By Emma Nitzsche 

After spending over a year in virtual classrooms, back-to-school shopping might look different this year. Popular back-to-school products are expected to be in short supply, and frantic parents are checking off their supply lists even earlier this year.

Retailers, manufacturers, and vendors are currently struggling to keep up with the demand amid continued pandemic-related difficulties, including staff shortages and a reliance on other stakeholders in similar situations. This means consumers could see fewer, more expensive items on shelves.

“While we are unlikely to see apocalyptic shortages, the continued pressure on supply chains means that not all retailers will get an optimal amount of supply. Said Neil Saunders, the managing director of the consultancy GlobalData Retail. “What this means is consumers will have less choice, and some may not be able to get exactly what they want, especially towards the end of the back-to-school season.”

For instance, Nike sneakers, a top seller in back-to-school supplies, is experiencing supply chain shortages from its factory in Vietnam. Panjiva, the supply chain research unit of S&P Global Market Intelligence, said Nike might run out of its sneakers after two of their suppliers in Vietnam halted production due to the rampant spread of COVID-19. However, in an email to CNN Business, Nike said that it is “confident in [its] ability to navigate these near-term dynamics, and we remain prudent in our planning.”

In addition to sneakers, other items facing shortages include backpacks, stationery, sports equipment, laptops, and tablets. After learning about the chip shortages, many consumers are worried about getting the latest technology for school. According to Rod Sides, the vice chairman and U.S. retail lead with Deloitte, “fifty percent of shoppers are concerned about stockouts, especially for tech items.”

Furthermore, inflation might make some supplies more expensive than others. Keith Jelinek, the managing director of the retail practice at Berkeley Research Group, said consumers should anticipate paying 10% to 15% more for apparel this year compared to last year. The additional costs mean that retailers will reduce discounts and narrow their assortment of products to minimize the risks of products not selling.

Consumers appear to be well aware of the shortages, and many shoppers purchased their supplies earlier than usual. A survey released by the National Retail Federation found that more than half of back-to-school shoppers began checking off items on their list as early as July. In addition, Deloitte’s 2021 back-to-school survey found that 59% of parents said they would have their school shopping by the end of July, a significant increase from the 45% figure recorded last year.