Christmas seems to get earlier every year. The days of heading to Dublin on the train to start your Christmas shopping on 8 December is a distant memory.

Christmas stock is in shops by September and many people are wrapped up by Black Friday.

This year, however, there is more panic than usual. With reports of empty supermarket shelves in the UK, there has been an increase in calls to the Consumer and Competition Protection Commission (CCPC) helpline with consumers concerned about stock.

However, to date they have not received any reports of actual shortages.

Perfect storm

So what is the real story? The truth is there are a myriad of international factors that are contributing to quite an unusual Christmas. The first is the pandemic. It might have been March 2020 when the world first went into lockdown, but with production facilities closed, then open and then closed again – this has upset supply chains internationally.

There is also a shortage of raw materials across the world. While we assume such shortages mainly affect the building sector, it does have a ripple affect. Take the timber industry for example, shortages in timber lead to shortages in cardboard and paper which are used for packaging electrical goods and toys.

Shipping costs have increased substantially across the world and as a result, a lot of manufacturers have moved production closer to home but setting up these things takes time, meaning more delays. And then to add to this perfect storm, there is the issue of Brexit with huge volumes of paperwork – if just one document is filled in wrong, a container could be stuck in transit for days or weeks.

All these factors are forming a perfect storm which is panicking consumers.

However, while it’s good to be organised, there is no need to panic.

Get organised but don’t panic

This is because although all these factors are leading to delays and sometimes, shortages, this isn’t a situation that has happened overnight. Irish retailers have seen this coming months down the line and as a result, are very organised.

Speaking to Irish Country Living, Amanda Cunningham who runs Byggebo toy shop in Navan says their warehouse is full of stock. Fiona Ryan who runs Little Ones in Ennis says the same.

“We have loads and loads of stock so I can’t see there being any empty shelves,” Amanda says. “However, what I would say is that even though our warehouse is full, we probably won’t be getting another shipment in before Christmas so if there is something specific you want, that is what you should be prioritising.

“So if a child has a birthday in December or you want to get a certain toy for a niece or nephew, then put them first on the list but there is no need to be trying to buy all your presents now.”

Kevin Chapman from Dwyers Electrical in Cork says, they are also very organised but says consumers may need to be a bit more flexible when shopping. He says: “For example, we have received a big shipment of (artificial) Christmas trees. Now if you want a specific colour or size, that’s where you might be limited. We could have 7ft trees and 9ft trees but if you really want an 8ft tree, for example, that’s where you might need to be a bit flexible but certainly, we have plenty of trees.”

Interestingly, Kevin says there have been some delays on orders coming in. “We are still waiting on an order for Christmas lights, we expect them to come in the first week of November.” Which proves you might be better off waiting another while to do your shopping when more stock has arrived into stores.

Consumer advice

So in order to avoid disappointment, it’s advisable to start making your list prioritising the items that you really want to buy.

Also write down the items that you will be buying from abroad. You’re more than likely not going to experience delays if you’re buying from an Irish retailer. If it’s in stock on their website, they’ll usually have it dispatched in a couple of days.

However, if an item is coming from outside the EU – from China, the US, and yes, even the UK – that is the stuff you want to be ordering early as it may get stuck in transit and take longer to arrive than you anticipated.

If you find in a few weeks’ time that the item you want to buy is sold out from all the main retailers, then beware of bogus traders. If for example, a pair of headphones is proving to be very popular this Christmas and it sells out, bogus traders will hone in on that item, knowing that consumers are desperate. So always pay due diligence when ordering online. Check where the business is located, remembering that just because a website has “.ie” on the end of it doesn’t mean it’s Irish. A safe website will usually have an email address, a phone number and an actual delivery address. It should also clearly set out its delivery and returns policy. If you buy from a rogue trader, it’s most likely not to arrive on time and if it does arrive, it could be fake or faulty.

Overall, there is a very valid message in this. Irish independent retailers saw this coming down the line, they got organised and they have packed their warehouses full so that there won’t be shortages for Irish consumers – these are the companies we should be supporting this Christmas.

Consumer rights if you shop early

  • If you buy online, you have a 14-day change of mind policy. This means from the day the package is delivered, you have 14 days to get yourself down to the post office, if you want to return it. So when your package arrives, don’t stash it upstairs in the spare room, only to find when you start your Christmas wrapping that it’s not what you want. Examine each item so you can avail of the change of mind policy if you need to.
  • If you buy in store, there is no legal requirement on the retailer to offer a refund. That’s because when you buy an item, you can examine it to determine it’s what you really want. However, most retailers offer a 28-day return window and some are even extending this. Dunnes Stores for example has extended its policy so that anything bought between now and Christmas can be refunded until 12 January. Lifestyle Sports has extended its deadline until 6 January. And some retailers are very lenient. The shoe store Schuh for example, allows you to return items up to 365 days after your purchase.
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