IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Parents scramble to find affordable laptops as kids head back to school

A shortage of laptops has left some families with no way to learn remotely — but the tighter supply has also meant surging stock prices for some retailers.
Student Backpack Distribution Event At Compton Avenue Elementary School
A student carries a Google Chromebook laptop during a school supplies distribution event at Compton Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles on Aug. 19, 2020.Patrick T. Fallon / Bloomberg via Getty Images

With schooling mostly online for many students this year, the latest wrinkle for parents in what has already been a draining back-to-school scramble is the hunt for a laptop, with many stores sold out of popular models.

Brittany Longo, who has one child entering 5th grade and another starting kindergarten in Colorado Springs, Colorado, said she tried Target, Best Buy, Amazon and Costco before finding the laptop her children would need for distance learning.

“I wasn’t surprised so many were out of stock, given the current state of the world and how many schools and colleges are doing online learning,” Longo said.

As big box retailers struggle to keep top models in stock, some parents and students are moving to third-party sellers online to purchase computers.

Swappa, a user-to-user market for “newish tech” told NBC News it has seen a strong increase in laptop sales, particularly lower cost Chromebooks.

“Our users purchased nearly double the number of Chromebooks in August versus July, and 61 percent more Chromebooks from this time last year,” Sara Beane, spokeswoman for Swappa, told NBC News in an email. Swappa has also seen a 31 percent increase in MacBook sales this month compared to July, Beane said.

Alan Bucknam, the father of a high school junior in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, also looked at the usual online stores before turning to a third-party seller on Amazon.

While Bucknam and his daughter weren’t able to find what they wanted at big box retailers, he said his daughter was pleased to start school last Monday with a new PC and not her three-year-old Chromebook.

The lack of availability of these crucial devices is creating a further problem for lower income families who are relying on schools to lend laptops. Last week, an investigation by the Associated Press reported Lenovo, HP and Dell told school districts they have a shortage of nearly 5 million laptops.

However, tighter supply has led some retailers and hardware-makers to record sales — and surging stock prices.

Dell shares were upgraded after a second quarter earnings beat last week, which analysts attributed to the increase in demand. Shares of Best Buy hit an all-time high last week, ahead of an earnings report that surpassed Wall Street expectations.

“Products that help people work, learn, connect and cook at home” were the biggest drivers of growth for the second quarter, Best Buy CEO Corie Barry said during an earnings call last week, noting that online sales had nearly tripled.

However, Barry said waiting on supplies of popular items to be replenished in stores and online did slow down what could have been even bigger sales growth.

“Throughout the quarter, we experienced inventory constraints in a number of categories, which did moderate our sales growth,” she said. “ While we expected product constraints as we entered the quarter, the stronger-than-anticipated demand as we opened our stores for shopping resulted in more constrained product availability than we expected.”