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Nine months into the pandemic, electronics companies are beginning to accept that COVID-19 has changed their businesses inside and out.

The COVID-19 pandemic amplified everyday challenges for the electronics industry: tight component supplies got even tighter and lead times stretched.

At the other end of the equation, the behavior of end consumers changed, sometimes dramatically. Some sectors of the electronics industry suffered decreased sales while others saw buoyed performance as consumers turned to electronics products to work from home, educate their children at home, and stay entertained.

We have seen three big shifts related to the pandemic.

1. Shuffling of supply

The electronics industry has been grappling with product shortages for many quarters, a reality that has been even more evident in the past nine months. With so many electronics and mechanical suppliers based in Wuhan, China, the initial shutdown naturally created a ripple effect.  

For example, lead times for high-end semiconductors hit another setback, doubling from 18 weeks to 36 weeks, according to contract manufacturer Jabil.  It’s hardly surprising Wakefield Research forecasts a 5% to 20% decline in the overall semiconductor market in 2020. At the same time, some applications, such as smart phones, are experiencing declines, while others, particularly industrial, are likely to thrive.

A Jabil survey of 715 supply chain decision-makers found, not surprisingly, that COVID-19 took a significant toll on manufacturers:

  • 90% of the respondents reported direct business impact from sourcing issues, especially in production delivery and time-to-market delays
  • 42% of those in the consumer electronics industry indicated they have been forced to raise prices due to sourcing issues.
  • 64% reported losses of $50 million or more.

And the uncertainty is likely to continue.

“Beyond 2021, semiconductor companies may have more difficulty predicting demand because even greater uncertainty abounds about healthcare and business developments,” say analysts at McKinsey & Company. At the same time, new markets offer the promise of increased opportunity as well.

2. What customers want

On the demand side, some trends spell good news for the electronics industry. Consumer purchases of computers and consumer electronics will reach $156.5 billion this year, an increase of 17.9%, according to eMarketer. In the second quarter of 2020, several categories enjoyed large upticks as consumers rushed to set up home offices:

  • Notebook computers (45%)
  • Tablets (37%)
  • Monitors (84%)
  • Printers (59%)
  • Keyboards/mice (62%)

For the rest of the year, consumers may turn to “splurgy” tech buys.

“Sales of items we need to get through the school or workday took priority in the first half of this year, but as we head into Q4 and the holidays we expect many of these ‘needs’ will have been satisfied and consumers will begin to purchase items they consider to be ‘wants’ or gifts for the holiday season, such as TVs and noise-canceling headphones,” said Ben Arnold, executive director, industry analyst for The NPD Group.

3. Working from home as a new normal

As the post-COVID world evolves, many organizations may be reluctant to go back to business as usual, at least in terms of required office attendance.

“As the pandemic begins to ease, many companies are planning a new combination of remote and on-site working, a hybrid virtual model in which some employees are on premises, while others work from home,” McKinsey reports.

More investments in electronics products to make working from home feasible long term will likely be the biggest shift the electronics industry will experience in demand. The global video conferencing market, for instance, which represented $5.6 billion in sales in 2019, is projected to grow 12.7% a year from 2020 to 2028, according to ResearchAndMarkets.com.

“Organizations will look for cost-effective solutions that can fulfill their needs seamlessly,” the research firm says. “Segments such as healthcare and education are increasingly shifting towards video conferencing in order to ensure effective delivery of services for participants at their homes.” 

To summarize: The new work-from-home reality has produced mixed results for the electronics industry. Long term, though, it is likely to become a source of continued growth.

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