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Online shopping bummer: Out-of-stock products surged 172% from pre-pandemic levels

An aerial image taken on October 15, 2021 shows cargo shipping containers at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, California. - The port, North America's busiest container terminal, began 24-hour operations October 14, 2021 after the White House intervened to help ease bottlenecks that are choking commerce and pushing up prices. (Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNN) — If you were shopping online in the late summer, chances are you may have been hit with an unfortunate message: The product you’re looking for is out-of-stock.

Products were out of stock online 24% more of the time in August from a year earlier across the 18 product categories tracked by Adobe Analytics, according to a report released Wednesday by the company. When compared to January 2020 — before reports of the Covid-19’s spread across the United States emerged — the jump in August 2021 was even bigger: 172%.

The Adobe report analyzed over 1 trillion online visits to a majority of the top 100 US web retailers. The data on out-of-stocks was obtained from merchants who use Adobe Analytics products to track purchases.

“We’ve never seen it as high as this for the 10 years or so that we’ve done this report. It’s a record,” said Taylor Schreiner, director with Adobe Digital Insights, of the August numbers.

Schreiner noted that “shoppers are feeling the impact. They won’t necessarily find what they are looking for all the time.”

Adobe didn’t break out the increases by category or provide raw figures on out-of-stocks. But of the 18 categories, Schreiner said clothing currently shows the highest out-of-stock levels, followed by sporting goods, baby products, electronics and pet products.

While consumers appetite for shopping remains strong, retailers have struggled with a number of supply chain difficulties, including hundreds of thousands of unloaded containers stocked with merchandise stuck on ships unable to dock at ports.

The problems have prompted concern over getting enough merchandise to stores in time for the holiday season. A few retailers have already said they expect to offer fewer discounts and deals because of tighter inventory.

“What this tells us is that consumers should make two lists for their holiday shopping,” said Schreiner. “One is a list of items that they know they can get shipped early and other items that they don’t necessarily care about the brand but will buy when they get the best discount.”

Shoppers are signaling they’re anxious about products running out. A new Deloitte survey of consumers Wednesday showed three out of four consumers are concerned about out-of-stock situations when they shop — especially in electronics and toys — and are beginning their shopping earlier this year. The Deloitte survey polled 4,315 consumers online between Sept. 7 to Sept. 14.

Despite these challenges for retailers, Adobe still expects overall U.S. holiday online sales to reach $207 billion from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31, a 10% increase from 2020.