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Supply Chain Woes Have Pushed Holiday Shopping Earlier And Back Into Stores

By now, the sad state of the global supply chain is common enough knowledge for the holiday season to have already begun for many shoppers. Based on that early start, brick-and-mortar stores are poised for what passes for a holiday miracle these days.


Foot traffic has increased across all major types of retail stores in the U.S. since the beginning of October according to data from retail analytics firms and SafeGraph provided to Bisnow. The increase was particularly pronounced among department stores and toy and game stores — two types of retail that traditionally see bumps in traffic around the holidays.

The early reports give credence to the widespread belief that consumers have taken heed of warnings to start holiday shopping early.

“There are so many stories about getting out and buying now,” SafeGraph content manager Briana Brown said. “So there’s a lot of anticipation of panic, of not getting the product you want. And supply chain plays a role in that, like for the holidays, feeling like you ‘have’ to buy a certain product.”

In consulting giant Deloitte’s annual holiday survey, 43% of shoppers planned to begin their holiday shopping early this year, which Deloitte defines as before the beginning of November. Only 38% of respondents to last year’s survey planned to do their holiday shopping early. 

Overall, 39% of respondents said they plan to shop earlier for the holidays than they have previously, Deloitte reported. Of those, 49% cited ensuring timely delivery of their orders as reason for starting early, with 47% citing fears their preferred item would be out of stock. (Respondents were allowed to choose multiple reasons for shopping early in Deloitte’s survey.)

There are also indicators, both statistical and anecdotal, that a combination of greater comfort about the safety of in-person shopping and fear of delivery delays for online orders will drive more shoppers to brick-and-mortar stores this year. The average share of holiday shopping dollars spent at physical stores is projected to rise from 28% last year to 33% this year, Deloitte reported.

The combined vehicular and foot traffic at shopping centers owned by Edwards Realty Co., which focuses on outdoor, lifestyle shopping centers in the Chicago area, was 15% higher in the first three weeks of October this year compared with the same interval in 2019, Edwards President Ramzi Hassan said. The Bakewell Co. Executive Vice President Danny Bakewell Jr. saw a Burlington, Ross Dress for Less and Foot Locker in his company’s portfolio all experience a major spike in foot traffic the weekend of Oct. 23.

“In California, particularly, with our ports being overwhelmed and ships sitting outside the port, there’s been a big push [from retailers] to do early shopping, and clearly that message has started to matriculate to shoppers,” Bakewell said.

The message has indeed been delivered consistently by major retailers seeking to avoid shocks to their holiday merchandise inventory, which has been locked in place for months with little hope of restocking on the fly, said Deloitte Vice Chair Rod Sides, who leads the firm’s U.S. retail and distribution practice. Best Buy, Walmart and Target are among the major retailers that have already begun their holiday sales promotions, and both Best Buy and Target saw more foot traffic at their stores, according to data.

A graph depicting the change in foot traffic at various types of retail compared to the end of August 2021.

“My kids are even telling me their Christmas list right now, because they hear that there might be a shortage of toys,” Hassan said, adding that he saw some retailers in his company’s portfolio putting up holiday displays in September.

Retailers are not only incentivized to extend their holiday season to better manage inventory. They also need to protect their store employees from being overwhelmed by shoppers, given that job openings in retail are up 60% year-over-year, CBRE Head of Americas Retail Research Brandon Isner said.

“Retailers need workers, but are not necessarily finding them,” Isner said. “So prepping for a longer in-store shopping season might be a challenge with labor tough to come by right now.”

Yet more reason for retailers to space out their holiday promotions is the effect of inflation and logistics-driven cost overruns on the price of goods, Sides said. With retailers all but assured to pass on cost increases to consumers, discounts are not expected to be as deep as in years past.

The combination of less flexible inventory and shallower discounts could lead to retailers getting creative with deals as certain items run out of stock. With the Deloitte holiday survey showing a steep increase in the portion of shoppers who find out about sales on social media over the past couple of years, driving customers from their first choice to an alternative will be a key element of capturing sales, Sides and Isner agreed.

The transition from first to second choice is much smoother for in-person shoppers, where beyond the obvious factor of being able to look around, a quality sales person can guide a potential customer to gift ideas that make sense for loved ones, Hassan said. Once Black Friday comes and goes, the number of people who will turn to in-person shopping should be even higher than in previous years as shipping windows close earlier and inventories get thinner, researchers and retail landlords agreed.

“If you can’t find your first choice online, you kind of have no choice but to go, for lack of a better term, ‘old-school shopping,’ to see what’s around and what fits with what you want,” Bakewell said.

If enough brick-and-mortar retailers are able to capitalize on the opportunity that this moment in time has created, it could set the stage for a rare change in the perception of retail as a commercial real estate sector.

“If you had no real estate knowledge whatsoever and you were walking through an office district, you would have no idea if an office building was doing well or poorly, and the same is true of apartments, hotels or industrial,” Isner said. “But with retail, you can see what storefronts are vacant and how many people are walking around stores. So perception is important with retail, and a strong holiday season could go a long way toward re-establishing the narrative that retail is a great asset class.”