Gadgets were hot. Now they are not.

Many companies are surprised this year by changes in our spending choices. Americans who are ready to travel and party after two years of staying home for the most part, throw in airline tickets and more luxurious clothing – and ignore the patio furniture and soft pants we picked out in 2020.

Consumer electronics may be the flaming center of Americans’ flip-flopping shopping habits. Buying gadgets has suddenly shifted from hot to not, a change that will likely bring pain and confusion for many businesses – and possibly some great deals for people who still want to buy electronics.

In the early months of the pandemic, many of us were so enthusiastic about buying internet routers, laptops, video game consoles and other technical gear to keep us productive and sociable from home that some products were impossible to find. However, experts warned that people would inevitably back down when buying certain types of gadgets until they needed them again.

The extent of change after two flush years of gadget purchases has surprised many people. From January to May, electronics and appliance stores form the only retail category for which sales fell compared to the same five months of 2021, the Department of Commerce revealed last week. Best Buy said last month that purchases in its stores are dropping across the board, especially for computers and home entertainment, and are likely to stay the same. And research firm IDC expects global smartphone sales to decline this year, most sharply in China.

What’s bad for electronics manufacturers and stores may be good for us, but value hunters will have to be careful. Nathan Burrow, who writes about store offers for Wirecutter, the product recommendation service of The New York Times, told me that prices for some electronics are already being discounted. But selling when inflation is at a 40-year high in the US may not always be a good deal. A discount product could cost even more a few years ago than similar models, Burrow said.

The whipsaw in shopping habits has left Walmart, Target, Gap and some other retail chains stuck with too many of the wrong types of products. That’s also true of some types of electronics, which means more price cuts are likely to occur during summer shopping “holidays” from Amazon, Target, Best Buy and Walmart.

Burrow predicts that major price breaks will occur for tablets, Internet networking devices, Amazon devices and some laptops, including Chromebooks.

Research firm NPD Group said this year that consumer electronics sales are likely to decline in 2022 and again in 2023 and 2024 – but two previous years of electronics sales would leave overall sales even higher than they were in 2019. Despite overall higher sales , This phenomenon of electronics sales that unexpectedly goes through the roof and then suddenly sinks 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 difficult for manufacturers, retailers and buyers of electronics. Some executives have said that worldwide shipping and the availability of essential components such as computer chips may never be normal in 2019. Select electronics such as super-low-priced TVs and laptops could be eliminated for good because manufacturers and retailers were hooked on higher profits from expensive products.

In the electronics industry, experts told me there were talks about how you can do things differently to prepare for potential future crises, including by spreading more gadget manufacturing to countries other than China. It is not clear how our spending could shift again in response to inflation, the government’s efforts to cool rising prices or a potential recession.

For a time, people in rich countries grew accustomed to a steady stream of cheap and abundant electronics, furniture, clothing, and other goods, thanks to interconnected worldwide factories and shipping. The pandemic and the wackiness that it created in supply chains have made some economists and administrators rethink the status quo.

It is possible that the ups and downs of electronics sales since 2020 will resolve themselves in a few years. Or maybe consumer electronics are a microcosm of a world changed by the pandemic that can never be the same again.

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  • A rural town in California is divided on Amazon package delivery by drones: “I do not want drones flying around my house – we live in the country,” one Lockeford, California resident told The Washington Post. (A subscription may be required.)

    Related from On Tech last week: Where are the delivery drones?

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You should read the article by my colleague Sarah Lyall about Wasabi, the semi-retired Pekingese champion who does not play fetch, run hard or do anything other than enjoy his life.


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