Air fryers and big appliances are mainstays of Black Friday sales. But in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, they may be harder to find this holiday season.
The demand for items ranging from laptops to freezers has surged during the global health crisis that has largely shifted work, school and other aspects of daily life to Americans’ homes. And that’s led at times to overwhelmed supply chains and empty shelves.
So if you come across that gadget you’ve been searching for, you might want to buy it now to make sure you’ll have it in time to tuck under the tree, experts say.
“If you find it, it’s probably the right time to go ahead and get it because … there will be a little more scarcity than we’ve seen in the past,” says Rod Sides of Deloitte.
It’s not unusual for some products to be hard to find during the holiday season, when shoppers are clamoring for gifts and deals. But “during a holiday that’s impacted by COVID, there may be even more” shortages, says Karl Haller, Consumer Center of Competency leader and retail industry expert for IBM Global Business Services.
Some retail experts are optimistic that goods will be widely available.
Kinks in the supply chain have been largely worked out, says Jonathan Gold of the National Retail Federation, saying he expects retailers will be well stocked for the holidays.
“I think most of the product shortages were from earlier cycles in the year,” he says. And with factories opening across the globe “Retailers will be in good shape when it comes to holiday merchandise.”
But others are more cautious.
High-demand items like personal computers and Chromebooks may be hard to find at times, Haller says. And if you’re on the hunt for a big-ticket item like a new car, the particular model you want might not be immediately available.
Shoppers who wait too long to buy some smaller kitchen appliances may also be left in the lurch.
“Based on current consumer demand … we are likely to be short on a few of our key products by the end of the holiday season,” says Ben Gadbois, president and CEO of the Instant Pot maker Corelle Brands, though he didn’t specify which items might be harder to find.
This year, Corelle has seen “very strong demand” for its various brands, including Pyrex and Instant Brands, as people cook more and dine out less, Gadbois says.
Fridges, freezers in high demand
Bigger appliances are also flying out the door, when shoppers can find them.
Shipments of major appliances from factories and warehouses to retail and builder markets jumped 14.1% this quarter compared with the same period last year, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers.
Dehumidifier shipments rose 24.8%, microwaves spiked 26% and freezers soared a staggering 101.3%. Shipments of gas ranges and washing machines also rose.
At LG Electronics USA, big sellers this year include washers, refrigerators, ranges and dishwashers, as well as purifiers and “anything that contributes to better indoor air quality and better quality of life at home,” says John Taylor, the company’s senior vice president.
“Industry wide there are some shortages and we expect them to continue into the holiday season,” he added.
LG says if there are shortages, its supply pipeline won’t be the source of the problem. “In our case it’s strictly about demand which …is unprecedented,” Taylor says.
Multiple factors are feeding it, including the thriving housing market which is prompting buyers to purchase new appliances. People hunkered down at home are also “using their appliances more … and that ten or 20-year-old washing machine or fridge is being replaced more often,” he says.
Perhaps the biggest driver is shoppers wanting to upgrade their appliances to meet concerns of the moment, Taylor says. People want to buy a larger freezer to stock up on food, or they’re looking for additional sanitization features in a washing machine to boost cleanliness during a global health crisis.
With summer vacations, dining out, and concerts curtailed by the pandemic, some income used for those activities is also going toward home improvement, Taylor says.
As a result, retailers may offer fewer deals on appliances because discounts won’t be necessary to woo shoppers, Taylor says.
TV’s and computers have also been hard to keep in stock. Laptops and monitors sold out in the spring when many Americans began working or attending classes remotely to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. And TV sales were especially brisk in the summer as the homebound steadily streamed films and other entertainment.
But even if a particular LG laptop model isn’t available “consumers will have various options,” Taylor says. “We’re doing everything we can to make sure the pipeline is full … Our factories are working overtime.”
With toys, don’t delay
While the toy of the moment is always in danger of selling out over the holidays, heightened demand for gizmos and gadgets to entertain children stuck at home may make this year particularly tricky, says Adrienne Appell, spokeswoman for The Toy Association.
“We always advise parents to shop early if there is a must-have toy on their kids wish list,” she says, adding that there “definitely seems to have been an elevated demand … over the last few months.”
‘We will have the inventory’
Still, some retailers say not to worry about coming up empty-handed this holiday season.
Mark Breitbard, brand president for Gap, said this year brought “challenges across the board,” and some seasonal merchandise did arrive late. But long-standing relationships with vendors and a strong supply chain have “enabled us to navigate through it quite well.”