When people think of microchips, they think of consumer electronics — but it was the auto industry that suffered most from the global chip shortage. Early on during the semiconductor crisis, experts warned of a retail tech-pocalypse, where people would be unable to find or be priced out of all the gadgets they needed for school, work and life.
Mostly, it never materialized.
Smartphones, for example, were one of the few bright spots on the most recent Consumer Price Index (CPI) report, falling in price by 16% on the year. But a few key tech categories rode the wave of inflation all the way to December, leaving buyers wishing they’d pulled the trigger earlier in the year when prices were still reasonable.
By the time January 2021 rolled around, microchips were not the only critical components slowing down TV manufacturing.
Starting in the third quarter of 2020, the cost of LCD panels rose by double-digit percentages for four quarters straight, according to Display Supply Chain Consultants (DSCC). At the same time, glass was getting more expensive, too — the year was barely half over when television prices started to climb.
Between January and June, the cost of a 65-inch UHD rose from $229-$272, according to DSCC. What had been a $179 55-inch UHD in January cost $222 in June.
High-end TVs cost 30% more than in the summer of 2020, according to Wired. Digital Trend reported that a 55-inch Hisense H8G going for $450 in May 2020 was selling for $800 in August 2021. TCL’s 55-inch 6-Series Mini-LED TV, which was selling for $650 in February, was going for $950 in August.
By October, InsideHook was reporting that heading into the holiday season, the average TV cost $137 more than it did on the way out of 2020 — and that’s about where it remains now on the way out of 2021. In the end, TV prices rose by 7.9% on the year, according to the CPI.
Laptop Price Tags Added 10% to Their Waistlines
Laptops, too, were hit hard by the chip shortage, and in June, the Wall Street Journal reported that laptops generally cost $50 more than they had in January. A gaming laptop by ASUSTek — an Amazon bestseller — had jumped from $900-$950. There wasn’t much relief on the other end of the price spectrum, either — the HP Chromebook had climbed from $220-$250 in the same time frame.
The story was a familiar one — chip shortages and shipping delays left producers unable to meet a wave of new COVID-inspired demand.
By the end of October, the average selling price of PCs was up by 10% compared to one year earlier, according to The Register. With just days left in the year, prices have leveled off some, but they haven’t gone down. In fact, high-end gaming laptops like those made by Razer are still going up.
Gaming Consoles Are Selling for Double Their Early-Year Prices
The chip shortage was especially damaging to the gaming industry — the most popular consoles have been in short supply all year long. The Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 both retail for $500 — or at least they’re supposed to. Here, too, it was the same story — a shortage of semiconductors caused a painfully short supply and sent prices skyward, where they remain.
By summer, bloggers were reporting that Walmart and other stores were selling both consoles for more than $1,000 — and that soon became commonplace. At the end of December, you’re still much more likely to see the PlayStation 5 selling for $750-$1,000 than anything approaching its quoted price of $499.
Routers require specialized miniature chips called legacy nodes, according to The New York Times, and just like gaming consoles — which also require specialty chips — routers have been in short supply all year long.
The difference is how retailers reacted.
The most popular gaming consoles have been selling out as soon as they’re in stock, and retailers jack up the price when they can get their hands on them. When it comes to routers, however, retailers didn’t want to sell out — but instead of hiking the price to avoid having their shelves cleared, they simply omitted routers from the big sales. From Black Friday through the end of the year, according to The NYT, you might not have noticed a direct price increase compared to January, but inflation can hide in plain sight. Although the price of routers hasn’t gone up since the start of the year, end-of-year consumers paid more simply by their omission from all the big sales.
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