As people rush to snap up their Black Friday deals, there are mounting worries that some gadgets won’t be available for Christmas.
Silicon, which is in most products, is in short supply because of high demand and manufacturing problems since the start of the pandemic.
The world now faces one of the most extreme chip shortages it has seen.
It means that this year, people may be disappointed when it comes to giving and receiving tech as presents.
Gamers face disappointment
According to technology experts Trusted Reviews, the Nintendo Switch is the UK’s most wanted piece of tech this year.
Earlier this month, Nintendo revised its sales forecast because of “the effects of the global semiconductor shortage”.
Chip designers ARM warned the scarcity could delay Christmas gifts like the Switch being delivered on time and said that, in some instances, the wait for chips is taking 60 weeks.
The PS5 and the Xbox Series X and Series S have been extremely difficult to buy since they launched last year. Demand for these new consoles would have been high regardless of the chip shortage. When they are occasionally restocked, they often sell out in minutes.
The situation has created a community of console hunters who aim to identify those rare times when stock is delivered, so they can pass the news on to their followers.
One is YouTuber Jake Randall, who says he has contacts with many employees across various retailers, who tell him when new batches are going into shops.
He also looks for clues on websites, such as Amazon talking about special deals for consoles for Prime customers which can be swiftly followed by new stock appearing online.
Jake told BBC’s World Service Tech Tent: “It’s extremely difficult to get a games console right now. This is probably the hardest it’s ever been – even more so than launch day or even earlier in the year.
“A lot of people have waited to get one because they thought it would get easier, but these companies cannot manufacture anywhere near enough to meet demand.”
The market is not helped by a community of people who use bots to buy up consoles and sell them at inflated prices, he added.
Smartphone supplies also hit
Apple’s iPhone is also a much wanted gift for Christmas, after its latest generation model was released in September.
The company recorded a 54% increase in revenue in the first three months of 2021, when compared with the same period last year.
But it faced “larger than expected supply constraints” between June and September, and said that the chip shortage is now affecting “most products”.
Apple chief executive Tim Cook previously warned investors that it could affect sales of the iPhone and the iPad.
There are less handsets available too. Apple had originally planned to produce 90 million iPhones in the final months of this year, but cut that figure by 10 million because there were not enough available parts.
There are also reports that Samsung and OnePlus are struggling to keep up with demand for their phones.
Earlier in the year, Google was forced to limit its Pixel 5a launch to only the USA and Japan.
Good news if you want a laptop
There is some good news though, as the big online retailers do seem to have stock of both laptops and tablets.
The pandemic created huge demand for laptops, because people needed kit to work from home.
Tech company Philips also said memory chip producers were not able to keep up, and that ships transporting products were backed up in ports.
Laptop manufacturers like Dell, Acer and HP say that they are selling models as fast as they can make them, and with the recent launch of Windows 11, competition for stock is even fiercer.
However, Argos has assured its customers that they will have access to a range of deals and products, although it made no guarantees.
“Availability in some product categories may vary, but alternatives are available and stores continue to receive deliveries daily,” a spokesperson said.
And Currys said it has been “working hard” to ensure that its customers can get hold of the goods they want.
“Thanks to our preparations and strong relationships with the biggest brands, we already have more stock in the business than we did last year,” a spokesperson told the BBC.
“There are inevitably some products that will be hotter than others, but we’re confident we’ll have plenty of choice for everyone.”
When will this shortage end?
Experts have predicted the shortage could go on for another year or so.
Pedro Martins, co-founder of IT company Totality Services, said: “The reality is, the silicon chip shortage has been ongoing for some time now, it just wasn’t visible to the general public.
“It’s more prominent now because of the sheer volume of user devices that require chips. In the past it was mainly servers, workstations and laptops that needed the chips, that’s no longer the case.
“The reality is, no-one actually knows when the shortage will end, but it will without a doubt improve in the short term.”