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1 Dec 2021

Why you should care about the computer chip shortage - even if you're not buying a computer

Tech supply chains could face disruption for another year

A global shortage of computer chips might not sound like it's going to affect your life, particularly if you're not planning to buy a computer any time soon - but these chips are used in a diverse range of products, from cars and smartphones to washing machines and toys. As the Christmas shopping season begins, what impact might you see on the high street?

There are a number of reasons you might have less choice on shop shelves at the moment, from the shortage of HGV drivers to hold-ups at ports.

But one of the biggest problems facing supply chains is a pandemic-driven shortage of the silicon computer chips that make many tech products tick.

Here, we explain what's going on, and what it could mean for you.

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If you asked Santa for a PlayStation 5 this year, don't panic if he doesn't bring you one. You're (hopefully) not on the naughty list. It's just the chip shortage.

People have been struggling to buy PS5s ever since they launched, and what looked like supply and demand teething issues have continued for over a year.

In July, Sony CEO Jim Ryan told Reuters that being unable to meet demand 'makes [him] feel bad'. Things aren't looking much better today.

At the time of writing, the Amazon listing for the PlayStation 5 says: 'Currently unavailable. We don't know when or if this item will be back in stock.' They're also out of stock at specialist video game retailer Game, and at John Lewis.

People who want a PlayStation 5 have been glued to Twitter and online news sources for restocking announcements. The consoles often sell out quickly when they do return.

Bloomberg recently published a story titled 'It's going to get even harder to buy a Playstation 5', based on insiders revealing that Sony's target sales figures have been revised down due to component shortages.

Cars, TVs, phones and washing machines also affected

The chip shortage isn't just impacting games consoles. It could affect any product with a computer chip.

The automotive industry has been particularly badly hit, with car sales falling to record lows in the EU. A lack of new car stock has increased demand for used cars, boosting their prices as a result.

Manufacturers are looking for creative ways to circumvent the chip crisis. BMW is building some cars without touchscreens due to the shortage, according to AutoBlog. Ford has announced plans to develop its own chips in-house.

Prices could rise as a result of chip shortage

Experts say the continuing disruption could lead to price rises.

The British Retail Consortium's Andrew Opie told Which?: 'Issues in global shipping and the ongoing microchip shortages [are] making it more difficult for retailers to source products, as well as driving up costs, ultimately meaning consumers may end up having to pay more.'

Chip problems aren't expected to be resolved any time soon, with some saying they will last well into 2022 or even later. The CEO of computer chip manufacturer Intel told CNBC that 'we're not going to see supply-demand balance until 2023', though he did say things will get 'incrementally better' until then.

What's causing the computer chip shortage?

Though pandemic-related disruption is thought to be a leading cause, experts say that a number of other factors are also at play.

TechRadar has a good summary of what's going wrong. Contributing factors include smartphone manufacturers placing large orders of chips in 2018, a lack of investment, natural disasters, power outages, and the inherent complexity of creating something as complicated as a silicon chip.

It could last a lot longer, too. Just this week, the chief executive of Nissan told the BBC that he couldn't see an end to the shortage, and that the emergence of the new Omicron variant could 'add pressure' to manufacturers.

What can you do if the product you want is unavailable?

If the product you want to buy is out of stock, there are a few things you can do.

First, check Which?'s impartial reviews to see if any alternative products might meet your needs. We rigorously lab test items and check their durability so you can make a more sustainable choice that will last, meaning you may even end up with a better product than the one you originally wanted.

Then there's the second-hand market. You don't need to buy everything brand new, and second-hand or refurbished goods can offer better value for money than their shiny boxed counterparts. Just make sure you keep in mind your rights when buying used goods when you do it, and read our guides to buying second-hand or refurbished laptops and mobile phones first.

Finally, if you were simply planning to upgrade your current phone, games console or washing machine, you could just make do with your old one until the shortage has subsided.

This might involve getting it repaired or fixing it yourself. In many cases it'll be a more sustainable choice than buying something new.