COVID-19 has just made it harder to buy a laptop

Looking for a decent laptop during the coronavirus? Good luck, you’ll need it.

By now, you’re resigned to the fact that you’re pretty much working from home until things get relatively better. Or you’re a student (or a parent) looking to get a decently priced laptop for the upcoming school year.

That’s the thing. It’s close to impossible to get an affordable laptop these days.

It’s not just happening here. In the U.S., students are facing a shortage of laptops—in particular, Chromebooks—as many districts move to reopen schools using fully remote or hybrid learning models.

In a statement, Acer America president Gregg Prendergast warned that they’re “not even close” to producing enough Chromebooks to satisfy remote learning needs by the time schools reopen this fall. He also noted that the demand is “historic,” as orders for hundreds of thousands of new devices are placed every week.

Even the British Virgin Islands have it tough. The small British territory in the Caribbean says that it’s having trouble getting 500 laptops in time for the new school year due to an increase in global demand.

“The whole world basically had to shift to online learning, everybody was buying up the laptops,” said Education Minister Natalio Wheatley.

So, what’s driving the shortage?

To understand why it’s that much difficult to buy a decently priced laptop these days, it’s best to look into how the pandemic caused an increase in demand for laptops, all the while grounding supply chains to a halt.

The coronavirus pandemic hit laptop manufacturers the hardest when China went on lockdown. “Somewhere around the end of February was the last batch of shipments [from Asia],” Sayon Deb, a senior analyst at the Consumer Technology Association, told1 the Verge. “Around mid-February was when production was spinning down. It ground to a halt.”

The initial effects of the shutdown weren’t felt at first, mainly because governments enforced what’s known as a cordon sanitaire to help keep their caseloads down. This also meant that schools and businesses were also shut down, with most looking at a possible resumption of normalcy at the time.

More than five months into the pandemic, businesses and schools are starting to grapple with the reality that COVID-19 might be here longer than expected. The Department of Education, for one, is looking to have classes start amid the pandemic. Meanwhile, the Commission on Higher Education has said that universities and colleges will reopen late August, as planned.

It’s the same story, even in other parts of the globe. In the U.S., President Donald Trump is pushing for schools to reopen in the fall, even with a caseload of over 5.4 million, as of Monday.

The sudden surge in demand now is a problem for most laptop manufacturers. For one, manufacturers in China aren’t still back at pre-COVID-19 capacity when it comes to producing laptop parts. Currently, around 75% of the country is back at work after lockdowns and quarantines were relaxed last April.

In addition, even if factories were able to return to full capacity, there’s still the problem of transportation. To note, a lot of OEM components travel by air—a mode of travel hit hard by the pandemic—to factories in China. Once the laptops are assembled and shipped to the U.S. (or the Philippines), they now face delays from COVID-19 disruptions in logistics, travel and, ultimately, delivery. (Read: Are Filipino students ready for online learning?)

Stephen Baker, an industry adviser at NPD Group, says that the pandemic created a demand for laptops that’s so huge, supply chains aren’t able to cope.

“You can’t just decide today you’re gonna build one and sell it tomorrow,” Baker added. “You don’t plan for sales to go up 40 percent when sales are going down every week by 30 percent.”

If you’re looking to buy a laptop, your best shot of getting one is to be flexible. Sure, a brand-name laptop is great, but it may be time to look at other options for your desired price point. You can even go for desktops and pre-builts, as these offer similar (or even better) specs.

Ralph Gurango

explainer | newsman | jrpg adventurer

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