First it was toilet paper—now we're running out of fridges. Here's why

Ronnie Koenig
Paige Smock | Twenty20

If you're looking to buy a new fridge you may be out of luck. Earlier in the pandemic, there was a run on toilet paper. Now it seems that customers looking to buy a refrigerator are facing long waiting times as models are back-ordered across the country. There are also shortages for other major appliances including dishwashers, dryers and some microwaves.

John Taylor, senior vice president of LG Electronics USA told TODAY Food that the industry as a whole is experiencing unprecedented demand when it comes to major appliances. "There are a variety of factors largely related to coronavirus," he said.

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"People are spending more time at home and we've seen a record number not just for fridges but dishwashers, washing machines and dryers. If appliances are 15 to 20 years old, the more people they use them, the more likely they need to be replaced."

Taylor said that in lieu of spending on family vacations, dinners out or movies and concerts, people are looking to invest in their homes and focus on energy savings.

"When you're looking at how to invest in your home, appliances are at the top of the list," he said.

Taylor said there has been an industry-wide disruption in the supply chain, from factories to warehouses, though he noted that LG has mostly avoided major disruptions, but the specific model you want may not be available.

With many businesses closing due to COVID-19 and the public spending less due to layoffs and unemployment, stores have had a tricky time predicting what amount of product they need.

Coronavirus has also slowed manufacturing and created problems with shipping.

"There are supply chain challenges across the globe whether because of people not being able to work to manufacture the items or because they can't physically ship units from a warehouse," Sara Skirboll, shopping and trends expert for RetailMeNot told TODAY Food. "With so many people spending most of their time in their home, a lot of folks are upgrading appliances or redecorating their homes, so the spike in appliances isn't surprising."

Howard Glickman, appliance advisor at Airs Appliances in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania told TODAY Food that he is seeing a serious shortage of fridges, and the same goes for his competitors.

"All refrigerators are on backorder and in order to get one, customers need to order and pay for them in advance," he said. "The orders are being filled on a first come, first served basis. I have backorders from May that have still not come in and as a matter of fact, some expected deliveries are even now scheduled for January and February of 2021."

Glickman said that the reason there are no fridges to be had has less to do with demand and everything to do with the supply chain.

"There's no supply chain," he said. "So if you order a fridge the manufacturers are working at 25-50 percent capacity, there's a problem," he explained, saying that due to coronavirus factories are working with limited help. "The imports are taking forever. It's a supply chain issue."

Glickman said that the shortage is across the board, from lower end models to high end. "People order a $10,000 fridge and have been waiting since May," he said.

As for how customers are responding, Glickman said there's nothing they can do right now.

"They wait," he said. "What can they do? They can call around but the other dealers are telling the same story."

One way some customers are dealing with the shortage is by getting resourceful and repairing their old appliances. Glickman said they often go to part houses for the items they need to keep their food cool.

"I would love to be in the compressor business right now," he said.

Looking ahead to Black Friday, Taylor said that he expects to see fewer deals to be had when it comes to major appliances.

"We anticipate industry-wide that there will be fewer promotions around home appliances as a simple matter of supply and demand," he said.

Still, Skirboll said there are still ways for discerning shoppers to save big on Black Friday.

"The good news for shoppers is that we're moving into the holiday shopping season which means great deals. If you're buying big ticket items this season, whether it's an appliance or a tv — be mindful of new increased shipping fees with major carriers. Instead of ordering items like these online, especially if they're heavy, consider taking advantage of 'buy online, pick up curbside' which is a safe alternative to shopping in the store, but you're still able to transact online and take advantage of deep discounts."

The article "First It Was Toilet Paper, Now We're Running Out of Fridges" originally published on TODAY.

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