Season of shortages
It’s that time of the year when our inboxes are flooded with discounts galore for Black Friday, Cyber Week and all the sales promotions that follow.
But this year, we are in a unique situation, an era of scarcity driven by a global chip shortage, widespread unemployment and the effects of lockdowns that were meant to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. That has disrupted global supply chains, made manufacturing difficult and snarled the shipping of items around the world.
Gaming devices like the PlayStation and Xbox consoles will continue to be a challenge to find. And the list of hard-to-get items has grown even longer, encompassing WiFi routers, cheap laptops and audio gear.
Those looking to buy consumer electronics will have to change their game plan. The biggest takeaway? Do not wait until Black Friday.
“Buy early,” said Patrick Moorhead, chief executive of Moor Insights, a tech research firm. “Make the decision between saving a little money or not getting the product at all.”
Here’s a guide to the consumer electronics that will be difficult to find this year.
Game consoles and high-end graphics cards
Sony’s PlayStation 5, Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and Nintendo’s new Switch have been virtually impossible to find on store shelves in the last year.
Historically, some console makers have limited the production of the machines to help build excitement for the products, gaming analysts said. But the chip shortage — and the heightened demand for gaming devices as many people were stuck at home in the pandemic — has exacerbated the dearth.
The chip shortage and overwhelming demand for gaming products have also led to perpetual scarcity of high-end graphics cards, which people use to upgrade their computers to run more powerful games.
The game plan? Consider automation. Millions are following Twitter accounts that scan retail sites and tweet as soon as game consoles and graphics cards are back in stock. I recommend following @mattswider, editor-in-chief of the blog TechRadar, who relies on sources at retailers to post updates on consoles and graphics cards.
On Black Friday, new WiFi routers usually get deep discounts. But this year, expect fewer of these deals.
That is because of a domino effect related to shortages of “legacy nodes”, a miniature chip used to create wireless sensors in networking equipment, said William Crockett, a vice-president of Tanaka Precious Metals, a component manufacturer. Because that component is not readily available, companies may make fewer routers.
Retailers typically unleash a plethora of low-cost laptops on Black Friday priced under $400, including Chromebooks and notebooks from manufacturers like Acer, Dell and HP.
Expect those deals to be scarcer. Computer makers are struggling with a shortage in USB controllers, the chip that allows a computer to talk to the USB port, Moorhead said. So manufacturers are prioritising those parts for the production of more expensive laptops that generate higher profits, he said.
The upshot: you can expect deals on premium laptops, like MacBooks, but fewer discounts on the cheaper stuff.
There are a few rare deals online for low-cost notebooks — you just have to be proactive. Walmart sold an HP laptop for about $280, according to Pete King, a producer at Slickdeals, a website that tracks discounts online.
Finally, the chip shortage has affected analog chips, the circuits that gadgets rely on to manage power. The tech products most affected by this are audio accessories like speakers and earphones, which rely on analog chips to lower their power consumption and connect wirelessly.
The scarcity will not affect all audio accessories, however. Moorhead noted that Sony and Apple develop their own chips for audio gear, so people probably will not have trouble buying fancy earphones from the big companies this holiday.
That is good news for fans of AirPods, but bad news for TikTokers and Gen Zers who are actively trying to make less popular earphones fashionable.