Masks may be coming off in many locations, but if you’re shopping for a large appliance right now, it can feel like early COVID-19 times. That’s because supplies of major kitchen and laundry appliances, hurt last spring by supply-chain and manufacturing backups, still aren’t back to normal at big-box stores and independent retailers.
“The shortages are still acute,” says David MacGregor, an appliance-industry analyst at Longbow Research.
Retailers are waiting five to six weeks or longer for their orders from manufacturers — only a slight improvement over the seven- to eight-week holdups last spring, he says. At the same time, many consumers are anxious to buy.
“For Memorial Day, we’re not going to see major, deep discounts,” says Mark Davis, an analyst covering large appliances for Gap Intelligence, a market research company.
In fact, don’t expect prices to drop any time soon, as experts expect supply shortages to continue for the foreseeable future.
“My industry contacts speculate the availability issues will extend through the end of 2021,” MacGregor says.
Why the holdup?
This season’s backlog stems from manufacturer delays that began early in the pandemic, plus some new problems with the appliance supply chain.
Parts makers worldwide are still maintaining COVID-related safety protocols, which can limit their production. A shipping-container shortage, clogged ports on the West Coast and a fluke accident in March that blocked a major shipping route haven’t helped matters.
“Things were getting better, and then someone decided to block the Suez Canal,” says Ken Miele, CEO of Appliance Dealers Cooperative in New Jersey, which distributes appliances from manufacturers to 210 independent retailers.
Demand for new appliances rose last spring and remains high, as many homeowners have replaced or upgraded refrigerators, freezers, washing machines, and other big-ticket items. Unexpected accelerations in buying and building homes have contributed to the buying frenzy. Tax refunds and stimulus checks have further fueled spring spending.
“Demand is as high for major appliances as it’s ever been,” Davis says.
What you can do
Memorial Day discounts — typically between 35% and 40% off the manufacturer’s suggested retail price — will be reduced this year, MacGregor says. And promotions, in general, won’t be applied to as many products.
“Why discount something that consumers are lining up and waiting five to six weeks to buy?” he asks.
That doesn’t mean you won’t find something suitable.
“The situation is not so dire that people will have to go without a refrigerator if they really need one,” Davis says. “But they may not get it at the price they want to pay.”
But you can still negotiate on other aspects of your purchase, such as fees for delivery; installation and disposal; and associated parts like hoses and electric cords.
“Some of our independents are doing that,” Miele says. “Our guys want the business, so they’re going to make sure the customers are happy.”
Here’s a breakdown of simple tactics, whether you need a replacement right away — or you can wait a bit.
You need it now
- Hone your search on big-box websites. If you want to shop a major chain, take advantage of any search tools that let you quickly find what’s in stock locally and available for delivery now.
- Consider substitutions. A recent search for Bosch dishwashers — many of which do well in CR’s tests — showed that a popular stainless steel model wasn’t available at a local Home Depot. But the same model was in stock in white.
- Try an independent dealer. Independents often can match big-box prices and have a bead on supply that’s at least as good as what the major chains have. Plus, because they typically don’t depend on third-party delivery services, they can often be more exact on when you’ll get your machine. They also can offer perks like in-house service or a loaner while you wait for your new machine.
You can wait
- Sign up for big-box-store alerts. Some chains, such as Home Depot and Lowe’s, let you set up notifications that will be sent when your favored model arrives.
- Get on an independent dealer’s waiting list. “We’re getting a good supply of product,” Miele says. “We’re just filling orders more slowly than before. When you go shopping today, in four to six weeks you’ll probably have that washer and dryer.”