pick it out themself.

Best Buy gift card

From home improvement to hot tech, you can find it all at Best Buy. And the retailer has both physical and e-gift cards that you can send to all your loved ones.


Is your friend always talking about the coolest new restaurants and food trends? Get them a Goldbelly gift card so they can order dishes from some of the hottest spots in the country, no matter where they are. Gift card options range from $25 to $200, although you can select a custom amount as well. The site also has live cooking classes and monthly subscriptions that will make the perfect gift.

Still looking for the perfect gift? Be sure to check out Shop TODAY’s 2021 Gift Guide to shop for everyone on your list, including:

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