By ANNE D’INNOCENZIO
The Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Retailers are expected to usher in the unofficial start to the holiday shopping season Friday with bigger crowds than last year in a closer step toward normalcy. But the fallout from the pandemic continues to weigh on businesses and shoppers’ minds. Buoyed by solid hiring, healthy pay gains and substantial savings, customers are returning to stores and splurging on all types of items. But the spike has also resulted in limited selection across the board as suppliers and retailers have been caught flat-footed. Shortages of shipping containers and truckers have helped to delay deliveries, while inflation continues to creep. The combination of higher prices and lack of inventory could make for a less festive mood.