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How to Holiday Shop at the Last Minute

by Courtney Jesperson, NerdWallet

Associated Press

Tuesday December 7, 2021

  (Source:Getty Images)

Supply chain snags. Sold-out merchandise. Empty shelves. Hefty shipping fees. Inflation. There are plenty of complications working against you this holiday shopping season.

And despite warnings to shop early because of pandemic-related delays, some of us didn't prioritize holiday shopping in October and November.

But all hope isn't lost. Here's what to do if you still have gifts left to purchase this month.

WATCH FOR RESTOCKS

Keep checking back with retailers — both online and in stores — over the next few weeks, and you could be pleasantly surprised.

"Typically retailers get multiple deliveries in throughout a holiday season, so even if something is sold out earlier in the season, there's always a chance that it could come back in stock in December," says Katherine Cullen , senior director of industry and consumer insights for the National Retail Federation.

And remember all of those deliveries that were supposed to arrive weeks ago? Well, they may finally make their way onto U.S. soil — and onto store shelves in the weeks ahead.

"With some of these delays that are impacting retailers at ports, we need to consider those holiday shipments they've scheduled for November. Maybe they'll be coming in December," Cullen says.

Besides physically visiting stores or manually checking websites for product availability, you can also let technology do the work for you. On many retail sites, you can enter your email address and sign up to be notified when a particular item comes back in stock .

CHECK DELIVERY DEADLINES

Once you find something you want to buy, make sure you'll get it in time for holiday gatherings. If you're unsure if something will arrive when you need it, Cullen recommends checking a retailer's website and social media accounts, or calling your local store.

Cullen says retailers typically advertise order-by deadlines on their websites. These are the last days to order if you want your online purchases to come by Christmas. If you pass the deadline, you may have to pay extra for expedited shipping. Or, you could miss Christmas delivery altogether.

The United States Postal Service has already announced its holiday shipping deadlines. Dec. 15 is the cutoff for retail ground shipping in the contiguous U.S. for delivery before Christmas. You can expect major retailers to advertise a similar date.

Sometimes, specific products are backordered or have shipping estimates that differ from the overall website. Always pay attention to notes about the product as well as the estimated delivery date when you're navigating the online checkout process.

If you don't want to cut it too close, you could always shop in person at a local small business instead. And if something you ordered doesn't arrive when expected, consider taking a picture of the gift and giving that as a place holder for the forthcoming physical product.

BUY A GIFT CARD

While gift cards aren't the most personal gift, they may be the most practical gift of 2021.

"If there's any year to give a gift card, this is it," says Darrin Duber-Smith , senior lecturer of marketing at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Gift cards allow for digital delivery, which can circumvent shipping logistics completely. And there's little to no risk of a gift card being out of stock.

But while gift cards and certificates will be less of a headache for the gift giver, they could present limitations for the recipient — particularly if empty shelves persist into January. Those you give gift cards to might have to hang onto them for a while before cashing them in.

"Consumers are going to have to be patient in terms of redeeming their gift cards," Duber-Smith says.

WAIT UNTIL THE VERY LAST MINUTE

If you're not the type of person who gets stressed out by waiting until the very, very, very last minute, there's one more path to securing presents — and at a discount.

Super Saturday is the nickname for the last Saturday before Christmas. This year, that's Dec. 18. Cullen expects stores to host sales on this major shopping day, just as they do every other year.

Last year, department stores, makeup brands, shoe stores and more offered discounts as high as 70% off.

If you go this route, be aware that you'll likely need to go to the store or order online for store pickup. And inventory may be low, reducing your choices.

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Holidays 2021

This story is part of our special report titled Holidays 2021. Want to read more? Here's the full list.