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2021's holiday shopping season is on track to set a record

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

It's a holiday season of going all out and scaling back. Shoppers are spending more than ever, but also many more are saying maybe let's not buy anything this year. NPR's Alina Selyukh is here to lay out all of the weirdness of this holiday season. So, Alina, first the obvious question - how has the omicron variant affected holiday shopping?

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Well, shopping in person - it's affected it a little bit. A company called Placer.ai tracks how often people visit stores, and they noticed the impact of this new variant in the past couple of weeks. The last Saturday before Christmas is usually called Super Saturday because it's the second busiest shopping day for stores normally. And this year, Super Saturday was not that super - less foot traffic than expected, attributed partly to new fears of COVID. But here's the kicker - omicron or not, people are still shopping more than they did last year.

MARTINEZ: All right. Now, you've been talking to shoppers about their holiday spending. What are people buying this year?

SELYUKH: In that sense, it's a surprisingly typical year. Last year, everyone seemed to be gifting hand sanitizer and masks and other, you know, sad pandemic necessities. This year, we're back to AirPods and PlayStations and toys like Barbies and Legos. Like last year, air fryers are still sizzling hot. The holiday shopping season is on track to set a new record. The National Retail Federation forecasts shoppers will spend up to $859 billion.

MARTINEZ: You know, one of the words or phrases I think of that make, really, 2021 - supply chain disruption.

SELYUKH: Yes.

MARTINEZ: Because I think everyone was thinking about it and wondering how it would affect now, the holiday shopping season. So how did it go?

SELYUKH: Well, shoppers are definitely seeing many more out of stock messages this year than they did before. And I spoke with a lot of folks who were so concerned about shipping delays that they got started on their holiday lists much earlier than normal. I talked to Shannon Pitton in western Colorado, who started shopping first week of November. Three weeks ago, she ordered a little play sofa for her 5-year-old and 2-year-old.

SHANNON PITTON: As soon as you hit purchase, it said, hey, there's supply chain issues (laughter). This is expected to be here, like, February 10. And I was like, oh, well. It is what it is. I mean, happy Valentine's Day (laughter).

SELYUKH: She is in good spirits about it because there are a couple of other gifts Santa is bringing her kids on time for Christmas morning.

MARTINEZ: Oh, my God. So she hits the purchase button and then supply chain issues.

SELYUKH: Happy Valentine's Day, kids (laughter).

MARTINEZ: Got to be kidding me. All right, so stuff from three weeks ago is still not here. I mean, is it safe to say that today is too late - way too late - to order holiday gifts?

SELYUKH: I mean, you might still be able to walk into a store, but...

MARTINEZ: What?

SELYUKH: ...Not all gifts have to come from stores, you know? This year there's definitely an explosion of DIY holiday gifts. Folks are knitting scarves, paying into vacation funds, regifting books. Samantha Romero and her husband in eastern Virginia have been quilting and packing festive jars with hot cocoa mix.

SAMANTHA ROMERO: It's easy to forget how much handmade gifts can mean, and I think I lost that over the years. And especially with COVID last year, we really didn't do much of anything. And, you know, I started to think back on what made me happy in Christmases past. And I remembered making cookies and pies with my mom and handing them out to neighbors and friends, and that seemed to mean more than anything to me.

SELYUKH: So her advice is, if you are still not sure what to get someone yet today, make them cookies.

MARTINEZ: But, Alina, how will people know I love them unless I buy them something from a store?

SELYUKH: Make them cookies (laughter).

MARTINEZ: All right. NPR's Alina Selyukh, thank you very much.

SELYUKH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.