Lingering global supply-chain challenges resulting in months-long wait for appliances

Lingering global supply-chain challenges resulting in months-long wait for appliances-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
A couple shops for appliances at a furniture store in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., in May 2020. Ongoing global supply-chain issues and an increase in home renovations continue to affect the appliance market, with customers reporting they’ve had to wait months for things like refrigerators and stoves. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

When Amy Studholme visited The Brick shortly after Boxing Day last year, she wouldn’t have imagined that nearly one year later, she’d still be without the appliances she ordered.

Studholme had ordered a fridge, a stove and a dishwasher. The stove arrived within a few weeks, she said, but turned out to be defective; she had to pay several hundred dollars more for another that was in stock. Her dishwasher only recently arrived at the store, but now she’s waiting on her fridge, so she can bring both of the appliances home at once.

“Basically every month, I’ve been told by The Brick that my appliances will be coming in the next month. Next month, here we are in October — I’m now being told November. But I am not optimistic,” she said.

Studholme said she has made several phone calls and even the odd visit to the store.

“The most frustrating piece is there’s no accountability on their behalf,” she said. “Every single time my appliances are supposed to be here, I make arrangements — then there’s a new date.”

Amy Studholme-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
Amy Studholme said she ordered three new appliances from The Brick around Boxing Day 2020. She’s still waiting on two of them. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

Studholme is among a number of customers who told CBC News they’ve waited several months for appliances ordered during the pandemic from various stores.

According to the Retail Council of Canada, ongoing global supply-chain challenges are resulting in some retailers reporting that the situation has become worse, with product delays, shortages and higher prices.

Whirlpool Corporation, the world’s largest manufacturer of major appliances, said it’s working hard to overcome these challenges to continue to meet consumer demands.

Business experts and retailers are forecasting things will improve in 2022, but for those waiting on appliances now, it’s a frustrating time.

Phil Saleh ordered new Maytag appliances at The Brick last October and is still waiting on his fridge. At the time, he was told delivery might be delayed by a couple of months.

“It sort of from there became, ‘It’s going to come in January.’ A week or two before that time rolls around, they would say, ‘It’s coming in another two weeks.’ ‘It’s coming in another week,'” he said.

“Then it was August. Then from August, it was 2022. So getting to a year and counting.”

For months, Saleh said, his family of four was making do with a mini-fridge, until someone offered to give them a fridge they were getting rid of.

“We paid quite a lot of money for this fridge that has not shown up,” he said. “I can cancel the order, but if I were to buy a comparable fridge now, it’s probably at least 30 per cent more expensive … because prices have gone up.”

Like Studholme, Saleh said he’s most frustrated by the lack of communication and changing information.

Pandemic to blame for lingering supply-chain problems

Appliance shortages as a result of global supply-chain issues and booming demand first popped up around this time last year. The situation has not yet improved, said Michelle Wasylyshen, spokesperson for the Retail Council of Canada.

“First, for a whole range of products, parts are often sourced overseas. As COVID outbreaks happen, different countries adapt different policies and this can severely impact the global supply chain,” she said in an emailed statement.

“We’ve seen this in China and Vietnam, where ports were shut down for weeks as COVID outbreaks were dealt with.  Other challenges include increased freight and shipping costs, as well as unusual consumer demand patterns and pent-up demand for certain products around the world.”

Retailers are doing their best to hold the line on price increases, Wasylyshen said, as sales volumes have also increased, helping to offset higher supply-chain costs. But for consumers, that also means some deliveries are taking longer than they would have pre-pandemic.

The problem is complex, but it started when everything slowed down in March 2020, when the pandemic hit and economies around the world went into lockdown, said Dave Johnston, a professor of operations management and information systems at the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto.

“That meant orders for everything, such as appliances, slowed down, and all the components that go into those appliances slowed down,” he said. “And then we started to come back after the introduction of vaccination — and we suddenly sped up our economy again.”

David Johnston-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
David Johnston is a professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University and the director of the George Weston Ltd. Centre for Sustainable Supply Chains. (Gordon Hawkins)

When orders stopped last March, some of the factories that produce components that go into appliances took measures, like laying off employees and halting orders on materials, Johnston said.

“It takes time to restart those,” he said. “In our global economy, it’s very difficult to go from feast to famine, quickly.”

Canada’s hot housing market has also contributed to an uptick in appliance sales, he noted, adding another layer of demand.

Beyond manufacturing, COVID-related public health measures have also affected global shipping routes, the ports where goods arrive and facilities like warehouses.

Estimating when the supply chain will run smoothly again is “a guessing game,” said Johnston, but his prediction is things should start catching up again sometime in 2022 in various industries.

His advice? If you aren’t desperate for a new appliance, it might be a good idea to wait.

Ontario’s Ministry of Government and Consumer Services said in a statement it could not comment on the possibility of a supply shortage for retail businesses, as that does not fall within its purview.

“Under the Consumer Protection Act, when a consumer orders a product or service, it must be delivered within 30 days of the delivery or commencement date. If it is not delivered by then, the consumer has the right to cancel the agreement at any time before the product is delivered or the service is commenced,” a spokesperson said.

Customers can also file complaints with Consumer Protection Ontario, the spokesperson said.

‘Very challenging times,’ retailer says

CBC News reached out to The Brick for comment and did not receive a response.

Whirlpool Corporation, which operates both the Whirlpool and Maytag brands, said in an emailed statement that its 15,000 plant employees across the U.S. have been working tirelessly to meet consumer needs.

But it noted that implementing safety measures to make the plants COVID-safe can impact manufacturing lines and production rates.

“Our plants have experienced a few brief interruptions in production related to the pandemic, including component or materials shortages, but as a whole, have remained up and running throughout this challenging time,” the statement said.

Co-owners of Best Brand Appliance in North York-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
Josh Luftspring, left, and Sam Zahler are co-owners of Best Brand Appliance in North York. They say it’s been difficult to communicate product delays with their customers because they often aren’t given accurate information about when shipments will arrive. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

Josh Luftspring, co-owner of Best Brand Appliance in Toronto’s North York region, says dealing with these delays has been non-stop.

“It’s very challenging times,” he said. “Demand is very high in Toronto. People now look at their houses as their castles; they want to renovate it and feel more comfortable in their surroundings.”

The surge in demand and the product shortages across the globe has been a recipe for disaster, he said.

“If the supply chain can’t get semiconductors, chips, chemicals for the insulation in the fridges, all the things trickle down — customers can’t get their product, there’s delays. Becomes a bit of a nightmare.”

Luftspring said his company is doing its best to communicate any information to customers, but it’s not always accurate, because his suppliers’ information is not always accurate.

His sales staff is now telling customers to store their old appliances when starting renovations — to not to throw them out or sell them online. “Keep them as a backup,” he said, “because, sadly, our dates are not accurate.”

Luftspring and his team are hopeful production will be fully back up and running smoothly again in 2022. In the meantime, he’s also encouraging customers to be patient with everyone in the industry.

“Hopefully there’s light at the end of the tunnel.… We’re struggling, our competitors are struggling, and our suppliers are struggling.”

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