Not to freak you out, but we have another crisis in the making. Two forces are converging to create more seasonal stress than usual this year.
As if 2020 hasn't been hard enough, we now have twin tsunamis on the holiday horizon. First, sellers of holiday merchandise are reporting an early rush and greater-than-expected demand for Christmas decor, which means inventory is selling out sooner. (People want their joy now already!)
If a looming decor shortage weren't enough to make you hit the buy-now button, the second pandemic-related trend is longer than usual shipping times, which means if we don't hurry, we'll have ourselves a merry little New Year's.
Please pause here and take a yoga breath. We can get through this.
"Holiday decor buying across the board has been off the charts," said Mac Harman, owner and founder of Balsam Brands, a leading maker of artificial trees and other holiday decor. Since July, holiday decor sales at his company were up 50% over last year. "Some days were up 200%," The trend is not unique to the United States. Balsam Brands' online sales are also up in the UK, France and Germany.
This is not just happening at his company. Treetopia also reported that sales were up 50%. "Because vendors didn't plan for the demand, inventory is running out," Harman said.
The holiday buying spree started early. Historically, people start searching for holiday items and ideas in September. However, this year a Pinterest report pins the start of the Christmas crunch to April. Christmas-related searches for gift ideas, recipes and decor were 77% higher this past April than they were in the same month last year, the report said.
"The rush started early and hasn't stopped," Harman said. "It's only accelerated. "The day after Halloween, boom! We didn't see it coming."
The decorations have been going up earlier, too. Celeste Boehm, of La Canada, Calif., is among those who wanted to get that Christmas spirit early. Boehm normally puts her Christmas decorations up around Thanksgiving, but this year they went up Oct. 23, she said. "Staying home every day made every day feel the same. Having Christmas decorations up takes me to a happier place and fills me with a feeling of anticipation."
Boehm is not alone. "Customers started showing an interest in holiday decor far earlier than they have in years prior," said Sarah Fishburne, director of trend and design for The Home Depot. "Clearly, people are craving the holidays and looking forward to bringing the joy home sooner."
This holiday season, retailers may not be able to send products fast enough to meet consumer demands, industry experts warn.
The coronavirus has already driven online shopping and shipping to its peak. Add holiday shopping and shipping to the mix and that really puts a crimp in the Christmas stocking.
"The country simply doesn't have the shipping capacity," said Harman, who keeps a close eye on distribution. "It's not simply a matter of hiring more drivers and getting more trucks. The sorting facilities are at their maximums, so stuff sits. I'm telling everyone I know to buy their Christmas presents now. Last-minute won't cut it."
So you don't get hit with the double whammy of a holiday decor shortage and shipping delays, here's some advice:
Get going. "Make a plan for what you want to buy for the holidays, and carry it out in next two weeks," Harman said. If possible, order any new holiday decor before Thanksgiving, which falls a bit late this year.
Expect to find sold-out stock. Strong early holiday sales mean less inventory. If this was the year you wanted to buy that pencil-thin artificial tree, hop on it. The same goes for holiday wreaths, ornaments and other decor.
Don't wait for Black Friday deals. To encourage shoppers not to delay, The Home Depot started offering Black Friday prices Nov. 6, and those prices will last all season, Fishburne said. Other retailers are doing the same.
Ship early. Make "Early is on time" your new mantra. Do not expect holiday shipping to be like it used to be. Shipping capacity is tight. Items ordered on Cyber Monday could take an extra week to arrive. Many retailer websites have banners advising consumers to shop early to stay ahead of the delays shippers are experiencing. For packages to arrive by Christmas via FedEx Ground, the carrier recommends shipping by Dec. 15.
Practice gratitude. Remember what the season is all about. Yes, we've all been through a lot this year. But, rather than begrudge that sold-out Santa or late delivery, let's be grateful for what we have, for each other, and for this season of thankfulness. Peace.
Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of five home and lifestyle books, including "Downsizing the Blended Home — When Two Households Become One."