The Surprising Reason It’s So Difficult to Complete a Kitchen Renovation Right Now—and How to Get Around It

A combination of decreased supply and increased demand has created a shortage in one major aspect of kitchen renovations. But there are ways to prevent it from derailing your project.

By Savannah Sher | Updated Feb 10, 2021 10:36 AM

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kitchen renovation in progress

While being confined to their homes due to COVID-19, many people planned renovation projects—only to encounter issues when trying to purchase new appliances. That’s because, due to a number of combined factors, the pandemic forced changes in industries around the world, leading to a significant appliance shortage in 2020 that has carried over into the new year. Read on to learn more about the shortage, and how to successfully shop for appliances in 2021.

Reduced Supply

When the pandemic upended life as we knew it in the spring of 2020, appliance manufacturers and stockists had to make estimations about how much stock they would need for the rest of the year. Unsurprisingly, they guessed that demand would be diminished because of reduced consumer spending power and an unstable economy.

At the same time, factories were also forced to scale back production because of new safety regulations and a reduced workforce. Some manufacturers had to close completely for weeks or months, causing a major backlog of orders. Steel manufacturing across much of Asia, for example, was halted for 6 to 8 weeks in the spring of 2020. While many companies have remained open throughout the pandemic, they still haven’t been able to operate at maximum capacity due to new safety regulations.

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Increased Demand

What appliance manufacturers and retailers couldn’t have anticipated was that with so much more time spent at home, many people found themselves planning improvements to their surroundings. Despite a recession, the housing market has boomed, with many looking to leave bustling cities in favor of real estate that offers more indoor and outdoor living space. Renovation projects have also been popular, with homeowners opting to invest in home improvements that may have previously been slated for travel or other recreational expenses.

Retailers like The Home Depot saw massive jumps in sales in 2020, with their second quarter earnings up 23.4 percent from the previous year. Appliance manufacturers can also confirm this increased demand. Whirlpool’s organic appliance sales were 10.3 percent higher in the fourth quarter of 2020 than they were during the same time period in 2019.

Appliance Shortage

These factors have combined to create a considerable shortage in appliance availability. According to market research by Gap Intelligence, 37 percent of refrigerators listed on retailers’ websites, for example, were unavailable in November of 2020. This has resulted in thousands of backorders and many popular models being out of stock for months without any estimated delivery dates available.

High demand means retailers needn’t employ persuasive tactics to lure shoppers with steep discounts. Even during major sales events like Black Friday, appliance discounts were reduced at big box stores. Refrigerator discounts, for example, dropped from an average of 36 percent in 2019 to 24 percent in 2020.

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2021 Appliance Buying Tips

Fortunately, it may still be possible to complete the renovation you have in mind this year if you follow this appliance purchasing advice:

  • Shop small. While many major retailers are experiencing these shortages, smaller independent stores may have more stock available.
  • Consider a floor model. You can potentially snag an out of stock appliance by purchasing the showroom’s floor model. While it may have some cosmetic imperfections, they typically come at a significant discount.
  • Shop unconventional sources. As more people move out of their current home to a new one that may have a nicely equipped kitchen, they may opt to sell their existing appliances on eBay, Craigslist, and other online sites at excellent prices. Take care when shopping at these venues and be sure to inquire about warranties, instruction manuals, and other elements to help ensure that the purchase is sound.
  • Stick to the basics. In response to the shortage, many brands have focused their attention on their most popular products to ensure their availability. Whirlpool, for one, has opted to prioritize the most basic appliances while decreasing production on luxury models and non-essential products like wine fridges. This means that consumers have fewer options when shopping and may have to forego unconventional finishes and high-end features. 
  • Delay your upgrade. Those simply looking to upgrade appliances while their current ones are still operational may be better off waiting until the industry has righted itself.