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With little to no exception, just about every aspect of the supply chain is in some state of disrepair, evidenced by the bare shelves in stores and backed-up boats at major shipping ports around the country. It's all but certain that the holiday season will be had with fewer gifts to unwrap on Dec. 25.

In an attempt to smooth things out and get the supply chain back to normal, lawmakers are considering establishing a new oversight body that would manage this latest supply chain challenge — and presumably those that are bound to occur in the future.

Law would create Office of Supply Chain Resilience and Crisis Response
Sponsored by Representatives Carolyn Bourdeaux of Georgia, Robin Kelly of Illinois and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, the bipartisan legislation introduced to Congress aims to create the Office of Supply Chain Resilience and Crisis Response. Set to be a branch of the U.S. Department of Commerce, the office would be charged with a number of different responsibilities, including furthering the United States' status as a world leader in supply chain operation, encouraging partnerships with labor organizations as well as state and local governments and monitoring the "resilience, diversity, security and strength of supply chains and critical industries," according to a press release from Congresswoman Bourdeaux's office.

Bordeaux noted that the ongoing effects of the coronavirus crisis laid bare the existing shortcomings of the supply chain; action is sorely needed.

"COVID-19 showed us all how critical resilient supply chains are for consumers and businesses," Bordeaux explained in the aforementioned press release. "All across my district, small-business owners and manufacturers have told me about the challenges they face in accessing basic materials critical to their products. These disruptions harm businesses, their employees and our local economies. My bill ensures we are better prepared to address these challenges and ensure American companies can keep doing what they do so well — build."

Congressman Kinzinger echoed his colleague's sentiments, adding that swift approval of the Supply Chain Act would help to strengthen the United States' economic vitality and security and show the American public that their representatives can bring solutions to these macro challenges.

Some of the supply chain issues would be fixed if more were people working.Some of the supply chain issues would be fixed if more were people working.

Hiring challenges persist
While many of the problems plaguing the supply chain may require better logistics management to resolve, several of them stem from business owners' inability to fill open jobs. Particularly in industries such as retail, grocery and hospitality, millions of companies are in hiring mode, offering a wide range of incentives to persuade more job seekers to apply. Much of the public has taken notice. In a recent survey conducted by Gallup, nearly three-quarters of respondents said it was a good time to be in the job market, a substantial jump from a year ago when only 29% felt this way.

With more people on the job, businesses can enhance productivity, thereby better addressing the demand that is fueling the product shortages in stores and distribution centers. The Office of Supply Chain Resilience and Crisis Response may be able to offer suggestions on how businesses can improve recruitment and retention.

3 tips to improve cost management in a high-inflation environment

While economists are at loggerheads as to whether inflation is transitory or long-lasting, one thing is certain: It's happening, and just about everyone is feeling it up and down the supply chain. Chief among those experiencing the manifestations of inflation are manufacturers. Due to rising freight costs, manufacturers' margins are growing ever more narrow, skirting perilously close to the break-even point.

Manufacturers may not have the ability to stop inflation, but what they can do is more closely assess their budgets so they're more intentional about what it costs to produce goods.

Here are a few strategies:

1. Become more fully acquainted with your numbers
Making a profit entails charging more than it costs to produce your products, but in this economic environment, business owners can't afford to "guesstimate" or ballpark whatever it is they're spending on production. They have to really know their numbers.

Matt Abbott, chief strategy officer at distribution inventory management software company Cavallo, told Supply Chain Dive that the best way to do this is through ongoing data collection and analysis.

"It's important to aggregate the data to understand the best supply choices that can drive down the cost of the product, but also make sure they're meeting the needs of the customers in terms of availability and delivery," Abbott explained.

Once data has been collected and dissected, manufacturers can then make the best supply choices that help to lower the costs of production. They may ultimately be able to reduce their products' sale prices for the end user, depending on what steps they implement to drive down what they're spending.

Great business decisions are informed by great data.Great business decisions are informed by great data.

2. Form strategic partnerships to cut costs
When drawing from data, businesses can gain more insight and visibility into what areas of their operation could use some fine tuning in terms of cost management. One of the ways businesses are improving efficiency is by partnering with third parties. For example, earlier this year, grocery store chain Albertsons announced its partnership with the delivery app DoorDash to deliver tens of thousands of products to customers who buy online. By relying on DoorDash to handle deliveries, Albertson's will be able to spend less on the equipment and personnel required to transport products and groceries to the people buying.

Business owners may want to do their homework and research to determine what strategic partnerships make the most sense for them.  

3. Carefully consider whether to raise prices
Critics and cynics often say that it isn't businesses that pay higher prices; their customers do. But that doesn't have to be the case. When it comes to determining what added costs to assume and want to pass on, Skupos CEO Jake Bolling told Supply Chain Dive companies should base their decisions around the relative value customers give to certain products or services. Additionally, businesses must assess how valuable those same customers are to the company, because raising prices could risk them going elsewhere. Either way, "make sure your customer service and sales people are fully aware of the value of any customer," Bolling advised.

With inflation, price fluctuations and shipping obstacles all contributing to ongoing supply chain challenges, the moribund labor participation rate is adding insult to injury. Flush with cash from the federal stimulus and improved savings, many Americans who would be back on the job are deciding to stay on the sidelines, and in other cases, pursue an entirely different line of work.

Perhaps no industry is feeling the fallout more acutely than hospitality, as servers, cooks, chefs and other core food establishment staff members are leaving their posts in droves.

Workers in hospitality quit at two times the national rate
In the month of August, employees in the hospitality sector — which includes tourism, entertainment, recreation, accommodations as well as food and beverage — called it quits from their jobs at more than double than national rate, averaging close to 7% compared to approximately 3% among all industries, according to the most recent statistics available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That equates to 892,000 in August alone, up from 735,000 workers who quit in July and 706,000 in June. The number has risen with each passing month since spring.

While the hospitality sector is bigger than the restaurant industry alone, restaurateurs have encountered major turnover, both in the front of the house and behind the scenes. For example, compared to 2019, full-service restaurants have 6.2 fewer employees in the kitchen and nearly 3 fewer in the front, such as hosts and hostesses, servers and bartenders, according to Black Box Intelligence data cited by Restaurant Dive.

Restaurants are understaffed at both ends of their establishments.Restaurants are understaffed at both ends of their establishments.

None of this comes as a surprise to leading trade groups. According to an impact survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association, over 70% of restaurants say they are understaffed overall, many severely so. That rate jumps to more than 80% among full-service restaurants.

At the moment, staff shortages haven't compromised restaurant chains' ability to turn a profit. During the first quarter, for example, McDonald's saw its sales grow 7.5% compared to the same three-month period in 2019, Reuters reported.

Chris Kempcizinksi, the fast food chain's CEO, told Reuters the improved earnings were likely due to greater spending power customers gained from the stimulus program.

Companies are raising wages
The situation is more complex for non-franchise restaurants, which don't have the same level of resources or footprint. Even though most restaurants maintain razor-thin profit margins, economists say business owners will likely need to increase their salaries to persuade more people to apply.

"Should the current labor shortage persist and the incident of quarantines due to the Delta variant become more frequent, restaurants will be forced to increase wages to attract the staff they need," said William Fahy, vice president and senior credit officer at Moody's Investors Service.

Food establishments have done just that, whether by paying a higher hourly wage, through sign-on bonuses or by implementing employee referral programs.

Time will tell if these employment strategies wind up working for prospective workers. In the meantime, restaurateurs are adjusting by reducing their hours of operation and cutting back on menu items, according to the National Restaurant Association.

Just as there's no single solution to the nation's supply chain frustrations, the infrastructure's current condition is due to a variety of factors. The leading one may be what's happening at shipping ports. From a dearth of chassis to a shortage of workers, the ports are gummed up from border to border, particularly on the West Coast.

To ease the strain, the president of the United States has decided to keep America's largest ports open around the clock.

Speaking from the White House during an afternoon press conference on Oct. 13, President Joe Biden said the Port of Los Angeles will remain open for business 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"Traditionally, our ports have only been open during the week, Monday through Friday, and they're generally closed down at nights and on weekends," Biden explained, per Yahoo News. "By staying open seven days a week through the night and on the weekends, the Port of Los Angeles will [remain] open over 60 extra hours."

Biden added that doing so will nearly double the number of hours that the port was open in the first half of 2021. More time to get work done leads to more time for goods to get offloaded and shipped to their intended destinations.

40% of shipped goods come through ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach
A substantial amount of freight passes through the Port of Los Angeles. Combined with the Port of Long Beach, approximately 40% of the goods shipped from overseas come from these two ports alone.

Will extending the hours of operation at ports course correct the supply chain?Will extending the hours of operation at ports course correct the supply chain?

The president's announcement comes as retailers, manufacturers and other producers prepare for the all-important holiday shopping season. Due to the ongoing shortage of truck drivers, a low worker participation rate and many job opportunities that remain unfilled, consumers are left wondering whether their planned purchases will be available for them to buy. And if they are in stock, it's possible that they may not arrive in a timely manner.

Biden said keeping the ports open 24/7 should help to improve conditions by allowing for more movement and overall access.

"This is a big first step in speeding up the movement of materials and goods through our supply chain. And now we need the rest of the private sector chain to step up as well."

Walmart, Home Depot to extend work hours
Several major organizations are doing just that. In addition to Walmart — the world's largest retailer and employer — entities like Home Depot, UPS and FedEx are expanding the number of hours they operate, CNBC reported. Other companies staying open for longer or extending their operating hours include big box retailer Target and consumer electronics manufacturer Samsung.

During his speech, Biden noted that in the days and weeks ahead, he will leverage every available additional federal resource to further reduce the bottlenecks affecting the supply chain.  However, experts say that it may take some time for the White House's plan to start paying dividends, largely due to the backups that will need to work their way out.

While there may be a certain magic to manufacturing processes — where baseline materials are used to create the items bought and sold in stores — producers are not magicians. In order to make something, they need the core ingredients. In short, they can't make something out of nothing. 

This is a conundrum producers in many industries are facing. Due to a host of problems affecting the supply chain, the gaming consoles, toiletries, automobiles and hot tubs that are typically well stocked are on back order. Manufacturers don't have the building blocks to create what consumers want.

The best way to maintain ongoing supply is by maintaining an ongoing relationship with your suppliers, whether that comes through price negotiation, supplier diversification or other methods. Let's go over a few of them:

Build a rapport
Presumably, suppliers have several different clients that require the same elemental materials to produce their goods. To compete with those other clients, the supplier needs to think of you as someone who is interested in buying before their other customers, especially when there's a shortage issue.

The best way to achieve this status by building a rapport with the supplier. Whether it's through light-hearted conversation or ongoing communication via multiple methods, regular interaction creates the bonds that are fundamental to supplier-producer relationships.

Value creation is crucial to supplier-producer relationships.Value creation is crucial to supplier-producer relationships.

Create value for your supplier
The most important interest in business-to-business relationships is self-interest; a supplier has to know what's in it for them to hold their materials for you. This is more easily accomplished when they have understanding of how they're putting themselves in a better position by selling to you. As Harvard Business Review points out, this may be done by opening your supplier up to new and untapped customers or markets, reducing risk and increasing predictability. In other words, if they know you're interested in buying after so many days or weeks, they'll be more inclined to sell to you than someone else who is more sporadic.

Do your research
The key to any supplier-producer relationship is honesty, but if you're brand new to a particular industry or are unfamiliar with the jargon, a supplier may be more interested in selling to someone who has more experience, for the reasons listed above (e.g. it could lead to additional business opportunities through networking). 

Doing your homework can help make you more of an authority. You can do this by leaning on your other business relationships or simply through your own readings and research.

Diversify your suppliers
Establishing a solid base of suppliers accomplishes a few things. For one, if your preferred supplier is out of the material you need, your fallback may have what you need. Secondly, knowing more than one supplier helps with price negotiation. If one is selling for less, you can either buy there or allow a higher-cost supplier to match the price.

Additionally, having multiple suppliers will give you a general idea of their actual costs. This way, you can decide if what they're selling is truly worth your buying it.

The job market has changed radically in the last four years. It’s now a candidate driven market and Procurement leaders consistently name skills shortages as one of their top challenges. The inability to attract and retain Procurement talent holds companies back, It stagnates growth, market share and revenue. There's a serious shortage of skilled talent searching for a job. That said, there no such shortage of competitors vying to hire them before your firm has the chance.

Many recruiters are asking themselves: How do I stand out and differentiate Myself from the rest?  

Rule number one is to know your industry. This is why it is paramount to have an industry focus and a niche. Without industry knowledge, your credibility goes out the window. And although recruiting is a big world, your reputation -positive and negative- travels fast.  

Whatever position you’re staffing, whatever industry you’re supporting, the actions listed below will help you separate yourself from the others and can turn you from a recruiter into a “power broker.”  

Pick Up the Phone

After you finish a search, pick up the phone and speak to the candidate using a list of position-specific questions. If you can’t reach them, don’t forget to leave a detailed voicemail. If the candidate is a good fit, email them the job description and invite them to connect on LinkedIn. Make sure you use this email to set up a more formal conversation as soon as possible. Figure out when, how and where you can best reach them. I know people don’t always read their emails, but who doesn’t at least get an alert when they’ve received a new message? 

Follow Up

You should make calls to your submittal pipeline at least every other day. It’s not a lot of work, but most recruiters won’t make this effort to keep in touch with their candidates. In many cases, a candidate won’t hear back from their recruiter until they’ve received an interview request. Others will have to wait until they’ve been turned down. A minimal amount of effort to remind a candidate that you’re still alive and working on their behalf can yield significant returns by ensuring candidates stay engaged and accept offers when the time comes. Letting your candidates know they’re valuable builds loyalty and helps you distinguish yourself as a dependable advocate. In a market flooded with recruiters, you’ve got to earn this distinction. Put yourself in their shoes. If you put yourself out there and engaged a recruiter, you would expect – and deserve – that level of attention.

Know the Role

As a recruiter, your subject matter expertise is everything. It’s how you build your reputation and it’s how you deliver results. You have to know enough about the job, company and industry in question to provide details you wouldn’t find on a listing. It’s possible that a candidate could look great on paper but ultimately prove a terrible culture fit. Your insights should help empower you to quickly and confidently make these assessments. The only way you can gain these insights is by conducting research and asking the right questions of the hiring manager. Cover your bases because a bad fit will not look good in the eyes of a client or a candidate.  

It sounds simple, and the reality is that it is simple. Know your industry, stay consistent, follow up and know the role for which you are recruiting.  In a saturated market, you need to remember and excel at the fundamentals in order to distinguish yourself. 

Retailers and truck drivers have an interdependent relationship: Retailers rely on truckers to sell product to consumers; truckers rely on retailers to actually transport goods and fully leverage their capabilities. But with the driver shortage plaguing the supply chain and adding to the lengthy delivery delays that already exist, both groups of professionals are at a crossroads, and consumers may bear the brunt of the fallout through price increases and seemingly never-ending inventory crunches.

As a result, they're calling on lawmakers and championing some of the current efforts aimed at resolving these issues so the economy doesn't suffer.

Among the ways legislators are taking matters into their own hands is by adjusting commercial driver's licensing regulations. In several states, residents cannot apply for a CDL until they reach the age of 21. Others enable 18-year-olds to get CDLs, but these young drivers aren't permitted to drive over state boundaries.

New York set to give those under 21 access to CDL
New York is on the cusp of changing its existing CDL law via a bill awaiting Governor Kathy Hochul's signature. Having passed both the House of Representatives as well as Senate, the legislation will enable 18- to 20-year-olds to apply for a CDL permit so they can become licensed to drive. Currently, they must wait until their 21st birthdays.

Trucking is a significant contributor to the Empire State's economic health and longevity. According to the Trucking Association of New York, around 292,850 residents are employed by the industry, or what amounts to 1 in 28 jobs. Furthermore, even though trucks represent just 6% of vehicles miles traveled there, the sector pays $1.3 billion in annual federal and state roadway taxes.

Originally introduced by State Senator Tim Kennedy and co-sponsored by Sens. Michelle Minchey and Jessica Ramos, the bill's implementation can't come soon enough for retailers, several of which have made orders to their suppliers in advance of November and December. Many suspect that the supply chain issues will become that much more apparent when more people are buying and shelves aren't as restocked as quickly given the bottlenecks.

Washington and other state lawmakers are using legislation to bring solutions to the supply chain.Washington and other state lawmakers are using legislation to bring solutions to the supply chain.

Supply chain resolution first order of business for port envoy
The White House is also using what levers of influence it can deploy toward improving the supply chain. In August, President Joe Biden appointed John Porcari as port envoy to the United States. Porcari's primary mission will be to smooth out the supply chain challenges that are affecting ports, motor carriers and retailers.

The National Retail Federation lauded the appointment in a press release from David French,  who serves as NRF's senior vice president of government relations.

"NRF is encouraged by the Biden administration's action on this critical issue," French said. "We look forward to working with Envoy Porcari, Secretary [Pete] Buttigieg and the full Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force to mitigate these challenges, particularly in advance of the upcoming holiday season, so that retailers can ensure consumers can access the products they want and need in a timely manner."

French added that everyone who depends on the supply chain must work together to build one that is more sophisticated and sufficiently improved for it to operate more efficiently and nimbly.

From cryptocurrency to mobile wallets to smartphone devices, digital payment options run the proverbial gamut for both business owners as well as consumers. In addition to the legacy methods, like cash, check and credit cards, buyers in both the business-to-business and business-to-consumer spaces don't lack for options when it comes to how they spend their money.

As even more payment solutions come to the forefront, Americans appear increasingly willing to adopt methods that aren't designed for pants pockets.

That's according to a newly released poll from Aite Novarica Group. The survey, which questioned 383 respondents, sought participants' opinions on some of the newer payment options that are either in place, in development or in their seminal stages.

For example, over two-thirds of respondents said that they were either "very interested" in using smart home devices, "extremely interested" or were already using them to make certain kinds of purchases.

Vast majority of Americans leverage AI regularly
Smart home devices and assistants have fast become a multi-billion dollar market, with the likes of Google (Home) Amazon (Alexa) and Apple (Siri) having their own iterations. Three years ago, over 85% of Americans were using some kind of artificial intelligence product on a regular basis, according to a Gallup poll. It's risen since then.

They're also utilizing wearables. Approximately 17% of adults in the Aite Novarca Group survey said they paid for items using things like their watches, rings and bracelets, while 33% indicated they were "very interested" in taking advantage of this technology.

Smart watches are among the digital payment methods Americans are using or want to at some point.Smart watches are among the digital payment methods Americans are using or want to at some point.

Some are willing to be implanted with a payment device. Indeed, as many as 45% of respondents said they had at least some level of interest in having a chip physically inserted underneath their skin, allowing them to pay for things with a wave of the hand or scan.

London-based startup says it has the first microchip implant device
While microchip implantation remains somewhat controversial, the technology exists. According to Notes from Poland, a company called Walletmor says it's developed the world's first microchip implant device, which the startup says is capable of storing encrypted data to make the buying process more secure.

Wojciech Paprota, who founded the London-based technology company, told Notes from Poland he thinks this method will take hold; it's just a matter of time.

"I believe that one day implants will be as popular as payment cards," Paprota predicted.

He further stated this payment option will help to diminish identity theft and enable adopters to more effectively protect their finances.

David Shipper, a strategic advisor for Aite Novarica's retail banking and payment division, indicated the market will be the ultimate determinant of whether this technology — or some other one — goes mainstream.

"Regardless, as contactless acceptance grows and digital card issuance with push provisioning to a digital wallet becomes more common, the availability and use of alternative payment form factors will likely increase as well," Shipper said.

It may be a while before consumers warm up to the idea of implants; nearly 60% in the aforementioned survey said they weren't interested.

Plenty of organizations are paying increased attention to working capital strategies. But pursuing any strategy without a clear eye on outcomes can lead to trouble, and working capital is no different. 

From hot tubs to spin cycling exercise equipment, you name the purchase, it's taking longer to arrive to its buyers. Throughout the pandemic, skeleton crews manning assembly lines and factory floors prevented businesses from pumping out product as quickly as they would under normal circumstances. Combined with other factors (i.e. state-mandated shutdowns, waves of infections, industry-specific obstacles, etc.), production delays were largely anticipated.

But more than a year and a half later and with tens of millions fully vaccinated, the supply chain bottlenecks persist. Grocery store staples, living room furniture and budget-friendly automobiles that customers expect to be readily available are either out of stock or back-ordered indefinitely. This poses a problem for organizations catering to convenience-minded shoppers, who prioritize speedy delivery. Fast and reliable shipping is the most important attribute online buyers take into account when purchasing from a business, according to a poll from PricewaterhouseCoopers, ahead of in-stock availability and convenient return policies.

Here's what business owners are doing to realign expectations with an increasingly impatient customer base and, where possible, improve production efficiency:

1. Warning buyers of shipping delays
Customers appreciate the goods and services businesses provide and express that appreciation through loyalty and buying again. But they're even more grateful for being kept in the loop about where orders stand. At the point of purchase, more organizations are informing their customers of how long it will take for their packages to arrive. Giving customers an idea of when merchandise will show up — and the reason for any delay — provides the context buyers need to understand why things are the way they are.

Factory equipment is being rerouted to mass produce what items sell at the highest volume.Factory equipment is being repurposed to mass produce items that sell at the highest volume.

2. Realigning production priorities
Businesses that offer many variations of the same product — such as soft drink suppliers or food manufacturers — are taking a look at their numbers to identify their "cash crop." Instead of using one piece of equipment or assembly line to produce a less popular item, they're devoting those resources to mass producing the foods, beverages and models that sell best. More volume and supply means more of those popular goods can be shipped and delivered on time.

3. Reducing production costs and improving sustainability through consumer incentives
The supply chain is a continuum, where each part has an impact on everything else, whether for better or worse. To shorten the supply chain and rein in the cost of production, some organizations are partnering with suppliers to see what works and improve efficiency.

For example, as reported by The Wall Street Journal, fast food chains such as McDonald's Burger King and Tim Horton's are set to launch pilot programs designed to diminish what they spend on packaging. Teaming with TerraCycle, Inc., these chains are expected to roll out a program where customers return their cups, cartons and sandwich boxes to their nearest collection station instead of throwing them away. This allows them to be reused. Customers can get some of their money back from their purchases by doing so by downloading the Loop app, which is developed by TerraCycle.

While fast food chains typically don't ship goods, their ingenuity and creativity may inspire other businesses to reevaluate their delivery systems to improve efficiency and the path to purchase for time-sensitive buyers.

As the all-important holiday season nears, retailers in both the brick-and-mortar and e-commerce segments are expecting a banner year in terms of sales; even for Halloween, the National Retail Federation is forecasting over $10 billion in sales, up nearly $2 billion from 2020. That would be an all-time high if the NRF's prediction proves prophetic.

But given the ongoing supply chain frustrations that have encapsulated 2021, retailers are buying from their suppliers in bulk now so shoppers have plenty to choose from when the season of giving ramps into high gear.

Lowe's Chief Financial Officer David Denton told investors that while supply has improved in certain areas, they want to be properly prepared given the bottlenecks that remain problematic.

"[Things] are actually getting better, not worse," Denton assured investors, as reported by Supply Chain Dive. At the same time, though, "it's hand-to-hand combat," Denton added, as retailers are competing with one another to ensure they have enough to sell.

83% increase in shipping time
They're also preparing in advance due to how long it's taking for supplies and purchases to reach their intended destinations, particularly those coming from overseas markets. In September, for example, products being shipped from China to the United States took an average of 73 days to arrive, according to estimates from the Port of Los Angeles. That's an increase of 83% compared to the same month in 2019.

That sellers are planning ahead undoubtedly comes as great news for manufacturers, who have expressed their concern over how long it's taking for items to arrive. During a virtual press conference with the Port of Los Angeles, executives for The Toy Association said it would behoove parents to buy for their kids now while shelves are fairly well stocked.

"Right now, toy manufacturers are doing everything in their power to ensure a good supply in stores for the holidays," said Ed Desmond, executive vice president of external affairs for The Toy Association. [B]ut we just don't know what's going to happen down the road as we get closer to Christmas."

Desmond added that a huge portion of the toys sold in the United States — 85% — originate from countries in Asia, such as China, Bangladesh and other major foreign suppliers. 

Problems at the ports have retailers stocking up now for the all-important holiday season.Problems at the ports have retailers stocking up now for the all-important holiday season.

COVID-19 remains a major crisis 
Part of what's contributing to the issue is COVID-19, as the pandemic continues to rage in certain parts of the world where vaccination rates are lower. For example, some warehouses have had to shut down their operations temporarily due to coronavirus infections impacting employees.

However, retailers' proactive stance has others confident that there will be enough product to purchase — and gifts to unwrap — come Dec. 25. Best Buy CEO Corie Barry said as much in an earnings call, noting the company moved "as much inventory as possible" earlier this year in preparation for the holiday buying blitz.

According to Deloitte, holiday sales are poised to jump between 7% and 9% this year compared to last, with e-commerce sales potentially growing 15%.

Despite vast improvements in the COVID-19 crisis, the supply chain has yet to fully normalize, and it appears that one of the initial signs that problems were afoot is resurfacing, as an essential home god is disappearing from store shelves all around the country.

Toilet paper, once again, is a hot commodity.

As of Aug. 29, the supply of paper products in retail stores selling them was approximately 86%, according to data obtained by The Wall Street Journal from market research firm IRI.  While that may sound like a sufficient supply — and well above the 40% level retailers were experiencing in early 2020 — it's well below what's considered normal for consumer products, experts say.

The dearth of paper products isn't occurring in isolated portions of the country, either — it's manifesting just about everywhere.

Arthur Ackles, vice president of merchandising and buying for the Massachusetts-based grocery chain Roche Bros., told the WSJ that buyers in his store are starting to take notice; some feel like history is repeating itself.

"Customers are asking a lot of questions," Ackles explained.

Ackles added that he was given a heads-up regarding the shortage by the company's main supplier, Proctor & Gamble, although the company said it intends to intensify production to in the coming days and weeks.

The fear is if elevated demand continues, it could lead to another wave of panic buying, in which the problem essentially becomes self-perpetuating; people may not necessarily need it, but because everyone else is snatching up toilet paper, they buy while it is still available.

Toilet paper was in short supply throughout the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.Toilet paper was in short supply throughout the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

Delta variant concerns may be driving demand
While it's unclear why toilet paper, of all things, is what consumers are choosing to buy in large quantities, the surging Delta variant may be what is spurring the toiletries-purchasing blitz. Despite more than 50% of the country being fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, some are coming down with the Delta variant nevertheless, which doctors and health officials say is more transmissible than COVID-19 but not as deadly. There has also been hesitancy among Americans to get the vaccine, as the nation remains well short of the 70% target the Biden administration aimed to achieve by July.

Frustrated consumers have taken to social media to express their exasperation about the rolling shortage, wondering if this is a forecast of what to expect as winter approaches.

Economists cautiously optimistic
Annoyances aside, Lansing Community College Economic Professor Jim Luke doesn't think this availability crisis will be as long lasting. Speaking to Detroit-based NBC News affiliate WILX, Luke noted that because COVID-19 came as a surprise, manufacturers were caught flat footed and had to adjust production after the fact. He suspects that they'll be able to adjust this time.

At the same time, though, given the ongoing struggles of the supply chain, it may be a bit before paper products are plentiful everywhere.

"It's[a lasting shortage] still entirely possible, and I expect that we will continue to see spot shortages of different kinds of littler items and not something big like toilet paper," Luke said.