According to preliminary reports, Black Friday traffic at retail stores was  down 28.3% compared to 2019.

While the ongoing pandemic likely played a role in the lack of in-store shoppers, a new survey by Digital.com, conducted on November 28, found that 56% of American consumers started holiday shopping well before Black Friday. 

However, even with the head start, respondents report difficulties finding all of the items on their wishlists, as supply chain issues persist. These shortages could especially spell trouble for those who haven’t started their holiday shopping.

Key Findings:

  • 40% of holiday shoppers report being unable to find items they intended to purchase
  • Apparel, toys, and electronics top list of hard-to-find items
  • As of November 28, 19% of Americans had not yet started holiday shopping
  • 38% of Americans are increasing their holiday shopping budgets, while 22% plan to spend less this year

Despite early start, 40% of holiday shoppers unable to buy all the gifts on their list

As supply chain issues multiplied and prices rose throughout 2021, many Americans chose to get a head start on their holiday shopping. Twenty-eight percent of Americans started purchasing holiday gifts before November, while another 28% began shopping in early to mid-November.

“Many items have been hard to find due to disrupted supply chains,” small business marketing consultant Dennis Consorte says. “People are afraid this might prevent them from buying gifts in time for the holidays, creating a shopping frenzy.”

Twenty-five percent of Americans started buying presents Black Friday weekend, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season. The remaining 19% have yet to begin buying gifts.

Despite the early start, 64% of holiday shoppers haven’t finished buying gifts yet.

Those who started shopping prior to November are in a slightly better position; 44% of these individuals completed their holiday shopping, compared to 32% of those who waited until November or Black Friday weekend.

One possible explanation for the lack of completed holiday shopping is the fact that 40% of holiday shoppers report being unable to find all of the items they intended to purchase.

Waiting to start shopping appears to have put consumers at a disadvantage. Among those who started shopping before November, 34% had difficulty finding all of the items they planned on purchasing. Meanwhile, 43% of consumers who started shopping in November or during Black Friday weekend couldn’t find all the items on their shopping list.

Apparel, electronics, toys top list of hard-to-find items

Clothing and shoes are the most elusive items for holiday shoppers, with 47% of respondents saying they couldn’t find the apparel they wanted.

Other potential presents that are in short supply include electronics (43%), toys (38%), jewelry (29%), and home furnishings and decor (28%).

As of Black Friday weekend, 1 in 5 Americans hadn’t started holiday shopping

All of this does not bode well for the 19% of Americans who hadn’t started shopping for holiday gifts as of November 28, when the survey ran.

Among these consumers, 18% declared intentions to start shopping immediately following Black Friday, during the week of November 29.

Forty-four percent are waiting until the week of December 6, and 22% plan on shopping the week of December 13. Sixteen percent of Americans are truly waiting until the last minute, with plans to start shopping the week of December 20, five days before Christmas.

The sooner shoppers get to work on buying gifts, the better, Consorte says.

“Inflation is at a 30-year high, merchants are raising prices at an even faster rate, and supply chains are still disrupted,” he says. “Shoppers need to make their biggest expenditures soon, before prices go up even more.”

Last-minute shoppers will turn to gift cards, cash if they can’t find items in store

If these last-minute shoppers can’t find the items they intend to purchase, which seems likely given the struggles even the early birds have experienced, they already have some alternatives in mind.

Sixty-four percent of respondents who haven’t started shopping yet will buy gift cards as a substitute for tangible presents. Thirty-five percent of late shoppers will give gift recipients cold hard cash as an alternative. Twenty-two percent will consider turning to homemade gifts, while 20% may buy hard-to-find items through third-party resellers.

According to Consorte, alternatives with a monetary value might be the smartest bet.

“Since it’s possible that prices may come down after the holidays when demand decreases and supply chains are sorted out, gift cards might be a good alternative to spending money on already over-priced items,” he says.

Nearly 4 in 10 Americans will spend more this holiday season

In terms of money, the majority of Americans are planning on spending just as much of it, if not more, on holiday gifts as they did in 2020.

Thirty-eight percent of consumers are increasing how much they intend to spend on gifts this year.

For 34% of those shoppers, the primary reason they increased their budget is that they intend to buy more gifts this year. However, 14% of these individuals didn’t plan on shopping until after Black Friday, increasing their risk of not being able to pick up all the items they plan to purchase.

Meanwhile, 24% of shoppers were able to increase their budgets because they have higher paying jobs than last year, or more money from COVID-related stimulus payments.

Twenty-two percent of shoppers are decreasing their holiday gift budgets, with the main culprit being higher prices for necessities like groceries, gas, and bills (35%). A similar number of people (31%) who are trimming their shopping budgets say it’s because of loss of income.

Shoppers who are decreasing their budgets are nearly three times as likely as those who are spending more to wait until after Black Friday to start shopping (29% compared to 10%). While this may give them more time to save up, they could be forced to forgo certain items or turn to more expensive alternatives if supply chain issues and higher prices persist.

Methodology

All data found within this report derives from a survey commissioned by Digital.com and conducted online by survey platform Pollfish. In total, 1,250 American adults ages 18 and older were surveyed. There were no prerequisites to qualify for this survey, which was conducted on November 28, 2021. All respondents were asked to answer all questions truthfully and to the best of their abilities. For full survey data, please email [email protected]