No cream cheese, COVID tests or PS5? Navigate Christmas shortages with these tips

The shelves may be emptier than normal but you don't have to miss out on holiday cheer. We've put together a guide to help you navigate supply-chain shortages this season.

Kelly Tyko
USA TODAY

Whether you are shopping for cream cheese for a Christmas cheesecake or to schmear on a bagel or looking for a hot toy, ongoing shortages are making it harder to walk away victorious.

Like inflation, for many shortages are proving to be the Grinch that stole Christmas. Heck, even Christmas trees, from artificial to fresh, have been more challenging to find than pre-pandemic.

Experts have warned about looming shortages for months and encouraged consumers to shop early. But many eyeing hot video game consoles like PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X have found that luck and determination are also factors.

According to Numerator, a data and tech company, 74% of shoppers say product shortages have impacted their holiday shopping this year as widespread supply chain disruptions and labor shortages continue.

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►Food shortages 2021:Cream cheese isn't the only shortage that could affect your Christmas amid supply chain issues

Of the 10,562 shoppers Numerator surveyed, 56% said they won’t be able to get everything on their lists because of shortages with 52% postponing gifting until what they want becomes available. Others are substituting similar items or shopping around with 51% sharing they are willing to pay higher prices for items in short supply.

President Joe Biden acknowledged there have been hot toys like Cabbage Patch Kids in the 1980s and Beanie Babies in the 1990s in past holiday seasons when there was “no supply chain problem.”

“Now, I can't promise that every person will get every gift they want on time. Only Santa Claus can keep that promise,” Biden said Dec. 1. “But there are items every year that sell out, that are hard to find.”

Tips to find cream cheese, PS5, Xbox and more

Your mileage may vary but here are tips to help you navigate shortages ahead of Christmas and throughout the year.

If your heart is set on making a cheesecake or finding a video game console, all hope isn’t lost.

Shop ASAP

It’s too late in the game to say to shop early but don’t expect to stroll into stores on Christmas Eve and be able to buy everything you want.

“Try to finish up your shopping as soon as possible,” Patrick Penfield, professor of supply chain practice at Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management, told USA TODAY. “If you can’t find your items at a store, check online but make sure you get ‘guaranteed shipping’ for your item or your present may come after the holidays.”

Your mileage may vary on these tips but the few minutes you spend may save you time and money.

Penfield suggests Facebook Marketplace, eBay, Etsy and Craigslist as online sites to find items in short supply.

Check store inventory with store websites, apps and Google Shopping

Before heading to Target, Walmart or another retailer, you can get a better idea of store inventory by checking the websites or apps.

I’ve also used Instacart to check if some local grocery stores might have a particular item in stock. Be warned, however, that inventory can quickly change.

Google Shopping also allows shoppers to check in-store inventory from home. Find local stores that carry the products you are looking for from Google Shopping and select the “in stock” filter to see only the nearby stores that have it on their shelves.

Order online for curbside or in-store pickup

Curbside pickup, where shoppers can pick up online orders without leaving cars, rolled out as an option at some store locations years ago but since the pandemic, it is a much larger part of holiday sales.

Stores also offer in-store pickup, and the advantage of both is getting your purchases faster.

And this service can help you find shortage items, including cream cheese and COVID-19 home tests.

But sometimes when there are few items left an order can be canceled.

USA TODAY tested ordering Philadelphia cream cheese at a Florida Walmart for curbside pickup and was successful in scoring two, two-count boxes.

Set in-stock alerts

Sometimes it's not about the deal but getting the item on your list whether it's a toy, television or a sweater. I almost ordered the iPad multiple times but it kept selling out. It was unavailable to purchase near me, so I signed up for in-stock alerts on Target.com and hours later got a notification that I could place an order.

In-stock alerts helped me score last year, too, when toys from the top Netflix kids show "Cocomelon" were on my Walmart shopping list.

I've used the in-stock notifications mainly at Target and Walmart and signed up for the alerts either on my laptop browser or phone. Once you get the alert, you'll need to act fast as supplies will go fast and it can take multiple attempts.

There are also apps that can help you find in-stock alerts including Hot Stock. The app is free but there’s an option to pay $5.49 to receive notifications for up to 10 products. In comments on the PS5 and Xbox Series X many app users are talking about orders waiting to ship.

Follow USA TODAY reporter Kelly Tyko on Twitter: @KellyTyko. For shopping news, tips and deals, join us on our Shopping Ninjas Facebook group

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