It’s that time of year when our inboxes are flooded with bountiful discounts for Black Friday, Internet Week, and all subsequent sales promotions.
But this year, we are in a unique position. We live in an age of scarcity driven by global chip shortages, widespread unemployment, and the effects of government-imposed shutdowns aimed at halting the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. This has disrupted global supply chains, made manufacturing difficult, and disrupted the shipping of items around the world.
This is now affecting the kinds of tech products we can get for our loved ones this holiday season. Game consoles like the PlayStation and Xbox Console, which have been in perpetual shortages for the past year, will still be hard to find. And the list of hard-to-get items has grown even longer, to include 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,” said Patrick Moorhead, CEO of technology research firm Moor Insights. “Make the decision between saving a little money or not getting the product at all.”
Here’s a hard-to-find consumer electronics guide this year.
High-end gaming consoles and graphics cards
Let’s start with some coveted and hard-to-buy tech products: Sony’s PlayStation 5, Microsoft’s Xbox Series X, and the new Nintendo Switch, which were nearly impossible to find on store shelves last year.
Historically, some console makers have restricted production of machines to help spark excitement for products, game analysts said. But chip shortages – and a growing demand for gaming consoles as many people are stuck in their homes due to the pandemic – have exacerbated the scarcity.
Many major retailers sell new consoles exclusively online, and when new PlayStation, Xbox and Switch consoles appear, they sell out within minutes. Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo have warned that chip shortages could lead to supply restrictions until 2022.
Mr. Moorhead said the shortage of chips and the huge demand for gaming products has also led to a permanent dearth of high-end graphics cards, which people use to upgrade their PCs to run more powerful games.
game plan? Consider automation. Millions follow Twitter accounts checking retail websites and tweeting as soon as game consoles and graphics cards are back in stock. You can set up Twitter apps to send a notification to your phone as soon as these accounts are published. I recommend to follow Tweet embed, is the editor-in-chief of the TechRadar Blog, which relies on sources at retailers to publish stock updates on game consoles and graphics cards.
On Black Friday, new Wi-Fi routers usually get big discounts. But we should expect fewer such deals this year.
This is due to the domino effect associated with a shortage of so-called legacy nodes, a microchip used to create wireless sensors in networking equipment, said William Crockett, vice president of Tanaka Precious Metals, a component maker. Since this component is not readily available, companies may make fewer routers. That means retailers are unlikely to cut prices for routers to avoid running out, he said.
Case in point: Last year, one of Amazon’s hottest Black Friday deals was a huge discount on Eero, the popular Wi-Fi router. This year, Eero was conspicuously absent from Amazon’s list of the best deals for Black Friday.
An Amazon spokeswoman said the company had planned promotions for Eero throughout the holiday season. So far, only 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 event that the product goes on sale on Black Friday, which is highly unlikely, you can ask the retailer to retroactively adjust the price or return the item and buy it at a lower price.
Retailers typically release a large number of low-cost laptops on Black Friday priced under $400, including Chromebooks and laptops from manufacturers like Acer, Dell, and HP.
Expect these deals to be even rarer this holiday. Computer makers are short of USB controllers, Moorhead said, the chip that allows a computer to talk to a USB port. So manufacturers are prioritizing those parts to produce more expensive laptops that bring in higher profits, he said.
The bottom line: You can expect deals on premium laptops, like MacBooks, but you can expect even smaller discounts on cheaper stuff.
There are a few rare online deals for low-cost laptops – you just have to be proactive. Last week, Walmart sold an HP laptop for $280, according to Pete King, a producer at Slickdeals, a website that tracks online discounts.
“If you haven’t started looking now, you’re already late for the game,” he said.
Finally, the lack of chips has affected analog chips, the circuits on which power management gadgets depend. 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 laptops and smartphones.
However, the rarity will not affect all audio accessories. Mr. Moorehead noted that Sony and Apple are developing their own chips for audio devices, so people probably won’t have a problem buying luxury earphones from big tech this holiday.
This is good news for AirPods fans, but bad news for TikTokers and Gen Zers who are actively trying to make the lesser-known earbuds trendy.