Bottom line: Manufacturers, retailers, and consumers have all been plagued by chip shortages since the introduction of Covid-19 last year. These shortages are now being compounded by shortages of products ranging from plastics to the shipping containers used to move goods around the world. As a result, consumers who rely on online shopping to ensure availability may be losing their advantage.

Many consumers have come to rely on the web to ensure desired products are available and delivered on time for the holidays and other special occasions. Unfortunately for these consumers, this year's online shopping experience may not provide the convenience, advantages, and savings they're typically accustomed to.

Since 2020, the world's semiconductor shortage has severely impacted the ability to consistently manufacture and purchase goods ranging from computer hardware to automobiles. Not to be outdone by 2020, 2021 has introduced several additional factors that have further strained the already struggling global supply chain. It's no longer just a semiconductor shortage; consumers are now battling pandemic variants along with a shortage of skilled workers, plastics, containers to ship manufactured goods, and even the ports needed to bring these goods to market.

At this point, pandemic-related shortages and worker availability come as little surprise to most. The other factors, however, continue to stack up and compound an already painful situation. Steel shipping containers, for example, have become a commodity themselves. But it's their availability, not quantity, creating the issue. Early in the pandemic, canceled trade routes contributed to containers being stranded and unavailable. Today, the ongoing demand to replenish inventories to pre-pandemic levels has driven a spike in container utilization.

While this utilization sounds like a good thing, the increase in container use is bottlenecked by the previously stranded containers as well as 2021's ongoing shipping disruptions that frequently leave hundreds to thousands of containers stranded at sea. Some ships that do reach their destination unimpeded find themselves anchored with nowhere to unload their cargo due to backed-up sea and inland ports already operating at capacity. The result? Goods and materials have no way to move from point A to point B, further straining an already hamstrung global supply chain.

Erratic weather patterns have also impacted supply chain availability. Raw materials required for some plastic production, such as polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), and monoethylene (MEG), have been in short supply since 2020. Chemical supplies were further constrained following this year's Gulf Coast ice storm, which adversely impacted the world's largest petrochemical complex, located in Texas. These chemicals are used to produce anything from consumer electronics to food packaging, and the impact from their lack of availability is still being felt across several industries today.

Given the number of factors impacting product availability and delivery, consumers are urged to plan ahead, order early, and be prepared with domestically produced alternatives to their desired but unavailable goods.

Image credit: Online shopping image by Pete Linforth, cargo containers by Alexander Kliem