Look around you, Black Friday 2021 has already started. Yes, we're already talking about Black Friday deals on PC Gamer, and we're not alone—it probably hasn't escaped your notice that everyone, from other media to the big retailers, is talking about early deals, whether they're tagged Black Friday or not.
That's because if you want to have any hope of getting your hands on the best tech before Christmas this year, it's probably going to be worth getting in early, and clicking that buy button as soon as possible.
Now, I know what you're thinking; of course I'm going to say that, I want eyeballs on PC Gamer's deals pages. While that is true, we've also been reporting on the chip shortage and supply chain crisis pretty much all year long, and it's not suddenly going to get better just because Santa's woken up.
Sorry, kids, Santa's struggling with distribution too—all your techie presents come in shipping containers, not on the back of an airborne sleigh these days.
In the before times—the long, long ago—you used to be able to wait until Black Friday and Cyber Monday for the big deals, confident that retailers were going to save their biggest discounts for the main event. You could also be confident that, with a month to go until Christmas Day, that you were pretty much guaranteed that whatever you ordered would easily ship in time for December 25.
But with shipping containers piling up in docks around the world, and ships being turned away from ports for various reasons, none of that can be guaranteed anymore.
The chances are that, if you're waiting for Black Friday itself for the big deals, you run the risk of not actually seeing hide nor hair of your purchases until well after the new year. And that's only if there's stock left by then.
The most visible result of the chip shortage and supply chain crisis for PC gamers is a lack of stock on the electronic shelves for some of the most important parts of our rigs. Graphics cards are the most obvious example—and if you want to know exactly why you still can't buy a new GPU, we've been speaking to the experts—but everything has been affected to a greater or lesser extent.
To the point where I'd suggest 'availability' is going to be a more vital watchword around Black Friday this year than the almighty 'deal'. Whether something can actually be bought at a decent price is going to be more important than how much of a discount you can dig up.
We recently spoke with Professor Thomas Goldsby, the Haslam Chair of Logistics at the University of Tennessee’s Master's of Science in Supply Chain Management online program, and a certified supply chain expert. His point is that we're going to need to be far more flexible this year.
“You know, you can't turn on the news without someone saying 'start your Christmas shopping now, because the shelves are going to be empty.' The truth is the shelves won't be empty,” says Professor Goldsby. “It's just that the things you might be looking for might not be in stock. If you're looking at exact products, you can't be as picky.
“If you're looking for a specific item, at a specific location, you're probably going to be challenged. You might have to choose a different item, choose a different location, you might have to go to the secondary market, and so we're just gonna have to be ready to make some substitutions and be flexible.”
I will admit this may sound pretty doom-laden, and like a sort of 'Buy, buy, buy! You must buy now!' kind of capitalist rant, but if there is something you have your heart set on this year—whether that's a piece of tech gratification for yourself or a gift for a loved one—then the recommendation is to shop early and be prepared to be flexible.
“The theme of this coming holiday season,” says Professor Goldsby, “is going to be flexibility and substitution, which is not something we as consumers have become very open to. I refer to today's consumers as diabolical.
“You know, we've all become little monsters.”
But that's only if you're after something specific and can't face the disappointment of not getting the one thing we desire, or not getting it in time.
If you're like a lot of us, and are just looking for some seductive random bargain to tempt you to open your wallet, Black Friday may still have enough capitalist juice left in it to scratch that retail therapy itch for the casual consumer.
Just be aware that you can't always get what you want, when you want it. Especially this year.