PC & Laptops

The Pandemic has made it harder to buy a new laptop

The new 13-inch MacBook Pro hit shelves on May 4th. Kate Kozuch, a journalist, ordered one to replace her old, broken 2015 model. She was confused by the different add-ons and configuration options — “The numbers hurt my brain,” she told The Verge. But after much research, she finally settled on one.

When it came time to check out, however, Kozuch realized she might have to wait much longer than she’d hoped. Apple estimated that her unit would arrive between May 26th and June 2nd. It didn’t take quite that long, but it still took longer than anticipated. Kozuch got her MacBook on May 18th — two weeks after placing the order.

Robin Gloss, a college student, also ordered the new MacBook on May 26th. She hasn’t received it yet, but it’s supposed to come on June 10th. Gloss isn’t thrilled about having to wait that long; she’s worried that her 2015 MacBook Air will crash before it arrives. “It works, but barely,” she said. “It doesn’t have enough processing power to run the WordPress plugin I need.”

BJ Adams ordered a 15-inch HP Spectre x360 on May 3rd as a desktop replacement. HP said it would ship on May 29th, and arrive on June 4th. On June 1st, Adams asked for an update; the arrival date is now June 23rd.

Adams was so irritated that he considered canceling the order and going to Best Buy. “HP is doing bad,” he complained. “They need to get out of the laptop business.”

If you, like Gloss, Adams, and Kozuch, have shopped for a new laptop in the past few months and been met with multiweek shipping estimates and out-of-stock signs, you are not alone. Retail analytics firm Stackline found that in recent weeks, traffic to laptop product pages has grown 100 to 130 percent (year over year). Conversion rates (that is, the proportion of visitors to laptop product pages who actually purchase), conversely, have plummeted; they’re normally around 3 percent, but in mid-May they hit an all-time low of 1.5 percent. In other words: people are looking for laptops more, but they’re having trouble finding products in stock to actually purchase.

That’s because the COVID-19 pandemic has put two unique pressures on laptop manufacturers: higher demand and lower supply.

Sayon Deb, senior analyst at the Consumer Technology Association, says that outbreaks hit laptop manufacturers the hardest in the first few months of 2020, when cities across China were in lockdown. “Somewhere around the end of February was the last batch of shipments,” Deb said, referring to units coming to the US from Asia. “Around mid-February was when production was spinning down. It ground to a halt.”

hina’s lockdowns and quarantines have eased over the past few months — around 75 percent of the country was back at work by the end of March, according to McKinsey. But shortages continued, and even as supply chains ramp up again, it’s hard to say when they’ll be back at full capacity.

That’s partially due to the time it takes to transport laptop parts to manufacturing facilities. OEMs ship some components from outside of China, and those (due to their size) commonly travel by air. Gartner analyst Mikako Kitagawa estimates that around half of that cargo usually comes on commercial flights. The pandemic hasn’t been kind to those modes of transportation; countries around the world have restricted air travel, and airline capacity has crunched. Delta reduced its flights by 40 percent in March due to plummeting demand, while the International Air Transport Association projected that airlines could see between an 11 and 19 percent loss in global passenger revenues through the end of this year.