Shoppers will need to be flexible and patient this holiday season as the ripple effect of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the supply chain of consumer goods, especially the inventory and supply for small businesses, says Virginia Tech expert Barbara Hoopes.

“Supply chain challenges will definitely affect holiday shopping,” says Hoopes. “Small businesses in particular may be disproportionately affected since they don’t have reserves to handle the disruptions like some larger organizations do.”

Hoopes says that pre-pandemic, retailers were already moving holiday promotions into the fall in order to predict demand and smooth holiday deliveries. “This year will be worse than average and don’t count on last-minute deliveries to be reliable.”  

Hoopes offers the following advice for holiday shoppers:

  • Support small and local businesses with your holiday purchases.
  • Shop early as inventory and supply may be a challenge.
  • Purchase gift cards. 
  • Be willing to accept delivery after Christmas, and if necessary, give a picture or note to the recipient. 
  • Consider giving experiences rather than things.

Supply chain challenges are likely to linger fairly deep into 2022, and Hoopes warns that consumer suppliers should rethink their supply chains with an eye toward risk management and resiliency.

Advice for consumer suppliers:

  • Use local/regional/domestic suppliers wherever possible, even if slightly more expensive. 
  • Consider reducing single-point risk by identifying alternate sources of supply, but not all from the same market or region. 
  • Get to know your suppliers well. Seek transparency into their situations so that you are prepared for any second-hand shocks. 
  • Don’t make purchasing decisions on cost alone - consider other factors such as reliability, risk reduction, location. 
  • For critical items, consider vertical integration options – that is, control more of your own supply chain. 
  • Consider creating moderately larger inventory buffers so that you are somewhat protected against supply delays – this may allow you to take advantage of quantity discounts to reduce unit costs. 
  • Be careful not to overbuy, however; estimate demand using reasonable trends and forecasting. The “bullwhip effect” is real and can leave you with unsold inventory. 
  • Don’t rely on overnight or expedited air services – these avenues are just as clogged as shipping and trucking in many cases. 
  • Reliance on a single revenue stream concentrates risk – consider alternate revenue streams, including products, services, alternate ways of reaching customers, etc.

About Hoopes

Barbara Hoopes is the academic director of Virginia Tech MBA Programs and associate professor of Business Information Technology. She teaches for the Virginia Tech MBA programs in the greater Washington, D.C., metro region in the areas of operations management, global supply chain management, and business analytics. She has led supply-chain-focused study abroad trips with groups of MBA students since 2003.

To secure an interview with Hoopes, contact Shannon Andrea in the media relations office at or 703-399-9494.


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