It’s that time of 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 find ourselves in a unique situation. We live in an era of scarcity, driven by a global chip shortage, widespread unemployment and the effects of government-imposed lockdowns designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. That has disrupted global supply chains, made production more difficult and made it more difficult to ship items around the world.
Now that affects the types of tech products we can get for our loved ones this holiday season. Gaming devices like the PlayStation and Xbox consoles, which have been in constant shortage over the past year, will continue to be a challenge to find. And the list of hard-to-find items just got longer and includes Wi-Fi routers, cheap laptops, and audio equipment.
Shoppers looking to buy consumer electronics will have to change their game plan. The biggest takeaway? Don’t wait until Black Friday.
“Buy early,” says Patrick Moorhead, chief executive of Moor Insights, a technical 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 hard to find this year.
Game consoles and high-end graphics cards
Let’s start with some of the most sought-after and hardest-to-buy tech products: Sony’s PlayStation 5, Microsoft’s Xbox Series X, and Nintendo’s new Switch, which have been virtually impossible to find on store shelves for the past year.
Historically, some console makers have limited production of the machines to build excitement for the products, game analysts said. But the chip shortage — and increased demand for gaming devices because many people were stuck at home during the pandemic — have exacerbated the scarcity.
Many major retailers are selling the new consoles exclusively online, and when new PlayStation, Xbox, and Switch consoles come out, they sell out within minutes. Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo have warned that the chip shortage could lead to supply restrictions until 2022.
The chip shortage and overwhelming demand for gaming products have also led to an ongoing scarcity of high-end graphics cards, which people are using to upgrade their computers to play more powerful games, Mr Moorhead said.
The game plan? Think automation. Millions follow Twitter accounts that scan and tweet shopping sites as soon as game consoles and graphics cards are back in stock. You can set your Twitter apps to send a notification to your phone as soon as those accounts post. I recommend to follow @mattswiderthe former editor of the blog TechRadar, who relies on sources at retailers to post inventory updates on game consoles and graphics cards.
On Black Friday, new Wi-Fi routers usually get big discounts. But we should expect less of these deals this year.
That’s due to a knock-on effect linked to shortages of so-called legacy nodes, a miniature chip used to make wireless sensors in network equipment, said William Crockett, a vice president of Tanaka Precious Metals, a component manufacturer. Because that part is not readily available, companies can make fewer routers. That then means retailers are less likely to cut the prices of routers to avoid running out of fuel, he said.
Case in point: Last year, one of Amazon’s most popular Black Friday deals was a big discount for the Eero, its popular Wi-Fi router. This year, the Eero is noticeably absent from Amazon’s list of top Black Friday deals.
An Amazon spokeswoman said the company had planned promotions for Eero over the holiday season. So far, only the high-end Eero Pro models have received significant discounts.
So if you or friends and family want an internet router, buy it now. In the unlikely event that the product goes on sale this Black Friday, you can ask the retailer for a retroactive price adjustment or return the item and purchase it at the lower price.
Retailers typically unleash a plethora of cheap laptops priced under $400 on Black Friday, including Chromebooks and notebooks from manufacturers such as Acer, Dell and HP.
Expect those deals to be scarcer this holiday. Computer makers are struggling with a shortage of USB controllers, the chip that allows a computer to talk to the USB port, Moorhead said. So manufacturers prioritize those parts to produce more expensive laptops that generate higher profits, he said.
The result: You can expect deals on premium laptops, like MacBooks, but fewer discounts on the cheaper stuff.
There are some rare deals online for cheap notebooks – you just have to be proactive. Last week, Walmart sold an HP laptop for about $280, according to Pete King, a producer at Slickdeals, a website that tracks discounts online.
“If you haven’t started looking now, you’re already too late for the game,” he said.
Finally, the chip shortage has impacted analog chips, the circuits that gadgets rely on to manage power. The tech products most affected by this are audio accessories such as speakers and earphones, which rely on analog chips to lower their power consumption and connect wirelessly to notebook computers and smartphones.
However, the scarcity will not affect all audio accessories. Mr Moorhead noted that Sony and Apple are developing their own audio equipment chips, so people will probably have no problem buying luxury earphones from the big tech companies this holiday.
That’s good news for fans of AirPods, but bad news for TikTokers and Gen Zers who are actively trying to make less popular earphones fashionable.