The Great Appliance Shortage of 2020

Appliance Shortage
Factory closures during the COVID-19 pandemic have caused a shortage of household appliances at retailers across the country. Stock photo courtesy of PhotoMIX Company.

Some families in Washtenaw County are facing the struggles of the recent appliance shortage. Here’s what to know and some advice from local families.

Remember the toilet paper shortage of Spring 2020?

Now, there’s a new nationwide shortage that is causing major problems for homeowners, retailers, and manufacturers. The shortage? Appliances. Industry experts are calling it the perfect storm of conditions that led to a disruption between supply and demand.

The shortage began when quarantined families were using their appliances more on a daily basis, causing wear and tear. Homeowners decided it was the perfect time to remodel kitchens. Others decided to purchase freezers to store food.

Inventories at the big box retailers quickly dwindled.

At the same time, factories were being shut down worldwide due to the pandemic. Parts from overseas became unavailable. When factories finally reopened, many appliance manufacturers were facing enormous backorders. Current projections are showing delivery dates that could push into the beginning of 2021.

If shoppers were thinking about waiting for Black Friday specials, they should think again.  Appliances may be available to order, but there are no guarantees that they will be delivered in time for the holidays.

Summer Bummer

The shortages first became evident this summer, when shoppers looking to replace appliances were shocked that they could not get quick deliveries.

Tonya Walder needed a new refrigerator in July after a summer storm caused power outages. Soon after the power outages, her refrigerator stopped working.

“We placed our order on July 19. We were told August 19 for delivery. It was not actually delivered until September 28,” Walder said.

In the meantime, Walder and her family had to scramble to make do until the new refrigerator arrived.

“We bought a dorm-sized fridge up from our basement and borrowed an additional dorm-sized one from friends. We have a full-sized freezer separate from the fridge that we utilized as well,” Walder said.

“First, we were told the delay was in getting the fridge from the manufacturer (Samsung), and that it was stuck overseas. Once the product arrived at the delivery hub, there were additional delays that we are guessing were staff-related,” she said. 

For Dani Johnson and her family, Labor Day seemed like a good time to take advantage of holiday sales.

“All of our appliances are starting to fall apart, and we thought we’d get a better deal if we replaced them all at once. We got a full kitchen set and washer and dryer,” she said.

Johnson was told that her appliances would be delivered in six to eight weeks.

“It has been six weeks now, and we haven’t heard anything about delivery yet.”

When Johnson asked for an update, she was told that the manufacturers have had huge delays due to COVID-19.

“Thankfully, all of our appliances are still limping along,” Johnson said. “I hope to be able to have the new ones before Thanksgiving.”

Short-Term Solutions

What can families do during this appliance shortage? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Repair before you replace: Can you repair the appliance at a reasonable cost? If so, you may be able to extend the life of that machine a little longer.
  • Rent: If you are waiting for an extended delivery, you may consider renting an appliance until replacements arrive.
  • Check the web: Sites like Craigslist and Nextdoor will often have listings for used but working appliances. Put the word out to friends and family on social media, and you may get offers from someone who has an appliance in their garage or basement that needs a new home.
  • Think outside the big box: Outlet centers will often sell scratch and dent appliances at reduced cost. Also, Habitat for Humanity ReStore offers appliances, with proceeds going to the local community builds.
  • Forgo the package deals: If you need a full appliance package, such as a washer/dryer combination, you may not be able to find a matching set as easily from one manufacturer. Do your research on brands and read reviews. You may be able to find similar finishes (stainless steel, black stainless, white, etc.) that will complement each other.
  • Get creative: Put all of those small kitchen appliances to use. Crock Pots, InstaPots, Air Fryers, toaster ovens, and countertop convection ovens may be able to fill the void until ovens or microwaves arrive. Try cooking new foods on the grill, like pizzas or skewered vegetables.