Holiday shopping season is in full swing, but is it too late to get big ticket items?

·12 min read

On today's episode of the 5 Things podcast:

Holiday shopping season is well underway. If you didn't hit the stores or the web for Black Friday or Cyber Monday does that mean you are out of luck when it comes to getting some of the hot gifts this year? Is it too late to get some good deals and still get them delivered on time? We sat down with Kate Tully Ellsworth, the Executive Editor of Commerce at to get some answers.

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Shannon Ray Gre...: Hey there. I'm Shannon Ray Green, and this is Five Things. It's Sunday, December 5th. These Sunday episodes are special. We're bringing you more from in-depth stories you may have missed.

It's holiday shopping season. And here's the question on my mind. Is it too late? Even for the many people who don't celebrate Christmas, there's end of year gifts, gift exchanges, other events as people get closer to ringing in 2022. So I've asked Kate Telly Ellsworth, executive editor of commerce at to join me on the show to talk about what people may need to take off their list now, and how to navigate shipping delays that are quite rampant this year. Kate, thanks so much for joining me.

Kate Telly Ells...: Of course. Thanks for having me.

Shannon Ray Gre...: First question, are those of us wait until December holiday shoppers doomed? Please tell me what to do.

Kate Telly Ells...: You are not doomed. That is good news. I would say, your big merchants, your Amazon, your Walmart, your Target, you're still going to have plenty of gifts to shop from there. Have you missed the boat on some really big top selling items? Yes, unfortunately. I would say AirPods, Nintendo Switches, PlayStation 5, the new Xbox, and Coco Melon toys. Those are the big ones that I would say are pretty much out of stock or back ordered across all of the major sites. There are a couple of items that are getting very close to the danger, maybe won't ship category. And those, I would say, it's pretty much tech. Any of those big tech items, TVs, MacBooks, iPads, Beats, headphones, and laptops. Those are all coming dangerously close to the shipping window. As far as toys, Squishmallows, which have been insanely popular this year, those are really starting to sell out.

I think there were maybe two or three on Amazon when I checked and then appliances and furniture have had rough year when it comes to shipping. There are a few that are in stock. It's basically if your local store, or if a warehouse near you, an Amazon warehouse has the product, you're fine. It's going to ship. It's going to make it to you on time. But if that product has to be imported, that's where that delay comes in. So specifically with Airpods and Nintendo Switches, those were both on great sale during Black Friday. So once they get on sale, everyone starts to buy them. They run out of the stock that they have in the warehouses, which means to get more, they have to ship them. So for those items, they will require shipping. And now the ship is gone, so to speak.

There are a couple items that are totally safe right now. There are a lot that are fully in stock across Amazon, Macy's, Bed, Bath and Beyond, Walmart, any kind of Keurig machine that you want to get. Those are pretty much in stock everywhere right now. KitchenAid mixers, those are in stock. Many robot vacuums, iRobot, UV Shark. Those are all still in stock as our air fryers, which have consistently been top selling kitchen gifts. And as far as toys go, Legos, Legos are safe right now. You can still stock up on the year's best Legos. And then if you are still like, you know what? I hear you, Kate, but I won't be shopping for another week. Definitely go digital. Digital gifts are incredibly hot right now. And they are always safe. These are gifts that you can buy on Christmas Eve if you're at your house. And you're like, okay, my brother brought his girlfriend and I don't know what to buy, there are so many great gifts that you can just buy digitally and gift that way.

This is books, a flower subscription that you can just buy and have delivered directly to somebody's house at a regular cadence. Masterclass, which are courses taught by celebrities. Think Steve Martin, Martin Scorsese. Book of the Month Club, which is my personal favorite. It delivers a book to you every single month. And it's $14. Hunt a Killer, it's perfect for true crime enthusiasts. It's where you literally solve a crime every single month. And then you have your video subscription services. You've got Disney Plus, Hulu, Discovery Plus. You've got meditation apps like Head Space, the big players like Audible and Kindle Unlimited. There are lots of digital gifts that we highly recommend and that you can still get no matter what time of the year.

Shannon Ray Gre...: That is so helpful, Kate. I didn't even consider that when you first said digital, I was thinking going online, but obviously there's so many gifts that complete live in a digital space. So thank you. That's a really great idea. Shipping delays have been really bad this year, right? How different is the shopping season this year, as opposed to last year or even the year before that?

Kate Telly Ells...: Oh man, 2020 was a unicorn. We saw record numbers of people shopping online. And we saw this is really the first time that shortages played such a heavy role in our lives. We saw people running out of toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer. In spring 2020 shortages were everywhere. Around the holiday season, it was really the big ticket items that we did see shortages on last year. The Switches went out of stock pretty early in 2020 as did that's when the PlayStation and the new Xbox launched in fall of 2020, and the second they launched, they immediately went out of stock. And so I think it was that moment where the PlayStation launched and it immediately went out of stock. And the big companies were like, listen, shipping is going to take a while to even make even more of these. And it has to do, there's a chip, a digital chip that goes into big consoles, televisions, laptops.

That is where we are having such massive shipping delays. And that's why tech has been particularly affected this year and toward the end of last year. So I would say last year is the first year where we started to see these kind of shipping delays. In 2019, it was all about that two day prime shipping. We did not have the same amount of shipping delays. So 2020 is when it really started to ramp up. But this year in particular is where it's just been consistent shipping delays for us on many of these big items.

Shannon Ray Gre...: So given that it's this bad, how should shoppers navigate this? What are some red flags that people can see as soon as possible in order to avoid it? I mean, I know going to is a great place to find out what's unavailable, but what are things people can do so that they're just more wise to get ahead of shipping issues?

Kate Telly Ells...: I would say definitely stay on top of actual merchant websites. Like if you go to right now, you will have a very clear note in the top right corner that says here's when this item will ship. And note, just because it says it will ship on December 15th, it's not going to make it to you on December 15th. You have to wait those couple of days for it to actually make it to you. So I would say if you're seeing it will ship tomorrow, the next business, that's safe. If it's a week out, it's a little bit iffy. And if it's anything toward end of December, early January, you're not getting that until 2022. So definitely check out your merchants. Anything that is back ordered, not a safe bet right now. What we're seeing a lot is items that are back ordered. You order them. And then in three weeks they say, okay, now it's back ordered another three weeks and then it's December 20th and you're sitting there saying, okay, I'm in trouble.

So pay attention, look out for the word back ordered, look out for anything that will ship in late December or early January. Anything that says in stock soon, or we're not quite sure when this will ship, not a safe bet. I would not trust that. You can absolutely go to We have been creating and maintaining some comprehensive gift guides since about September. We've been telling people, start your holiday shopping as early as possible. So we've been trying to give out the best advice for what you can buy and what still buy in stock since late September. And a lot of our guides now that it's December, we are pivoting more toward those digital gifts. We are saying, yes, you can buy that new iRobot model and it's going to be great. But in like two weeks, you're really going to want to be looking more at buying a wine subscription service like Wink or a flower subscription service like Bouqs.

Shannon Ray Gre...: Are there any items that surprised you that were still in stock or things that at least you can always count on to be in stock?

Kate Telly Ells...: That's a great question. Anything American made is pretty much guaranteed to be in stock. Ship in time, depends on where you're buying it from, but those are pretty consistently in stock. I was very happy, so during Black Friday, we did some consistent around the clock coverage of the best deals. And we watched all of these really exceptional products just consistently going out of stock. We watched AirPods go out of stock. We watched the beats start to go out of stock. My favorite headphones are the Bose and those have been consistently in stock. Sony headphones have also done a great job of staying in stock. The really big brands that I'm also seeing consistently in stock are those Keurig, KitchenAid, and iRobot.

Shannon Ray Gre...: That's so helpful, Kate. What else should people know? Anything I haven't asked you that I should ask you as a smart holiday in December shopper?

Kate Telly Ells...: Some of the best places that we recommend that you shop are outside of these big merchants. We all shop at Amazon and Walmart and Target, but we also really love the D to C brands. So this is Lululemon, Athleta. Any brand that only sells its stuff on its own website. These are the brands that we love. And these are the brands that are most likely to not hit those shipping windows because they don't have the same massive resources that those big sellers do. So if you're a person who likes shopping small, shopping a specific brand, shop now. Stop what you're doing. Go online. Buy your gifts. If you are the kind of person who prefers bigger names, prefers a specific item, something that you can easily buy at Amazon or Walmart, you're going to be safe to keep shopping there probably for another week. And then I would say really around December 15th is when I would start to sweat.

Shannon Ray Gre...: Yeah, that's coming up fast. What does D to C mean?

Kate Telly Ells...: D to C means direct to consumer. So it's a brand that doesn't go through a really big merchant. It's not a brand that sells through Amazon. It's not a brand that sells at Target. So Keurig is a brand that you can find at 10 different stores, whereas Angel's Cup, which is a coffee subscription service is only sold if you go to the Angel Cup website.

Shannon Ray Gre...: Kate, you have taken my stress levels down. So I really thank you. Where can people find your work?

Kate Telly Ells...: You can find us at or on USA Today. We have a happy little reviewed section. And throughout the month of December, we are still updating our gift guides, telling you the best stuff to buy for all of those lovely people in your life. And we're also still deal hunting. Black Friday is obviously over, but that doesn't mean that the deals are. What we've also seen is companies are making Black Friday into a multi month affair. So pretty much the whole month of November, we were seeing incredible Black Friday sales. And now in December, we are still seeing Black Friday level sales happening. So we're tracking all of that on USA Today. And we are constantly giving you reviews and giving you recommendations at for the best stuff that you could buy.

Shannon Ray Gre...: Kate, thank you so much for being on today.

Kate Telly Ells...: Thanks for having me.

Shannon Ray Gre...: If you like this episode of Five Things, please write us a review on Apple Podcast. I want to say thanks to Alexis Davies for her help editing this episode. You can find more from Kate on the link that I dropped in today's show notes. Taylor Wilson will be back tomorrow morning with Five Things you need to know for Monday. Thanks so much for listening. I'm Shannon Ray Green. I'll see you next time. Until then, you can keep up with me on Twitter, where I'm @ShannonRayGreen.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: It's not too late to start your holiday shopping: 5 Things podcast