It’s the time of year when our inboxes are flooded with lots of discounts for Black Friday, Cyber Week and all the subsequent sales promotions.
But this year we are in a unique situation. We live in an era of scarcity driven by global chip shortages, widespread unemployment, and the effects of government-imposed lockdowns designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. It has disrupted global supply chains, made manufacturing difficult and restricted the shipment of goods around the world.
It now affects the types of technological products we can get for our loved ones this holiday season. Gaming devices like the PlayStation and Xbox consoles that have been in perpetual shortage for the past year will continue to be a challenge to find. And the list of hard-to-find items has gotten even longer, and includes Wi-Fi routers, cheap laptops, and audio equipment.
Shoppers who want 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, CEO of Moor Insights, a technology research firm. “Make the decision between saving some money or not getting the product at all.”
Here’s a guide to consumer electronics that will be hard to find this year.
Game consoles and advanced graphics cards
Let’s start with some of the most coveted and hard-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 in the past year.
Historically, some console manufacturers have limited the production of the machines to help create excitement for the products, game analysts said. But the chip shortage – and the increased demand for gaming devices as many people were stuck at home in the pandemic – has exacerbated the shortage.
Many big-box retailers sell the new consoles exclusively online, and when new PlayStation, Xbox and Switch consoles appear, they will be sold out within minutes. Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo have warned that the chip shortage could lead to supply constraints until 2022.
Chip shortages and overwhelming demand for gaming products have also led to perpetual shortages of high-end graphics cards that people use to upgrade their computers to run more powerful games, said Mr. Moorhead.
The game plan? Consider automation. Millions follow Twitter accounts that scan detail pages and tweets as soon as game consoles and graphics cards are in stock again. You can configure your Twitter apps to send a message to your phone as soon as those accounts are sent. I recommend following @mattswider, editor-in-chief of the blog TechRadar, which relies on resellers’ resources to post stock updates on game consoles and graphics cards.
On Black Friday, new Wi-Fi routers usually get big discounts. But we should expect fewer of these agreements this year.
This is due to a domino effect related to the lack of so-called legacy nodes, a miniature chip used to create wireless sensors in network equipment, said William Crockett, vice president of Tanaka Precious Metals, a component manufacturer. Because that component is not readily available, companies can make fewer routers. This then means that retailers are less likely to lower the prices of routers to avoid running out of them, he said.
Example: Last year, one of Amazon’s hottest Black Friday deals was a big discount to Eero, its popular Wi-Fi router. This year, Eero is conspicuously absent from Amazon’s list of top deals for Black Friday.
A spokeswoman for Amazon said the company had been planning promotions for Eero throughout the holiday season. So far, only the advanced 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 release a wealth of inexpensive laptops on Black Friday for under $ 400, including Chromebooks and notebooks from manufacturers like Acer, Dell and HP.
Expect these deals to be more sparse this holiday season. Computer manufacturers are struggling with the lack of USB controllers, the chip that allows a computer to talk to the USB port, said Mr. Moorhead. So manufacturers are prioritizing the parts for the production of 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 a few rare deals online for cheap notebooks – just be proactive. Last week, Walmart sold an HP laptop for about $ 280, according to Pete King, a maker at Slickdeals, a website that tracks discounts online.
“If you have not started looking now, you are already too late for the game,” he said.
Finally, the chip shortage has affected analog chips, the circuits that gadgets rely on to control power. The technological 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 notebooks and smartphones.
However, scarcity will not affect all audio accessories. Mr. Moorhead noted that Sony and Apple are developing their own chips for audio equipment, so people are unlikely to have a problem buying smart headphones from the big technology companies this holiday.
This is good news for fans of AirPods, but bad news for TikTokers and Gen Zers, who are actively trying to make less popular headphones fashionable.