Editor’s note: It’s been a year since we put together this shopping guide, and we never dreamed that 365 days later, we’d still be in a pandemic economy. Some things have improved a lot, like the fact that our stores are open for browsing and we have the pleasure of greeting our customers, creating displays, and making in-person recommendations again. But a prolonged global crisis impacts everything, including books, and there are some key supply chain issues you should know about as you begin your holiday book buying. We’ve updated the information below to reflect these 2021 realities.
We know: It’s weird to be thinking about the holidays in early October, before we’ve even wrapped our heads around safe trick-or-treating or whether it’ll be another year of Zoom turkey carving. But while most of us aren’t yet ready for fairy lights, wassail, and sugar cookies (check that — we’re always ready for wassail), factors ranging from continued delays at shipping carriers to where books are printed mean that without some advanced planning, there’s a chance that the books you want won’t arrive in time for the holidays.
To help ensure that you have a book-filled December, we’ve put together a list of holiday shopping tips based on industry-specific, insider information.
If you were paying attention last year, this will sound familiar: printing capacity remains very low due to factors like staffing challenges, lumber scarcity, and a resulting paper shortage. Publishers are continuing the 2020 trend of moving books originally scheduled for 2021 into 2022; additionally, due to the declining number of both U.S.-based printers and paper mills, most printing has shifted overseas to China. Before COVID, this development made speedy reprints of high-demand books nearly impossible during the short holiday period. The additional pandemic-related shortages in dock workers, truckers, and available shipping containers, and strain on postal carriers, mean last-minute shopping could result in long delays, even from larger e-retailers.
If you know what you want — especially if it’s a hotly anticipated new book like Cloud Cuckoo Land
or anything with a large amount of color printing like a cookbook, graphic novel, or picture book — preorder it or buy it as close as possible to the release date. For all orders, allow an extra two weeks for your order to arrive.
BE STRATEGIC ABOUT WHERE YOU SHOP.
Powells.com or the website of your favorite bookstore is a great place to shop when you know exactly what you want and are ready to preorder it or pounce on it once it’s published. Bookstore websites also often host blogs with book lists, online collections, and other helpful materials. Buyer beware: because of the printing and shipping crises, publishers are increasingly making last-minute changes to release dates. This is still rare and unlikely to affect most customers, but it does mean that even the most organized online shopper may find their order delayed beyond the holidays.
If you’re less sure about what to buy, or just enjoy shopping in person, the best place to go for books is your favorite bookstore. Not only is browsing fun, but indie bookstores like Powell’s provide the twin benefits of selling physical items you can carry out with you and experienced booksellers who will help you find the right books. Step away from the screen for a bit and commune with fellow booklovers while you shop store-exclusive displays, gifts, and staff recommendations.
USE BOOK LISTS TO BUILD YOUR SHOPPING LIST.
Buying books online or in a store as large as Powell’s flagship can be overwhelming! Prepare yourself with a little enjoyable Internet sleuthing — almost every bookstore and media outlet puts out seasonal lists of new releases — and select some books you want to read or gift (you can scroll through all of our Picks of the Month
here or browse Powell’s Instagram
for current in-store displays, sales, and book lists.) Most bookstores are stocking up on highly anticipated new books and popular older titles in anticipation of delays; plus, most books being featured on a store display or sale will be brought into inventory in good quantity. As long as you shop early in person or online, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding the books everyone is buzzing about.
BUY USED BOOKS.
Powell’s stocks all of our used books on site in our stores and warehouse, which speeds up the packaging and shipping process. Being open to buying used books — they make great, budget-friendly gifts — also deepens the pool of books to shop from, since used books are purchased separately from new books and aren’t subject to the same publisher and printer limitations currently impacting new book distribution.
KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LOCAL AND REMOTE WAREHOUSES.
This one is tricky, so pay attention: If you look on any Powells.com product page, the “Shipping Options” box on the righthand side will show you how many copies of a book we have, and where those copies are located. Books shelved in our stores and local warehouse will generally ship out faster than books shelved at the remote warehouse.
If you are using store pickup
: If you want an item to arrive as quickly as possible, especially if it comes from a remote warehouse, consider ordering it separately. Orders containing more than one item must wait until all of the items have arrived at our NW Portland warehouse to be sent to the stores for pickup. Please note that orders containing only books from the remote warehouse are not eligible for store pickup.
If you are shipping your order
: Books ordered from our stores and local warehouse are automatically sent separately from books ordered from our remote warehouse. This "split order" allows us to expedite your order and get your books to you as quickly as possible. It also means that you are essentially creating two orders, even if you do all of your shopping in one session. Shipping charges apply to all orders under $50, and split orders totaling less than $50 will incur a second shipping charge.
Keep a close eye on that “Shipping Options” box to be strategic about your shipping and to better understand shipping timelines.
LOCALS CAN USE STORE PICKUP.
If shopping from home is your preferred choice right now, locals can order their books on Powells.com and pick them up for free
at our Burnside, Cedar Hills, and Hawthorne locations. See Tip #5 for exclusions.
SAVE ORDER NOTES FOR SPECIAL REQUESTS.
We love receiving your sweet notes of support, but unfortunately, they slow down our packaging and shipping process. During the holidays, save order notes for specific handling requests. Your love shows in your order, and we deeply appreciate it.
DOUBLE-CHECK THE SHIPPING ADDRESS.
Check the shipping address before you click the “place order” button. Some orders go directly to our distributors for drop shipment and we cannot change those addresses once the order is placed.
We love you, customers. Thank you for shopping independent! Happy (really early) holidays (again) from the Powell’s team.