School shopping is underway and it’s getting difficult, if not impossible, to find certain items—especially electronics. A few months ago, there was a quarantine-driven need for webcams and certain household items, now it’s tech to outfit your at-home classroom.
High on the list of in-demand items are laptops; even schools can’t get them. The top three US laptop makers (HP, Lenovo, and Dell) have a combined shortage of 5 million laptops for school districts. Low-range PCs of any size and shape are also selling out, as are low-cost Chromebooks. Printers are also hard to come by, as are flight sticks controllers for your after-school Microsoft Flight Simulator needs.
But are these items really impossible to find? It depends on where you look. You’ve probably heard friends lament their lack of availability, but when pressed on where they searched, they probably say one word: Amazon. We get it. Prime shipping means we tend to look there first, too. But there are a few ways to find the electronics, gadgets, and PCs you need right now.
Prepare to Pay Higher Prices
This is perhaps the only solution when it comes to the lack-of-laptops conundrum facing workers and students today. On an individual basis, it is easy to find a computer—as long as you’re willing to pay more for midrange or high-end devices. (As for buying in bulk, good luck.)
The upside to this approach rather than waiting for a laptop to show up from the school system is you own the computer outright, so you can do what you like to it. By paying more you probably bought a higher-end device that will last years, not just a school year.
The major downside: because you own it, you aren’t likely to get as much, or any, tech support from the school system or your office IT. Some may not let you even have access to select services. It’s worth a call to the tech people in charge before you plunk down the money.
Laptops and other devices break and get fixed, but sometimes people open a box, decide they don’t want it, and return it after minimal or no use. Those products, known as “refurbished” devices, are then resold by the manufacturer at a cheaper price. (Read all about them in 10 Things to Know Before You Buy Refurbished Electronics.)
It’s possible that Amazon has the best customer service, and (at least until COVID hit) the best shipping, but the best prices? Not always. There’s an entire ecosystem of software you can install, typically as a browser extension, that will tell you about better deals as you shop for products on Amazon or other sites. These tools may also help you find products Amazon and others no longer have in stock.
Extensions like WikiBuy (owned by Capital One) and Honey (owned by PayPal) will display competitor results atop an Amazon page. Both are powered by users who provide the best prices they see. So you can shop at Amazon, and still buy things Amazon doesn’t have in stock (if anyone has it).
There are also plenty of sites you can and should visit directly when seeking tech that may seem unfindable elsewhere. Do a search on desired laptop model at GoSale.com or Rakuten, and you’ll get a full list of options for each model, and a button to click to compare prices. Naturally, the results include several refurbs. But you may be surprised to see how many brand-new products show up for sale at places you never expected. With one search, I found laptops for sale at online camera stores.
Shop Obscure Online Stores
We’re conditioned in many ways to see Amazon, Walmart, Target, and Best Buy as the only places to shop for tech. Obviously, that’s not true. There are plenty of online outlets, whether you want to buy direct from the manufacturers like Apple, Samsung, Google, or Dell or utilize other retail outlets. The latter in particular might save you some money, and aren’t as likely to sell out instantly as the manufacturers and big-box stores are.
A few to consider are Newegg, TigerDirect, Micro Center, OutletPC, Discount Computer Depot, and that old West Coast staple, Frys.com. Don’t forget eBay, which is now much more of an online department store for thousands of resellers than an online auction house.
Subscribe to Deals
There are sites with entire communities devoted to promoting the best deals online. Slickdeals boasts 10 million users who up vote the best deals. BrickSeek focuses on brick-and-mortar stores (the name comes from the origins of collectors seeking out Legos). Our own sister site, Offers.com, has links to savings every day on all products, not just tech, with plenty of coupon codes to use when making a purchase.
You can also subscribe at some sites to find specific products as they become available. Even Walmart and Target will send you in-stock notifications on a lot of products. But branch out to the larger internet. Zoolert monitors products’ availability and lets you know immediate if one of your alert tracker items is in stock. NowInStock does the same. It has a special section on finding COVID-19-related out of stock items, but also can find your tech needs.
Sherin Shibu contributed to this story.