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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Good news for fretting parents: The doomsayers who've been sounding the alarm about 2021 holiday toy scarcities are being tempered by sanguine optimists.

Why it matters: While shopping early is definitely a good idea, fears of empty shelves and online shortages are probably overblown, given how skilled the toy industry has grown at managing global supply chains and pandemic-fueled demand for its products.

What they're saying: "I actually happen to think it's going turn out to be a better Christmas than some are painting it," Linda Bolton Weiser, managing director and senior research analyst at D.A. Davidson, tells Axios.

  • "Some are painting it like there's going be no toys, and I just don't think it's that extreme, because the companies have dealt in many years with different supply chain challenges."
  • Barron's notes that "December outages of hit toys are nothing new" and says that predictions of "Charlie Brown Christmas trees surrounded by few boxes and bows" are "decidedly overblown."
  • "Our conversations with retailers, manufacturers, shippers, and Wall Street forecasters indicate that businesses are learning to cope with bottlenecks," Barron's says.

Where it stands: Toy sales have been on fire lately: NPD reports that the industry's sales increased by 15% — to $22.45 billion — in the first half of 2021 compared with the same time period in 2020. (They were up 28% vs. the same period in 2019.)

  • For toymakers, the pressure is on: "Roughly half of all retail toy sales come in the weeks leading up to Christmas," per the Wall Street Journal. "Toys that arrive too late won’t sell until they are heavily discounted after the holidays."
  • Prior crises — like a major dock workers' strike in 2015 — helped teach toymakers important management lessons.
  • "They figured out ways," says Bolton Weiser. "They got their stuff on the top of the [container] ship, they took steps to accelerate the unloading."

Some experts — including toy company executives — have warned that toy prices will rise because of short supplies, but yea-sayers scoff, saying that cutthroat competition will prevent it.

Yes, but: Who knows whether to expect a best-case or worst-case scenario.

  • "There's really no way for us or manufacturers to predict what items or categories will sell out when — and which items will be restocked in time for the holidays once they do sell out," says Maddie Michalik, senior editor of the Toy Insider.
  • Her best advice is "to assume that everything is selling out" and grab what you want when you find it.
  • Among the three biggest toy retailers, "Amazon has fewest out-of-stocks of the hottest toys, followed by Walmart, and then Target," says Bolton Weiser.

The bottom line: As the holiday shopping season wears on, pickings grow slimmer. "The objective of both retailers and the toy companies is to have very little inventory left on Dec. 26," Michalik says.

Go deeper

Walmart sets a stage for its seasonal sales

Shoppers walk in front of a Walmart store in San Leandro, California in May. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

As temperatures cool, and savvy shoppers turn their thoughts toward the holidays, Walmart is laying groundwork for what it hopes will be a successful sales season.

What's happening: The retailer has made announcements to assure consumers the products they want will be convenient to shop for and in stock.

Why it matters: Walmart fell behind Amazon in sales for the first time this year. The pandemic drove consumers' desire to have more household items delivered — a habit that may stick.

  • Walmart will be looking to retain and win back customers during the holiday sales cycle.

Context: Despite rising prices, supply chain issues and raw material shortages, national retail sales were up for the second month in a row.

  • Total retail sales grew 0.7% in September from the prior month, despite consensus estimates for a decline of 0.2%.

Worthy of your time: Three initiatives WMT has announced ahead of the holiday season:

  1. Supply chain — Walmart said in a recent post it is working with vendors to source products early. The company also chartered its own ships in some cases and is diverting some of those to less congested ports. Walmart has hired more than 3,000 truck drivers this year, and it plans to hire 20,000 in permanent supply chain roles.
  2. Text-to-shop pilot — Walmart is forever trying to make the shopping experience easier. Technology will allow shoppers to add items to their Walmart app by voice or text. A beta test of text-to-shop has started. Consumers using Android can enroll in the beta now, and those using Apple will be able to soon. The company has at least eight open positions for what it calls "conversational commerce."
  3. Black Friday — To avoid near-riots in some of its stores, last year Walmart spread its Black Friday deals over several days. It will do so again this year, designating Event 1 as Nov. 3 online and Nov. 5 in stores; Event 2 as Nov. 10 online and in stores Nov. 12; and Event 3 at dates to be determined. Walmart+ members will qualify for early access and special deals.

Of note: Outdoor equipment and lifestyle retailer, Moosejaw, which is owned by Walmart, will open a 6,000 square-foot store tomorrow — only its 12th physical location — at 111 S. Main St. in Bentonville.

Editor’s note: Reporter Worth Sparkman is a Walmart shareholder.

Updated 2 hours ago - Health

The next big bottleneck in the global vaccination effort

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

The world still needs more coronavirus vaccines, but an additional bottleneck has emerged in many low-income countries: They need help getting shots in arms.

Why it matters: Increasing vaccination rates across the world is both a humanitarian necessity and the best way to prevent dangerous new variants from emerging, but it increasingly requires complex problem-solving.

Updated 3 hours ago - Health

COVID-19 Omicron variant cases identified in Europe, U.K.

People wearing masks walk in London on Nov. 25. Photo: Li Ying/Xinhua via Getty Images

Health officials in the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany announced on Saturday that they've detected the first known cases of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The discoveries come as the world scrambles to respond to concerns over the new variant, discovered in South Africa earlier this week.