“The last two years was great for retailers because consumers were buying everything they had to offer,” Liza Amlani, founder of Retail Strategy Group, which works with brands on their merchandising and planning strategies. “They just can’t do that anymore. You have to understand what the consumer wants more now than ever.”

In July, U.S. retail sales were virtually unchanged, according to data from the Commerce Department released Wednesday. Excluding the sales of gas and cars, retail sales actually increased 0.7 percent. But 85 percent of U.S. consumers said that inflation is altering the way they shop, according to a survey released this week from Morning Consult.

Most retailers are hoping this pullback period is only temporary. In the meantime, companies are trying to signal to customers that it’s worth doing what spending they do in their stores. Kohl’s, for instance, said that its private-label brands outperformed the national ones it carries last quarter, and that shoppers gravitated toward buying more basic apparel that could be worn with many different outfits.

Retailers are also turning to the familiar strategy of discounting merchandise to entice shoppers to open their wallets. It’s one they didn’t have to deploy for most of the pandemic, when people showed they were willing to pay full price for a wide range of items. Target, Walmart and Ross Stores all said they have marked down goods in recent weeks. In turn, retailers like BJ’s Wholesale Club — even if they were content with their balance sheets — said they lowered prices on some categories in order to stay competitive. Robert Eddy, chief executive at BJ’s Wholesale Club, even said that the company was willing to “alter the scope and the depth of those promotions” for the holiday season.

The strategy of discounting might not actually get to the root cause, analysts say.

“There is a point at which lower prices don’t trigger incremental demand because the consumers already have it,” said Simeon Siegel, a managing director at BMO Capital Markets. “It’s not an indication that the company is dead. It’s not an indication that they’re never going to buy it again. They just need the time lag.”

Retailers need to realize that consumers are thinking differently, Mr. Siegel said. Some big-ticket purchases — like an exercise bike, living room couch or patio grill — will happen just once. In other cases, the amount of time between purchasing and replenishing will be longer. A person might now buy a candle every few months, compared to doing it every month in the early stages of the pandemic when they were home more often. And more people are choosing to spend their money on things like air travel and movie tickets this summer compared to last.

With all of these variables, lowering prices might not trigger the demand a retailer wants, Mr. Siegel said. It might simply just cut into a company’s profits.

For the stores that did see sales growth, like the big-box retailers Walmart and Target, most of that volume was attributed to higher food prices. Groceries have narrower margins than, say, a retailer’s private-label dress brand, and the shift in sales from one category to another affects the company’s overall profitability.

Along with pricing, retailers need to figure out how to deal with their inventory issues, especially with the all-important holiday season just a few months away.

“Getting through the inventory levels allows them to have a cleaner store, a cleaner supply chain,” said Bobby Griffin, equity research analyst at Raymond James. “They won’t be able to predict it perfectly, but getting through excess inventory will give them more flexibility to try to adapt to what the holiday is throwing at them.”

For all the challenges, some retailers saw a brighter path ahead. While inventory at TJX, the owner of the T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s chains, was up 39 percent for the quarter, the company said it was comfortable at that level because they had what shoppers actually wanted.

“They’re looking for an exciting treasure hunt, an entertaining shopping experience in stores,” Ernie Herrman, TJX’s chief executive, said in a call with analysts, “and along with that value equation, we continue to provide those two things.”

Isabella Simonetti contributed reporting.

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Walmart Strikes a Deal to Offer Members Paramount Plus for Free

Walmart said on Monday that it had reached an agreement to include the Paramount+ streaming service in its Walmart+ membership package, bringing access to TV shows and movies from franchises like “South Park,” “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Star Trek” to some of its customers.

The streaming subscription will be free for Walmart+ subscribers, who pay $12.95 per month for a bundle of perks that include discounts for fuel and free shipping at the retail giant.

Chris Cracchiolo, the general manager of Walmart+, said in a statement that the company chose Paramount+ because the service had “something for everyone.” Walmart had also been in talks with companies including Disney and Comcast.

The broad adoption of streaming has created a cluttered marketplace for services that deliver TV shows and movies directly to consumers. Major media companies like Netflix, Disney, Paramount and Comcast all compete for subscribers, making partnerships with providers like Walmart — which has millions of weekly customers — an attractive proposition.

Paramount and Walmart have a longstanding business relationship. Paramount has a dedicated team of 13 people based in Bentonville, Ark., the site of Walmart’s corporate headquarters, and the retailer sells products based on Paramount’s Paw Patrol, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and SpongeBob franchises.

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As Inventory Piles Up, Liquidation Warehouses Are Busy

PITTSTON, Pa. — Once upon a time, when parents were scrambling to occupy their children during pandemic lockdowns, bicycles were hard to find. But today, in a giant warehouse in northeastern Pennsylvania, there are shiny new Huffys and Schwinns available at big discounts.

The same goes for patio furniture, garden hoses and portable pizza ovens. There are home spas, Rachael Ray’s nonstick pans and a backyard firepit, which promises to make “memories every day.”

The warehouse is run by Liquidity Services, a company that collects surplus and returned goods from major retailers like Target and Amazon and resells them, often for cents on the dollar. The facility opened last November and is operating at exceptionally high volumes for this time of year.

last month, some major retailers say shoppers are buying less clothing, gardening equipment and electronics and focusing instead on basics like food and gas.

Adding to that glut are all the things people bought during the pandemic — often online — and then returned. In 2021, shoppers returned an average of 16.6 percent of their purchases, up from 10.6 percent in 2020 and more than double the rate in 2019, according to an analysis by the National Retail Federation, a trade group, and Appriss Retail, a software and analytics firm.

Last year’s returns, which retailers are not always able to resell themselves, totaled $761 billion in lost sales. That, the retail federation noted, is more than the annual budget for the U.S. Department of Defense.

rising consumer prices and declining spending, the American economy is showing clear signs of slowing down, fueling concerns about a potential recession. Here are other eight measures signaling trouble ahead:

“You would think that there would be enough data and enough history to see that a little more clearly,” he added. “But it also suggests that times are changing and they are changing fast and more dramatically.”

Strong consumer spending may have saved the economy from ruin during the pandemic, but it has also led to enormous excess and waste.

Retailers have begun to slash prices on inventory in their stores and online. Last Monday, Walmart issued the industry’s latest warning when it said that its operating profits would drop sharply this year as it cut prices on an oversupply of general merchandise.

above a reclaimed strip mine dating back to when this region was a major coal producer. Today, the local economy is home to dozens of e-commerce warehouses that cover the hilly landscape like giant spaceships, funneling goods to the population centers in and around New York and Philadelphia.

Liquidity Services, a publicly traded company founded in 1999, decided to open its new facility as close as it could to the Scranton area’s major e-commerce warehouses, making it easy for retailers to dispense with their unwanted and returned items.

Even before the inventory glut appeared this spring, returns had been a major problem for retailers. The huge surge in e-commerce sales during the pandemic — increasing more than 40 percent in 2020 from the previous year — has only added to it.

The National Retail Federation and Appriss Retail calculate that more than 10 percent of returns last year involved fraud, including people wearing clothing and then sending it back or stealing goods from stores and returning them with fake receipts. But more fundamentally, industry analysts say the increasing returns reflect consumer expectations that everything can be taken back.

burned in incinerators that generate electricity.

stock price plummeted nearly 25 percent in one day. Other retailers’ share prices have also fallen.

Target’s stumbles have been an opportunity for people like Walter Crowley.

Mr. Crowley regularly rents a U-Haul and drives back and forth to the liquidation warehouse from his home near Binghamton, N.Y.

Mr. Crowley, who turns 54 next month, focuses mostly on discounted home improvement goods, which he resells to local contractors, like multiple pallets of discontinued garage door openers, tiles and flooring.

But on a sweltering day earlier this month, he stood outside the warehouse in his U-Haul loading up on items from Target.

“I saw its stock got tanked,” said Mr. Crowley, a cigarette dangling from his mouth and sweat pouring down his face. “It’s an ugly situation for them.”

He bought several cribs, a set of sheets for his own house and a pink castle for a girl in his neighborhood who just turned 5.

“I end up giving a lot of it away to my neighbors, to be honest,” he said. “Some people are barely getting by.”

The buyers bid for the goods through online auctions and then drive to the warehouse to pick up their winnings.

It’s a diverse group. There was a science teacher who stocked up on plastic parts for his class, as well as a woman who planned to resell her purchases — neon green Igloo coolers, a table saw, baby pajamas — in the Haitian and Jamaican communities of New York. She ships other items to Trinidad.

The Pennsylvania warehouse, one of eight that Liquidity Service operates around the country, employs about 20 workers, some of whom have been hired on a temporary basis. The starting pay is $17.50 an hour.

Charles Benincasa, 39, is a temporary worker who has had numerous “warehousing” jobs, the most recent at the Chewy pet food distribution center in nearby Wilkes-Barre.

Mr. Benincasa said his friends and family had gotten in the habit of returning many of the goods they buy online. But as he’s watched the boxes pile up in the Liquidity Services warehouse, he worries about the implications for the economy.

“Companies are losing a lot of money,” he said. “There is no free lunch.”

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Retail Workers Increasingly Fear for Their Safety

Assaults at stores have been increasing at a faster pace than the national average. Some workers are tired of fearing for their safety.


There was the customer who stomped on the face of a private security guard. Then the one who lit herself on fire inside a store. The person who drank gasoline and the one who brandished an ax. An intoxicated shopper who pelted a worker with soup cans. A shoplifter who punched a night manager twice in the head and then shot him in the chest.

And there was the shooting that killed 10 people, including three workers, at the King Soopers supermarket in Boulder, Colo., in March 2021. Another shooting left 10 more people dead at a Buffalo grocery store last month.

In her 37 years in the grocery industry, said Kim Cordova, a union president in Colorado, she had never experienced the level of violence that her members face today.

F.B.I. said, more than half the so-called active shooter attacks — in which an individual with a gun is killing or trying to kill people in a busy area — occurred in places of commerce, including stores.

“Violence in and around retail settings is definitely increasing, and it is a concern,” said Jason Straczewski, a vice president of government relations and political affairs at the National Retail Federation.

Tracking retail theft is more difficult because many prosecutors and retailers rarely press charges. Still, some politicians have seized on viral videos of brazen shoplifting to portray left-leaning city leaders as soft on crime. Others have accused the industry of grossly exaggerating losses and warned that the thefts were being used as a pretext to roll back criminal justice reforms.

“These crimes deserve to be taken seriously, but they are also being weaponized ahead of the midterm elections,” said Jonathan Simon, a professor of criminal justice at the University of California, Berkeley, Law School.

While the political debate swirls about the extent of the crime and its causes, many of the people staffing the stores say retailers have been too permissive of crime, particularly theft. Some employees want more armed security guards who can take an active role in stopping theft, and they want more stores to permanently bar rowdy or violent customers, just as airlines have been taking a hard line with unruly passengers.

Kroger, which owns Fred Meyer, did not respond to requests for comment.

Some unions are demanding that retailers make official accommodations for employees who experience anxiety working with the public by finding them store roles where they don’t regularly interact with customers.

it was revealed that the retailers were hounding falsely accused customers.

The industry says it is putting much of its focus on stopping organized rings of thieves who resell stolen items online or on the street. They point to big cases like the recent indictment of dozens of people who are accused of stealing millions of dollars in merchandise from stores like Sephora, Bloomingdale’s and CVS.

But it’s not clear how much of the crime is organized. Matthew Fernandez, 49, who works at a King Soopers in Broomfield, Colo., said he was stunned when he watched a thief walk out with a cart full of makeup, laundry detergent and meat and drive off in a Mercedes-Benz S.U.V.

“The ones you think are going to steal are not the ones doing it,” he said. “From high class to low class, they are all doing it.”

Ms. Barry often gives money to the homeless people who come into her store, so they can buy food. She also knows the financial pressures on people with lower incomes as the cost of living soars.

When people steal, she said, the company can write off the loss. But those losses mean less money for workers.

“That is part of my raise and benefits that is walking out the door,” she said. “That is money we deserve.”

Ella Koeze contributed reporting.

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Despite Labor Shortages, Workers See Few Gains in Economic Security

“Companies are doing all they can not to bake in any gains that are difficult to claw back,” Dr. Schneider said. “Workers’ labor market power is so far not yielding durable dividends.”

The changes that make work lower paying, less stable and generally more precarious date back to the 1960s and ’70s, when the labor market evolved in two key ways. First, companies began pushing more work outside the firm — relying increasingly on contractors, temps and franchisees, a practice known as “fissuring.”

Second, many businesses that continued to employ workers directly began hiring them to part-time positions, rather than full-time roles, particularly in the retail and hospitality industries.

According to the scholars Chris Tilly of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Françoise Carré of the University of Massachusetts Boston, the initial impetus for the shift to part-time work was the mass entry of women into the work force, including many who preferred part-time positions so they could be home when children returned from school.

Before long, however, employers saw an advantage in hiring part-timers and deliberately added more. “A light bulb went on one day,” Dr. Tilly said. “‘If we’re expanding part-time schedules, we don’t have to offer benefits, we can offer a lower wage rate.’”

By the late 1980s, employers had begun using scheduling software to forecast customer demand and staffed accordingly. Having a large portion of part-time workers, who could be given more hours when stores got busy and fewer hours when business slowed, helped enable this practice, known as just-in-time scheduling.

But the arrangement subjected workers to fluctuating schedules and unreliable hours, disrupting their personal lives, their sleep, even their children’s brain development.

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For Retail Workers, Omicron’s Impact Isn’t Just About Health

Long checkout lines. Closed fitting rooms. Empty shelves. Shortened store hours.

Plus the dread of contracting the coronavirus and yet another season of skirmishes with customers who refuse to wear masks.

A weary retail work force is experiencing the fallout from the latest wave of the pandemic, with a rapidly spreading variant cutting into staffing.

While data shows that people infected with the Omicron variant are far less likely to be hospitalized than those with the Delta variant, especially if they are vaccinated, many store workers are dealing with a new jump in illness and exposures, grappling with shifting guidelines around isolation and juggling child care. At the same time, retailers are generally not extending hazard pay as they did earlier in the pandemic and have been loath to adopt vaccine or testing mandates.

“We had gotten to a point here where we were comfortable, it wasn’t too bad, and then all of a sudden this new variant came and everybody got sick,” said Artavia Milliam, who works at H&M in Hudson Yards in Manhattan, which is popular with tourists. “It’s been overwhelming, just having to deal with not having enough staff and then twice as many people in the store.”

said last week that it would shorten store hours nationally on Mondays through Thursdays for the rest of the month. At least 20 Apple Stores have had to close in recent weeks because so many employees had contracted Covid-19 or been exposed to someone who had, and others have curtailed hours or limited in-store access.

At a Macy’s in Lynnwood, Wash., Liisa Luick, a longtime sales associate in the men’s department, said, “Every day, we have call-outs, and we have a lot of them.” She said the store had already reduced staff to cut costs in 2020. Now, she is often unable to take breaks and has fielded complaints from customers about a lack of sales help and unstaffed registers.

“Morale could not be lower,” said Ms. Luick, who is a steward for the local unit of the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Even though Washington has a mask mandate for indoor public spaces, “we get a lot of pushback, so morale is even lower because there’s so many people who, there’s no easy way to say this, just don’t believe in masking,” she added.

Store workers are navigating the changing nature of the virus and trying their best to gauge new risks. Many say that with vaccinations and boosters, they are less fearful for their lives than they were in 2020 — the United Food and Commercial Workers union has tracked more than 200 retail worker deaths since the start of the pandemic — but they remain nervous about catching and spreading the virus.

local legislation.

More broadly, the staffing shortages have put a new spotlight on a potential vaccine-or-testing mandate from the Biden administration, which major retailers have been resisting. The fear of losing workers appears to be looming large, especially now.

While the retail industry initially cited the holiday season rush for its resistance to such rules, it has more recently pointed to the burden of testing unvaccinated workers. After oral arguments in the case on Friday, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority expressed skepticism about whether the Biden administration had legal authority to mandate that large employers require workers to be vaccinated.

The National Retail Federation, a major industry lobbying group, said in a statement last week that it “continues to believe that OSHA exceeded its authority in promulgating its vaccine mandate.” The group estimated that the order would require 20 million tests a week nationally, based on external data on unvaccinated workers, and that “such testing capacity currently does not exist.”

When the top managers at Mr. Waugh’s Stop & Shop store began asking employees whether they were vaccinated in preparation for the federal vaccine mandates that could soon take effect, he said, a large number expressed concern to him about being asked to disclose that information.

“It was concerning to see that so many people were distressed,” he said, though all of the employees complied.

Ms. Luick of Macy’s near Seattle said that she worked with several vocal opponents of the Covid-19 vaccines and that she anticipated that at least some of her colleagues would resign if they were asked to provide vaccination status or proof of negative tests.

Still, Macy’s was among major employers that started asking employees for their vaccination status last week ahead of the Supreme Court hearing on Friday and said it might require proof of negative tests beginning on Feb. 16.

“Our primary focus at this stage is preparing our members for an eventual mandate to ensure they have the information and tools they need to manage their work force and meet the needs of their customers,” said Brian Dodge, president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, which includes companies like Macy’s, Target, Home Depot, Gap and Walmart.

As seasonal Covid-19 surges become the norm, unions and companies are looking for consistent policies. Jim Araby, director of strategic campaigns for the food and commercial workers union in Northern California, said the retail industry needed to put in place more sustainable supports for workers who got ill.

For example, he said, a trust fund jointly administered by the union and several employers could no longer offer Covid-related sick days for union members.

“We have to start treating this as endemic,” Mr. Araby said. “And figuring out what are the structural issues we have to put forward to deal with this.”

Kellen Browning contributed reporting.

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Parents Face Long Waits for Car Seats and Other Baby Items

Almost as soon as Eryn Yates made it through her first trimester of pregnancy last spring, she started shopping for her dream nursery.

But getting the items she wanted turned into a nightmare.

The crib that she had ordered from Crate & Barrel arrived within weeks, but the rocking chair from Pottery Barn Kids was back-ordered for months, and then lost somewhere in transit. The delivery of the dresser she was going to use as her changing table was repeatedly postponed until West Elm informed her that it would be delivered in late April or May 2022 — more than six months after her daughter’s birth.

“I definitely thought that we were ahead of the game since we started ordering everything so early,” said Ms. Yates, 27, who lives in Winter Garden, Fla., and works in health care. “I was wrong.”

Global supply chain disruptions wrought by the pandemic have snarled the delivery of items as varied as medical devices, toys and Grape-Nuts. But perhaps no delays have provoked more familial angst in the last two years than those for baby items.

more than 3.6 million births in the United States in 2020.

The result of the baby-supply upheaval — besides higher prices and an ever-bustling hand-me-down market — has been an injection of new stress and uncertainty into an already emotionally delicate time. Expectant parents are scrambling to get items before they bring their babies home, and retailers and manufacturers are racing to reassure them that their goods will come, and devising hasty solutions if they won’t. Message boards on sites for new parents teem with complaints over back orders and repeated shipment delays. Retailers have become accustomed to soothing anxious parents-to-be.

“These are pregnant women that are all having their babies,” said Lauren Logan, the owner of the Juvenile Shop, a family-run baby retailer in the Sherman Oaks neighborhood of Los Angeles. “They are hormonal, but they are pregnant — they want their stuff. I don’t blame them. I want their stuff for them.”

traced to the outbreak of Covid-19, which triggered an economic slowdown, mass layoffs and a halt to production. Here’s what happened next:

On the receiving end are customers who don’t need another source of anxiety. First-time parents often research heavily before selecting strollers, cribs, car seats and other wares. And out-of-stock items can crimp registries; Babylist says new parents often select 100 to 200 items.

After Gina Catallo-Kokoletsos, 33, and her husband finally agreed on a crib from Pottery Barn Kids, her father placed the order as a gift in July. Originally, the crib was supposed to ship in October, giving just enough time before the couple’s baby was due in November. But when Ms. Catallo-Kokoletsos checked in September, she saw that the shipment date had been pushed to January.

“I called them, and they were like, ‘Oh, yeah, it’s going to be delayed.’ And I said, ‘Well, my baby is due before that,’” said Ms. Catallo-Kokoletsos, who lives in Chico, Calif., and works at an animal shelter. She ended up canceling the order and choosing a crib from a small company she had never heard of. That crib arrived on time, but other items on her baby registry, including a rocking chair, went out of stock before she could get them.

“I knew none of it was the end of the world,” she said. “It just kind of gets frustrating after a while.”

Further complicating matters for some expectant parents are deeply ingrained beliefs about buying or receiving items before their babies are born.

Joelle Fox, 35, a naturopathic physician in Scottsdale, Ariz., who is expecting a baby boy in January, said she was wary of ordering anything in part because of a custom among many Jewish people of not having baby things in the house until the baby arrives.

“It’s kind of a tradition that women have done, and I was kind of following that,” she said, adding that she also wanted to research items carefully to make sure they were not harmful. But the supply chain issues compelled her to start buying some items for the nursery at the end of October, a decision that she said prompted “a lot of emotions.”

Even still, she said, the dresser she ordered from Wayfair is not supposed to ship until mid-January. “That has definitely put a bit of a damper on everything, because I can’t get the room completely set up,” she said.

At around 36 weeks pregnant, Ms. Yates in Florida, whose daughter was born in October, gave up on receiving the West Elm dresser and bought one from Ikea. She cut off its legs and replaced them with metal ones that matched the crib she had bought.

She had less luck with her Pottery Barn Kids chair, which she had ordered in June. After it failed to arrive, she felt so desperate that she emailed corporate customer service and copied the chief executive. By the time she was told in October that the chair had been lost, the color and fabric she wanted were no longer available. The company ended up sending her a loaner chair, in a different color, “so I at least had something in the room for me to use.”

Ms. Yates said that she was sympathetic to the companies’ struggles, but that the ordeal still had left her in tears.

“I was not a very emotional pregnant woman — I had a very short temper, rather than being a crier,” she said. “But when it came to the nursery, I cried a lot, because I had this picture of exactly what I wanted, and then it just felt like one thing after another.”

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Robberies, Always an Issue for Retailers, Become More Brazen

The anonymity reflects yet another instance in which criminals stymied by rules in the physical world can operate freely on the internet — an issue that has surfaced in problems involving misinformation, questionable advertisements and merchandise glorifying crimes.

Pawnshops, for example, are regulated in almost every state, said Richard Rossman, a sergeant with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office in Florida who is also part of the Coalition of Law Enforcement and Retail.

“If you’re going to sell an item to a pawnshop, the seller has to pledge that property is his or hers, it is not stolen, and the pawnshop documents the item appropriately on a state-regulated form and we can hold the seller accountable and the pawnshop accountable,” Sergeant Rossman said. “There’s no mechanism in place right now that requires the collection of that data on the online marketplaces.”

The coalition has gotten support from industry groups and retailers, including pharmacy chains, Home Depot and Ulta Beauty, on bipartisan legislation known as the INFORM Consumers Act. The bill would require online marketplaces to authenticate the identity of “high-volume third-party sellers,” including their bank account information and tax identification, and allow consumers to see basic identification and contact information for those sellers. The rule would apply to vendors who made 200 or more discrete sales in a year amounting to $5,000 or more.

Etsy, OfferUp and eBay said they supported the legislation after opposing a draft that raised privacy and safety concerns for sellers, especially people selling small-scale items like a couch or people with craft businesses at home. Etsy noted that mass-produced items were not usually allowed on its marketplace, even if they were being sold legitimately. Meta, which owns Facebook Marketplace, and the RealReal, which sells high-end secondhand goods, declined to comment on the legislation.

Meta said that Facebook Marketplace users could report items they thought were stolen and that law enforcement could contact the company regarding suspicious items.

Amazon said in a statement that “we regularly request invoices, purchase orders or other proofs of sourcing when we have concerns about how a seller may have obtained particular products that they want to sell.” It added that it employed 10,000 people working to prevent fraud and abuse on its site, and supported the INFORM Consumers Act.

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Supply-Chain Kinks Force Small Manufacturers to Scramble

“We are not going to assemble iPhones in the U.S.,” Mr. Shih said.

Some experts believe the problems will persist. “Our findings indicate the disruption could be for up to three years,” said Manish Sharma, group chief executive of operations services at the consulting firm Accenture.

Even Two-One-Two New York, a strictly domestic manufacturer of apparel with a plant on Long Island, is being forced to do things differently, said Marisa Fumei-South, the company’s owner and president.

The company has accumulated larger stocks of yarn and other raw materials in response to rising prices and higher shipping costs. “We’re sitting with a lot of inventory,” Ms. Fumei-South said. “We’re waiting to see how this evolves.”

That kind of behavior feeds on itself, Mr. Shih said. As companies buy up supplies to get ahead of rising prices, it contributes to the inflationary dynamic. “People are ordering more than they need, and that’s aggravating shortages,” he said.

American Giant, a maker of hoodies, T-shirts and other clothing, has sidestepped the worst of the supply chain problems because it makes its products in North Carolina and other domestic locations, said its founder and president, Bayard Winthrop.

The company’s apparel, sold through its own stores and online, falls between products sold by retailers like Old Navy or Lands’ End and more expensive brands. A full-zip sweater for men sells for $128, while a woman’s slub turtleneck goes for $70.

But American Giant can’t escape higher labor costs and surging cotton prices, Mr. Winthrop said. While he expects cotton prices to eventually come down, he’s not so sure how long it will take.

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The Holiday Shopping Season Is Here, but Is It Back?

Stephen Arnold, president of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas, a trade group with more than 1,800 members, appeared at only a single tree lighting event last year. It was a frightening time, he said, particularly for a group of elderly men who are often overweight and have diabetes.

But this season, Mr. Arnold said that all five of his tree lighting ceremonies are back, including a splashy event that he loves at Graceland, Elvis Presley’s estate in Mr. Arnold’s hometown, Memphis. He plans to participate in more than 200 appearances, on par with his prepandemic schedule in 2019. At times, he may perform from inside a life-size snow globe like last year, and a sizable chunk of his events will be held virtually, but it’s a world apart from 2020.

“I think almost all of our Santas intend to work a great deal more than they did last year, and a much higher percentage, probably 65 to 70 percent of us, will return to what we consider some kind of normal schedule,” Mr. Arnold, 71, said. “I’m trying to be prepared for a season of relatively close contact.”

This week, Saks Fifth Avenue unveiled its holiday window display and 10-story-tall light show at its New York flagship store. The retailer, which took a pause from its annual tradition of shutting down Fifth Avenue for a musical performance last year, returned to it this year with a performance by the Young People’s Chorus of New York City and an appearance from Michelle Obama. About 22 Nordstrom stores will have “immersive” photo booths.

At the flagship Bloomingdale’s on 59th Street, the store is offering fewer events than the 400-plus it held in 2019, but many more than 2020, when its limited activities were held outdoors. There will be more food and drink for shoppers this season, including Champagne and cups of espresso, though they are being handled more carefully than in years past. The store hosted a performance by Bebe Rexha when it unveiled its holiday windows this month, but kept it to roughly 15 minutes and carefully managed capacity and spacing.

“If you would have talked to me in 2019, we would have had elaborate spreads with caterers coming in and passed hors d’oeuvres and Champagne flowing,” said Frank Berman, Bloomingdale’s chief marketing officer. Now, the food is more likely to be prepackaged, and events like cooking demonstrations have been smaller.

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