A lot of companies have been caught off guard by changes in our spending choices this year. Americans eager to travel and party after two years of staying largely at home are gorging on plane tickets and fancier clothes — and ignoring the patio furniture and soft pants that we splurged on in 2020.
Consumer electronics may be the flaming center of Americans’ flip-flopping shopping habits. Gadget buying has suddenly switched from hot to not, a change that will most likely bring pain and confusion for many companies — and potentially some great deals for people who still want to buy electronics.
In the early months of the pandemic, many of us were so eager to buy internet routers, laptops, video game consoles and other tech gear to keep us productive and cozy from home that some products were impossible to find. However, experts cautioned that people would definitely pull back on buying some types of gadgets until they needed them again.
The magnitude of change after two flush years of gadget purchases has surprised many people. From January through May, electronics and appliance stores make up the only retail category for which sales fell compared with the same five months of 2021, the Commerce Department disclosed last week. Best Buy said last month that purchases at its stores dropped across the board, especially for computers and home entertainment, and are likely to stay meh. And the research firm IDC expects global smartphone sales to decline this year, most sharply in China.
What’s bad for electronics manufacturers and stores could be good for us, but value hunters will need to be careful. Nathan Burrow, who writes about shopping deals for Wirecutter, the product recommendation service from The New York Times, told me that prices for some electronics are already being discounted. But a sale when inflation is at a 40-year high in the US may not always be a good deal. A discounted product might still cost more than similar models a few years ago, Burrow said.
The whipsaw in shopping habits has led Walmart, Target, Gap and some other retail chains to be stuck with too much of the wrong kinds of products. That’s true about some types of electronics, too, which means that more price chopping is likely during summer shopping “holidays” from Amazon, Target, Best Buy and Walmart.
Burrow predicts significant price breaks are coming for tablets, internet networking equipment, Amazon devices and some laptops including Chromebooks.
The research firm NPD Group said this year that consumer electronic sales would most likely decline in 2022 and again in 2023 and 2024 — but two previous bonkers years of electronics sales would still leave overall sales higher than they were in 2019. Despite the overall higher sales , this phenomenon of electronics sales unexpectedly going through the roof and then suddenly sinking is disorienting for gadget makers and sellers.
“It’s the unpredictability that makes everything worse,” said Jitesh Ubrani, a research manager at IDC.
Making long-term predictions is