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Holiday shoppers face supply crunches

Stores say people have started shopping early this year as shortages loom
A shopper looks at Christmas ornaments in Paddington Station Thursday in Ashland. Photo by Denise Baratta
The clothing section at Paddington Station is a draw during its Thursday open house in Ashland. Photo by Denise Baratta

Retailers are facing some stiff headwinds for the start of the holiday shopping season, confronting supply crunches, labor shortages and the pandemic.

Black Friday is the official start of the shopping season, but some stores have already seen people stocking up on Christmas presents in early November.

The message from most stores is to shop early because many retailers fear they might run out of stock because of delays or difficulties fulfilling orders.

“Honestly we are a little worried,” said Joe Collins, general manager of Paddington Station in Ashland.

He’s been waiting for months to get some orders filled, requiring a little creative planning to get inventory up for the holiday season.

“We’re trying to find good products that we can get in stock,” he said. “We have been building a stockpile.”

Sales at the popular Ashland store were stronger than expected in the first two weeks of November, suggesting that people are heading to the stores earlier this year.

“People are coming in and getting a lot of Christmas stuff,” he said.

The store has increased the starting wage to $15 an hour to attract more workers, but Collins said that hasn’t translated into getting more applicants.

He said he’d like to add about five more people to the staff, but he prefers hiring year-round workers rather than just seasonal, noting many on the staff are Southern Oregon University students.

At the same time, he said most customers are following the protocols for COVID-19 and the requirement to wear masks.

Guy Tauer, regional economist at the Oregon Employment Department, said supply chain issues are still a major obstacle for the retail industry.

Oregon, in particular, has been harder hit than the rest of the country.

According to a national survey, he said retailers in all 50 states said they have had delays or difficulties filling for 68.4% of orders. This compares to 45% for all industries.

In Oregon, the data isn’t broken down by industry, but 53.5% of domestic orders in the state in all industries have had delays or difficulties, which is 8.5% higher than the U.S. average.

Tauer said many industries report difficulties hiring workers, even with wages that are higher than the minimum wage, which is currently $12.75 and will go to $13.50 in July 2022.

He said there are a number of factors contributing to the lack of workers.

Many elderly people who were school bus drivers have decided it’s too risky to be exposed to COVID, and now there’s a driver shortage.

Many other workers have taken early retirement rather than risk going back into the office and being exposed.

Tauer said a colleague who suffered from long-COVID opted to take an early retirement.

Child care concerns have also resulted in some parents being forced to stay home.

At the moment, stores say they have been gearing up for months to handle the expected strong holiday shopping season.

Fred Meyer expects greater demand, so it recommends shoppers start planning their gift lists now.

“Customers should expect a very busy holiday season this year,” said Jeffery Temple, director of corporate affairs for Fred Meyer Stores Inc. “As of right now, we have plenty of stock on holiday favorites, along with many new items, but it would be a good idea for customers to start their holiday shopping early.”

Because of increased demand, inventory of a particular item could run out at any minute and product shortages could vary by category.

“The reality is that many items are in stock now but once they are out of stock, they will most likely be out of stock for the season,” Temple said.

Fred Meyer is putting its stock out on the floor earlier this season and plans to have sales on items that are in good supply, as well as on some items that are popular.

On Black Friday, Fred Meyer will hold its annual “Sock Sale,” so look for deals in home electronics as well as in the home and apparel departments. The store will open at 5 a.m. and sales will last all day. For safety, there will be only one entrance and one exit door.

The first 100 customers will receive one of many gift cards, ranging from $5 up to $100.

Temple said the stores are signing additional workers for the holiday season.

Justin Schwarz, a floor manager at Blackbird Shopping Center in Medford, said inventories are good heading into Black Friday.

“Our biggest problem is ammunition,” he said.

The nationwide ammunition shortage has hit a number of stores as gun sales have gone through the roof during the pandemic.

Schwarz anticipates the store will feature sales on some firearms, as well on fishing, grilling and other items such as Carhart clothing and skiing and snowboarding equipment.

He said Blackbird keeps a special supply of ammo for customers who purchase guns so they don’t have walk out of the store empty-handed.

Harry & David Country Village Store in Medford has stocked up on more inventory than last year to keep up with expected demand and to provide a sufficient range of products. Holiday hiring for the store is on track and should be sufficient to help customers.

Harry & David officials suggest customers shop early to beat the rush and to ensure they get the gifts on their lists.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.