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Expert says supply chain issues may continue for rest of 2021

The supply chain backup is partly to blame for so many of the product shortages that people across the U.S. are dealing with.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The holidays are the most wonderful time of the year for many people. It's when decorations adorn houses across communities and gifts are wrapped before appearing under trees.

This year though, many trees may be barer than before. A supply chain expert at the University of Tennessee said he thinks supply chain issues that rattled retailers and caused shipping delays could continue through the rest of the year.

"This is the peak demand time of the year in terms of retail, and they are just a lot of manufacturers and retailers really just trying to keep up right now," said Lance Saunders, an assistant professor at UT. 

He said that this year's holiday shopping season could be different compared to other years. He warned people that people who are used to ordering gifts after Thanksgiving may not be able to get everything they want.

The issues started with the COVID-19 pandemic, he said. The pandemic led to a boom in online sales, which spurred a decade's worth of growth in online supply chains, over just a year and a half. As a result of that increased demand, more chances for things to go wrong started appearing.

"You can think of it as a line of dominoes, and just taking one domino out can make the entire chain not fall right," he said. "In the last 18 months, we've had a lot of dominoes that have gotten removed from that chain. So the probability of what you order having one domino missing, it's just much higher."

A shortage of truck drivers has slowed domestic supply chains, leading to issues with keeping products on shelves. He also said that some factories have shut down in China as a result of the pandemic, resulting in decreased goods produced for the global market.

He also said ports across the U.S. may not have the capacity to unload large ships from overseas. Natural disasters have also disrupted supplies of all kinds of goods, he said.

"A lot of little things have added up to the big things that we're seeing in the stores right now," Saunders said.

Issues can persist for the rest of the year, he warned. However, there are several small things that consumers can do to help supply chains recover.

For example, he said people can ship items to stores directly, instead of to their doorstep. Using in-store pickup can remove one step along the supply chain, reducing chances for deliveries to go wrong.