With imminent retail disruptions and shipping delays, here's what you need to know in order to get it done in time—and safely—this year.

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Due to the pandemic, there's no doubt the holiday season will look a little bit different this year. Like everything else we've experienced in 2020, everything from shopping to family celebrations will inevitably have to morph to fit the demands of social distancing. As a result, experts say the holiday shopping season will start earlier than ever. More than 40 percent of shoppers say they plan to begin shopping for gifts in October or earlier, says Sara Skirboll, shopping and trends expert at RetailMeNot. And 51 percent of retailers encourage shoppers to complete their holiday purchases as early as possible. But don't expect those big pre-season door-buster sales—at least in person, she says. "Because of the pandemic, there are a handful of stores that are choosing to close their doors on Thanksgiving Day," she explains, "including Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Best Buy." 

woman carrying an armful of shopping bags
Credit: Rosley Majid / EyeEm / Getty Images

That's not to say Black Friday sales won't happen, though. "We predict Black Friday and Cyber Monday to be more virtual this year," says Skirboll. To make sure you don't miss any great deals, follow your favorite retailers and brands on social media, sign up for email newsletters, and set up Google Alerts to ensure you're getting updates on sales in real time. RetailMeNot is also hosting a special savings event—their annual Cash Back Day, in which shoppers can get 20 percent cash back from over 300 different retailers, including brands like ALDO, Bass Pro Shops, Elemis, Expedia, GameStop, Keds, Macy's, Melissa & Doug, and more.

Of course, you can still brave the stores, too. The experience will just look—you guessed it—a little bit different. For those shopping at brick-and-mortar locales, expect delays and lines outside of stores, since locations can oftentimes only allow a certain amount of people in the stores at one time, says Skirboll. 

Some other hiccups you can expect this year? Because of COVID-19 and the move towards online shopping, both FedEx and UPS have announced higher rates this holiday shopping season. It's also possible that there will be some shipping delays as the volume of sales picks up. "My recommendation is to start your holiday shopping as early as possible to ensure timely deliveries, as well as to make sure you're getting all of the gifts on your list," says Skirboll.

If possible, save the bigger ticket items for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but try to find as many deals as you can before then to ensure you can cross everything off your list by early December. And, if the retailer offers it, opt to have the gift wrapped and shipped directly to the recipient instead of have it shipped to you and then visit the post office later. Another option? If you're on a tight deadline, use services that allow you to buy online then pick up in store or curbside

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