While Amazon has traditionally been a one-stop shop for tech gear, its mid-April delays are making other retailers viable options for getting what you want with a shorter lead time. Online stores like Newegg and B&H are stepping up, alongside (gasp!) actual brick-and-mortar stores like Best Buy and Office Depot.
Alas, the old way of buying tech—looking for the absolute lowest price—is being set aside, as consumers are willing to pay a bit more for any products actually in stock. While we can’t guarantee a particular retailer will have the specific product you’re looking for, all of the ones we checked appeared to have a decent assortment of items in stock that we haven’t been able to get through Amazon.
Why you can’t find anything on Amazon
The watchword right now isn’t so much price as availability. According to retail analyst firm NPD, productivity hardware saw “historic” sales increases over the first two weeks of March, as more regions or entire states started issuing shelter-in-place orders. NPD vice president and technology analyst Stephen Baker noted that sales of computer monitors to consumers almost doubled during the first two weeks of March, versus a year ago. Mice, keyboards, and notebook PC sales increased by 10 percent. Businesses are buying, too: Corporate notebook sales were up 30 percent in the last week of February, and then 50 percent for the first two weeks of March.
The buying spree has put a severe and unexpected crimp in the tech supply chain. Notebooks and monitors are still shipping from Amazon, though the company has said it’s prioritizing household goods. A survey of Amazon products PCWorld recently conducted showed a wide swath of tech products delayed until late April, and that’s still the case, generally. We are seeing more short-term availability of tech goods than before, though not on a par with Amazon’s typical performance.
Newegg: A good place to start
Newegg is making an aggressive pitch to replace Amazon as the one-stop shop for tech gear during the work-from-home mandates. “Newegg is very much open for business with little to no interruption,” said Anthony Chow, the global chief executive of Newegg, when asked for comment. “Sales across the board—especially tech products—are up substantially in recent weeks. In light of that, we’ve been working to secure even more inventory to keep up with the demand, much of which stems from those who need hardware and other products to work from home.”
Like Amazon, Newegg is a storefront for many sellers, and that’s likely why Newegg’s inventory is broader and more available right now across a variety of categories than it is at other retailers. Newegg has built in quite a bit of wiggle room, though.
Unlike Amazon, Newegg doesn’t guarantee its shipping dates. It offers only a window within which “most customers” will likely receive their products. In the example below, for instance, Newegg merely says that “most customers” will receive their webcam shipment within 6 to 16 days.
At least Newegg’s promising you can actually buy tough-to-find products like webcams, which is further than you’ll get sometimes on Amazon or via other retailers like Office Depot. Newegg’s Chow said his company was well-sourced to keep up with demand.
“Our supply chain is distributed and durable, which means we’re able to source the tech products customers are looking for, and ship them on time,” Chow explained, adding that Newegg was a source for other channels, too. “In many cases,” Chow said, “brands that are having trouble selling through other distribution channels are coming to us to help them meet this growing demand, knowing that we’re able to fulfill orders as usual, even in the face of unprecedented circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 crisis.”
Best Buy: Curbside pickup means quick availability
Historically, the showcase for in-store technology has been Best Buy, and its physical locations continue to play a pivotal role. The company is offering either curbside pickup (instead of coming into the store) or deliveries to your home from local warehouses.
Best Buy has its strengths. If you’re willing to buy one of its Insignia brand USB-C hubsRemove non-product link, for example, that in-house brand shows more availability than name brands. Those name brands are where Best Buy suffers: Whether it’s just demand or a strain on its supply chain (or both), I found a number of products at my local Bay Area Best Buy were simply sold out. (Best Buy will sometimes append a note that the product is unavailable within a certain number of miles from your location.)
In general, though, at press time Best Buy carried a number of USB-C hubs with immediate availability. Notebook PCs were plentiful, available either in-store or within three days if my nearby store was sold out. (Occasionally, laptops were available in another store about 10 miles away.) Best Buy listed numerous monitors, though shipping lead times were about a week. And if you need an HDMI cable—the sort of low-value necessity Amazon is forgoing right now—Best Buy seems to have plenty, such as this Insignia two-pack of six-foot Ultra HD HDMI cables for $40Remove non-product link, either in-store now or within a few days.
The big boxes: Target, Walmart
Don’t forget about Target and Walmart. Though the physical Target store’s electronics section is just a sliver of shelf area, the Target website’s Computers & Office page offers an easily navigated arrangement of popular tech products.
The estimated date of delivery isn’t among the information Target displays in its grid of products, unfortunately. Antonline handles quite a bit of Target’s fulfillment, however, and any Target listing with “antonline” as the partner seems to stand a good chance of being available. We found a surprisingly broad range of monitors available, such as a Dell UltraSharp 24-inch, 1920×1200-pixel LCD on sale for $189Remove non-product link, all scheduled to arrive within 7-10 days.
Walmart also appears to be using its supply chain to its advantage, with either direct shipping or ship-to-store options available. Unfortunately, shipping availability isn’t highlighted on the first grid of products you’ll see, forcing you to dive into each product to check whether it’s in stock.
Fortunately, it usually is, where laptops and Chromebooks were concerned—though, oddly, some of its surprisingly good Motile laptops didn’t have a shipping date attached. The site offered a broad selection of available USB-C hubs, such as thisAnker 7-in-1 USB C Hub AdapterRemove non-product link, even though the category seemed scarce on Amazon. I found a decent monitor availability at my local store, too. Every external hard drive I checked was in stock and would ship within a week, if not sooner.
Staples, Office Depot, OfficeMax: Don’t sleep on these giants
Although traditional office-supply retailers carry tech necessities, most enthusiasts shop elsewhere unless they need a printer or an office chair. Adjust that attitude. Just like a bodega or rural market may hold an undiscovered trove of toilet paper, these stores may conceal a cache of tech essentials.
Remember, too, that these retailers are often offering curbside pickup: Pay ahead of time, pop the trunk, and bring some gloves. (A nice Office Depot employee put a friend’s order in the back of their trunk so they didn’t even have to to get out of the car.) Staples will ship for free with no minimum, as well as offer curbside pickup in most locations. Office Max/Office Depot (Office Depot bought OfficeMax in 2013, so they’re the same store) want you to pay at least $45 for next-day shipping.
Office Depot/Office Max has a big kink to work out of their database, though: What they promise on the product page isn’t backed up by their inventory. Take a Dell Inspiron l found. Oh, store pickup is available? And I can get it today? Nope. Click through to the product page, and Office Depot pulls a bait-and-switch: The Inspiron is only available for in-store pickup…but it’s not available for pickup within 100 miles.
In other examples, I found a few “in-store” pickups that would require a 20-minute drive to purchase, especially in laptops. The general inventory of home-office tech like external hard drives, mice, keyboards was abundant. Monitors, though, seemed to be non-existent, at least among the five options I chose. Printers and especially ink were in stock.
(Be aware that Office Max/Office Depot and Staples also sell paper and cleaning products, similar to the cleaning aisles in your grocery store. Yes, they sell toilet paper; my local stores were completely sold out, but maybe you’ll have better luck.)
You won’t waste quite as much time buying at Staples. Staples does tell you clearly whether a product is in stock, though it makes you click the “1-Hour pick-up” button before it checks inventory. If Staples then makes you check other stores, it returns only locations where the item is available. Office Depot/OfficeMax make you scroll through store after store, even if none have the item in stock.
Staples currently delivers for free, with no minimum charge. Unfortunately, there’s often a disclaimer that accompanies the standard “delivered FREE in 3-5 business days:” “Due to high demand, delivery may take longer than expected.” How long? Staples doesn’t tell you, at least not on the product page.
I saw decent availability of notebook PCs for delivery (in about 3-4 days) and in-store pickup. Monitors were somewhat difficult to find, though available. Staples offered one-day delivery of computer mice and keyboards, even an antimicrobial mouse-and-keyboard comboRemove non-product link I would have sworn would be out of stock. One-day delivery was typical for external hard drives. USB-C hubs seemed to require about a week for shipping, through they were available.
B&H: Crystal-clear inventory and shipping data
We routinely feature consumer electronics retailer B&H in our daily deals, but the company (which is privately held and has one store in New York City, along with a bustling online store) probably doesn’t have the name recognition it deserves. It’s worth checking out, especially in these times of scarcity, as the company seems to have a good handle on its inventory and delivery data.
You’ll find ship dates clearly listed, with clear communication of when the product will ship and when you can expect it—well, except for the featured products at the top of the page. We found a decent amount of inventory across a number of different product lines, and “request stock alert” notifications that you could sign up for. And if you’ve become numbed by scrolling through lists of “sold out” notifications (looking at you, Best Buy) B&H is one of the retailers that seems to prioritize showing what it does have, versus what it doesn’t.
B&H’s virtual shelves have been picked over somewhat. While its site listed a bunch of “work laptops,” the low-cost “basic laptops” section featured a number of “out of stock” notifications. Several Chromebooks required a “special order” with 7-14 days to ship. At press time, a few low-cost monitors were available, though most were back-ordered and expected to arrive within a few weeks. There were plenty of USB-C hubs at low to moderate prices, like this EZQuest 8-port hub on sale for $60Remove non-product link.
Note that response time may slow during Shabbat (sundown Friday to sundown Saturday), the weekly day of rest in the Jewish faith; and the entire business closes down for Passover, April 8-16 in 2020. Get in those orders now!
Many of us have grown used to going to Amazon for pretty much everything. That popularity turned into a liability when eager shoppers cleaned out the inventory of highly desired tech items. It actually hasn’t been that hard to find most of these sought-after items via other sites and even physical stores—perhaps a lesson in growing too dependent upon any one source. Stay calm and shop around…and let us know if you find any TP, will you?
As PCWorld's senior editor, Mark focuses on Microsoft news and chip technology, among other beats. He has formerly written for PCMag, BYTE, Slashdot, eWEEK, and ReadWrite.