Families are being warned to stock up on Christmas presents early amid fears some products might not arrive until the spring.
Experts say supplies of toys and gifts will be “materially constrained” this year, with one predicting Black Friday and January sales will be muted because of shortages.
Gary Grant, boss of toy chain The Entertainer, said tonight it had up to £2million in stock sitting in 30 containers at the port of Felixstowe incurring daily storage charges.
Among the possible shortages are Elf on the Shelf toys, with a reported one million still in China.
It came as households began booking Christmas food deliveries amid concerns some food and drink could be in short supply.
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Online supermarket Ocado said today delivery slots were “selling quickly”.
It has upped its delivery charge in the run-up to Christmas “so that we can hire extra staff to help us work round the clock.”
Apple became the latest firm to be hit. Reports said the US firm may have to slash production of its latest iPhone 13 by up to 10 million units this year because of a global lack of computer chips.
Supplies of products have been hit by bottlenecks at ports caused, in part, by a lack of HGV drivers to whisk containers away.
Some container ships destined for Felixstowe, which handles 36% of the UK’s container freight, have been diverted abroad.
The Government was today accused of “incompetence” after a minister revealed that only about 20 foreign lorry drivers had been granted temporary visas to work in the UK.
Officials last month announced 5,000 temporary visas to HGV drivers.
But Tory party chairman Oliver Dowden said the numbers of drivers applying were “relatively limited”, with about 300 applications received and about 20 actually issued.
Mr Dowden today insisted pressure on ports was easing, adding: “I’m confident that people will be able to get their toys for Christmas.”
Tim Morris, chief executive of the UK Major Ports Group, said: “There’s no need to panic.”
But some households are not leaving it to chance 10 weeks from Christmas.
Analyst Clive Black, of Shore Capital, said: “If there are things people feel they need to get this Christmas, whether that be gifts or otherwise, they should absolutely be getting them now.
“It’s not that there won’t be stuff to buy, it will be about choice and availability. It will be materially constrained.”
Mr Black added: “They may be products that come from China that probably won’t arrive now until the spring.”
He predicted that Black Friday and the January sales would be “much less exciting” because retailers “are just not sitting on the stock they normally would be”.
Peter Wilson, of global shipping agents Cory Brothers, said people should order items in a “timely fashion” to ensure they arrived.
And David Jinks, head of research at home delivery experts ParcelHero, said: “There’s little prospect that we will get the 100,000 extra truck drivers that most experts believe we need.
“That means port delays will only escalate as more container ships loaded with Christmas stock try to berth.”
Mr Grant said: “The problems are not just as Felixstowe,” he added. “We’re having issues at Tilbury and London Gateway too.”
He expressed concern about stock which had yet to arrive, warning: “The containers that come in early December may not come out of the ports and into warehouses and into shops by Christmas.”
Jack Griffiths, co-founder of wearable blanket firm Snuggy, is among those impacted by port delays.
Mr Griffiths, 26, from Teesside, is expecting £1million in stock to arrive in the UK in the next few weeks.
“The problem we are facing is getting the stock out of Felixstowe,” he said. “It normally take three to four days but the lack of lorry drivers means it could take three to four weeks.”
Elsewhere, employers are struggling to attract Christmas workers amid a glut of jobs, it is claimed.
Jobs website Indeed found online searches for seasonal roles are down 27% compared to the same time in 2019, and 33% below its 2018 level.
Interest is up 11% on 2020, but last year’s figure was unusually lowbecause of a second wave of the pandemic that forced the closure of much of the economy.
Research from the British Chambers of Commerce found 60% of firms are struggling to get enough staff.
The figure rise to 80% among manufacturers, and over 90% for hotels and those in catering.
The boss of the UK’s biggest poultry firm has warned prices will jump by more than 10%.
Ranjit Boparan, founder of 2 Sisters Food Group, said shoppers are facing a “great food reset”.
He said: “The days when you could feed a family of four with a £3 chicken are coming to an end.
“Food is too cheap, there’s no point avoiding the issue.
“In relative terms, a chicken today is cheaper to buy than it was 20 years ago. How can it be right that a whole chicken costs less than a pint of beer?”
Amid the price rises, research out today claims the cost of car insurance has fallen.
Price comparison site Confused.com said motorists are now paying £97 less than 12 months ago.
Time to step away from the easle, Boris
– Comment by Graham Hiscott, Head of Business
Wannabe artist Boris Johnson may be painting a picture that shortages aren’t a big issue – but thousands of firms would say otherwise.
Companies that should be focusing on other things, are instead “fire-fighting” amid a daily battle with staff, stock and raw material shortages.
Customers themselves have largely been shielded from the impact.
It’s why supermarket shelves are, on the whole, fully stocked.
Yet the gaps are beginning to appear, and prices are rising.
But, before you get too worried, it’s important to put the shortages into context.
Yes, pigs in blanket may be in short supply, and that ‘must-have’ toy will be harder to find.
In practice, shoppers will see smaller ranges, a bit less choice, and some products going out of stock sooner.
Mr Johnson may be doing his best impression of Lance Corporal Jones from Dad’s Army with his “Don’t Panic” cry.
But it’s about time he stepped away from the easel, showed some true leadership on the issue, and take action.