Pandemic creates longer waits for home appliances

Nedra Rhone
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Atlanta — Just a few weeks after closing on a new home in East Atlanta, Amy Miller and her husband decided to purchase a new washer and dryer. They ordered a top load washing machine and a dryer from Home Depot in mid-September, expecting the appliances to be delivered about a week after their scheduled move-in. But upon completing the order, they learned the appliances would take almost a month to get to their new home.

"When those dates came up, I was like are you kidding me?" Miller said. "I was taken aback. I was like how do they expect us to wash our clothes?"

Appliance retailers report having a hard time getting appliances because the pandemic has slowed manufacturing. Parts sales are up because people are repairing their current appliances more due to the shortage. (Dreasmtime/TNS)

Appliances are just one of many consumer items in short supply due to the coronavirus pandemic. Industry experts said back orders remain high after manufacturing plants experienced shutdowns, both in the U.S. and abroad. Increased demand and production slowdowns have resulted in six- to eight-week delays on some products, according to retailers.

"The customers are scratching their heads about how did COVID affect this?" said Jimmy Moore, a salesman at Bob Bailey's Appliance store in Stone Mountain, Ga. "When a plant shuts down, it never comes back up like it is supposed to. Now with social distancing, where they may have had 10 to 15 people on a line, now it is impossible ... you have five people doing that job."

Moore noted a facility in North Carolina that churned out 1,000 dishwashers a day pre-pandemic but is now down to about 200 per day. "What was 5,000 at the end of the week is now only 1,000, so you are 4,000 in the hole," he said.

Whitney Welch, spokeswoman for GE Appliances, said the company is fully operational. "We paused plant operations for one week at the beginning of the pandemic to enhance safety precautions inside our facilities. We have not shut down production since that time and are manufacturing appliances here in the U.S. around the clock," she said. But the company has seen record demand on certain product categories since COVID-19 began and people began spending more time at home.

Freezer sales outpaced supply beginning in March as consumers stockpiled goods, and demand remains at an unprecedented level, Welch said. Usage of appliances is higher than ever before as people have spent more time with their families under one roof cooking, cleaning and storing food. Additional interest in remodeling and home improvements has sparked orders as well. "Our supply chain is working and we have continued to produce, distribute, deliver and service appliances as an essential business during this time. As we work to meet demand, consumers may find that certain products are taking longer to be delivered," Welch said.

Moore has been sending notes to customers apologizing for the extensive delays and back orders, some of which may not be filled until the end of the year, he said. In order to help customers avoid long waits — especially those who have experienced an appliance failure and need an immediate replacement — Moore tells them right off which models the store can quickly locate.

In October, Consumer Reports found that among major appliance retailers such as Best Buy, Home Depot and Sears, almost a third of 24-inch dishwashers were out of stock, compared to about a fifth at the beginning of the year, according to Gap Intelligence, a market-research company. Thirty-seven percent of refrigerators of all types were unavailable on retailers' websites last month, which was about double the 19% seen in January.

Miller said she considered other options after learning about the long delays at Home Depot, including searching other retailer websites or purchasing a washer and dryer in-store and picking it up instead of having it delivered, but every option had a drawback — other stores had similar wait times and buying in-store meant accepting mismatched models or a smaller selection of brands.

In the end, she washed every item of clothing for her family of four before moving. Her backup plan to use the neighborhood coin laundry during off-peak hours never had to be implemented. They received their new appliances in late October.