When the calendar flipped to 2021, there was hope that the COVID-19 challenges experienced in 2020 would remain in the past. Alas, they just morphed into new issues this year.
It’s not surprising, then, that six of the top 10 most-viewed news articles in 2021 were related directly to COVID. That tally includes stories focusing on the supply chain woes that have plagued the promotional products industry all year, leading to things like inventory shortages, increased product prices and a higher cost of doing business. Such issues are rooted in pandemic problems.
On the bright side, promo has begun prospering again, following the coronavirus-induced sales plummet of 2020. Demand for promo products soared in the second and third quarters of 2021, and early reports for the fourth quarter were encouraging.
What lies ahead in 2022? It remains to be seen, but industry leaders are hoping to build on the business bounce-back experienced during the latter half of 2021 and to see a return to something approximating “normalcy” when it comes to supply chain, inventory and pricing stability.
While the future is uncertain, the past is there for us to read. Here’s a retrospective on the stories that captured promo’s attention in 2021.
Few things generate interest quite like the suspicion of a scandal, especially when it involves a famous person or business. Vistaprint, the flagship division of Top 40 distributor Cimpress (asi/162149), fulfilled orders for fake COVID-19 vaccination cards. Mind you, the web-based company did so accidentally, and then vowed to enhance security to prevent doing so again once the mistake was revealed. Still, a goof like that from a major industry player – one that’s a known disruptor in print/promo channels – draws attention.
Scam attempts aimed at promo product firms proliferated in 2021. Some were tech-driven phishing attempts geared toward tricking unwitting employees to clicking a file or link that would infect a company’s system with ransomware. Others involved cons like the one in this article, in which a distributor, new to the industry, was unfortunately fooled. Basically, a con artist posed as a buyer for a major university and duped the distributor into fulfilling orders for flash drives – then disappeared and never paid. The distributor was left on the hook for some 10,000 branded flash drives.
Promo’s collective “oy vey” for the supply chain problems experienced in 2021 resonates loudly in almost every line of this story. It published in June as the issues were intensifying, coming even more to the fore as end-buyer demand soared and distributors worried there wouldn’t be sufficient inventory to meet the need.
This January article delved into the challenges that would, we’d learn, badger promo throughout 2021. To quote, “Call it a perfect storm. A complex concoction that includes skyrocketing shipping container costs, rising raw material prices, reduced shipping capacity and logjammed ports, much of it fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, is creating an international sourcing nightmare for North American promotional products importers and fueling the potential for price increases on a gamut of products.” Those “potential” price hikes became reality. The issues detailed above – along with other related ones – are driving additional product price increases in 2022.
This spring, popular outdoor clothing brand Patagonia decided it would no longer allow companies to add their logo to its products, stating concerns that the additional branding would shorten the life of a garment. That drew got a lot of attention in promo, prompting no shortage of scoffs on industry social media forums and compelling a thoughtful criticism from ASI Media’s Editor-in-Chief C.J. Mittica.
“By eliminating branding, Patagonia is perpetuating fallacies about the promotional products industry that contribute to waste and disuse, instead of promoting values that make our industry a greater asset to the environmental movement,” Mittica wrote.
When a name as big as FedEx throws its hat into the ring as a competitor, people are going to stand up and take notice. That’s just what happened here. As the article detailed, FedEx Office, a subsidiary of FedEx Corp. that sells printing, packing and shipping services, launched an e-commerce website in which anyone can have their logo put on a range of promotional products, purchase the items, and have them shipped to locations of their choosing. Still, while branded to FedEx, the site is being operated by Texas-based promo distributor Harland Clarke (asi/219943) on behalf of the shipping giant.
This article detailed how, amid a surge in e-commerce that was fueled by pandemic-era shifts in shopping habits, carboard box prices were escalating. The news was highly relevant to promo, as many industry firms had delved deeply into providing clients with packages of branded goods – that come kitted in cardboard boxes – for those customers to send to remote workers and clients.
New team name, new merch. Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team announced over the summer that it was changing its name from the Indians to the Guardians. Official branded merchandise wasn’t available until the autumn. However, there was unofficial Guardians’ merch galore right away, and that appeared to spark interest.
Though published in late 2020, this article gained steamed in the early part of this year as distributors sought insights into how to help healthcare clients raise awareness about COVID-19 vaccination initiatives – and reward those who’d received vaccinations – at a time when the shots were starting to roll out.
ASI Media’s coverage of supply chain impediments continued to strike a chord with distributors and suppliers throughout the year, given the relevance of such issues to the industry. This particular article hit in August as promo’s hugely important fourth quarter began to come into view. As such, interest in how the overseas COVID problems might affect promo in the latter half of Q3 and into Q4 was high.