People’s shopping habits have shifted away from just buying bulk amounts of food during the pandemic to facing extended work-from-home periods, CommerceIQ CEO Guru Hariharan said.
“Now, I think people are slowly starting to realize this is a new normal,” he said. “They realize they need to get prepared for a new operating normal.”
For years, consumers have gravitated toward newer, smaller, more mobile devices for life on the move. Just three months ago, webcams were turning into relics of the past. Sure, YouTube influencers and avid workers-from-home used them, but most of us relied on our built-in laptop cameras and smartphones for the few video chats we engaged in.
But the coronavirus pandemic changed that as millions of people began to work from home and heavily rely on technology to keep in touch with family and friends.
It’s not just webcams. Monitors, keyboards and even office chairs became harder to find as people flocked to the Internet to buy them in numbers that manufacturers couldn’t have foreseen before the pandemic. At the same time, manufacturing plants in China and around the world have been closed intermittently because of coronavirus lockdowns.
Apple was one of the most visible tech companies affected by coronavirus supply chain disruptions. The company warned investors in mid-February that supply chain slowdowns would cause it to miss its financial expectations for the quarter. Apple said its production has resumed typical levels.
The overall laptop supply is improving, but it will take some time to get back to normal, analysts said. Laptops are one product line catching up after a shortage in March and April, said Mikako Kitagawa, an analyst with the consulting firm Gartner.
“The supply chain has been improved compared to then, but it’s not really a normal supply chain yet at moment,” she said.
Most laptop manufacturing is done in China, where the country was under varying stages of lockdown for months. Plus, components are often shipped on commercial airplanes, which have reduced flights. And, Kitagawa noted, even after the components get there, and enough people can get into work to assemble them, they still have to be shipped via ship around the world and face further quarantines according to different port regulations in each country.
While the supply chain is still recovering, demand for work-from-home gear is spiking.
Logitech, one of the most popular makers of webcams, said it experienced supply constraints after demand for the video cameras suddenly shot up in March. CEO Bracken Darrell told analysts last week it took weeks for production to get “almost” back to normal, and it has returned to full speed now.
“We are in catch-up on some categories that sold out during the late March time frame, but our supply chain is working well,” he said on the company’s quarterly earnings conference call.
Nearly all webcams are sold out on Logitech’s website, with notes that say they are “out of stock due to high demand.” Logitech is limiting some webcam models to two purchases per household — much as grocery stores did with toilet paper this spring — but those are sold out as well.
On e-commerce sites such as Amazon and Best Buy, name-brand webcams are back-ordered for four or more weeks or sold out entirely. Other third-party sites are selling webcams for nearly double their original prices.
(Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Linz Stanley saw the $70 Logitech model she had her eye on for as much as $150 from third-party sellers on Amazon as she searched for it earlier this month. Stanley works in marketing and is used to in-person events, but since the onset of social distancing, much of her work has been done by video call.
Her laptop camera setup just wasn’t working out, so she did her research, found the perfect camera and … couldn’t find it for a reasonable price anywhere online. The Logitech website noted it was back-ordered until August.
Luckily, Stanley is by now a pro at finding almost-sold-out items online. She had just snagged a Nintendo Switch by constantly refreshing multiple websites until it popped up on Best Buy, and bought two computer monitors from Costco by checking the website every day until they became available.
She used a tracker to get shopping alerts for the webcam, and checked the Best Buy website and app multiple times each day. She finally managed to buy one from Best Buy online for its original price. It was scheduled to be delivered Wednesday, but she just got a notification that it was pushed back to Friday.
Still, “I got lucky,” she said.