Chromebook shortage leaves parents scrambling for online learning

Chromebooks are in short supply in Edmonton as thousands of students move to online learning.

High demand and low supply creates 'perfect storm,' Alberta tech company says

Chromebooks have become particularly popular in schools and are hard to find in Alberta this September. (Mark Lennihan/Associated Press)

Chromebooks are in short supply in Edmonton as thousands of students move to online learning.

Demand for Chromebooks at PC Corp, an Alberta-based IT services and sales company, is up 70 per cent this fall and supply is lower than usual, Tessy Pavlatos told Edmonton AM Monday

"The demand is very large," Pavlatos, sales manager for PC Corp's education department, said. 

"At this time of year, with back to school, the demand is great anyway. But with remote learning, and trying to get more laptops into kids hands so they don't have to share, the demand is actually really great."

It means parents who ordered one of the laptops recommended by the Edmonton Public and Catholic school boards may be waiting well into October.

Chromebooks run on the Google Chrome operating system and are a good choice for students, Pavlatos said, because they are relatively robust and not overly expensive. Also, since they store a lot of data in the cloud, they are good for sharing information with teachers and other classmates.

Diana Long, a mom of four kids in northwest Edmonton, experienced the Chromebook shortage first hand. She opted for online learning, through Edmonton Catholic, for her 11-year-old son Carter and nine-year-old twins, Kirsten and Kade. When she went to buy three Chromebooks, she couldn't find them anywhere.

"We ended up looking for them at the end of August and realized it was pretty tough," Long said. "Stores like Staples and at Best Buy were saying they wouldn't have them in until the end of September."

She purchased three refurbished older-model Chromebooks on Facebook Marketplace and thought she was getting a good deal. Until her kids tried to use them.

"They didn't have enough RAM in them to run the programs for school," Long said. Luckily, she was able to return the laptops and get her money back. 

Next, Long called her parents, who live in Kamloops, B.C. They found three Chromebooks at London Drugs in Kamloops.

"They were $400 each and then my dad had to ship them to me, which cost almost $400 in shipping," Long said. "They had to be transported by air and packed specially because of the batteries with them. It was quite expensive."

By Sept. 10, the Long family had three new Chromebooks. The kids missed the first week of online meetings, but Long reports everything is going smoothly now.

Not only is demand for Chromebooks much higher than usual, there are other supply chain problems.

Pavlatos told Edmonton AM that approximately 80 per cent of computers are manufactured in China. The Lunar New Year, at the end of January, is a major holiday in China, where factories shut down. That shutdown continued due to Coronavirus pandemic lockdowns, further delaying production in Chinese factories.

"It's what we'd call the perfect storm," Pavlatos said. "Parents are calling in and they are quite desperate to get devices to help their students. We are doing the best we can, and we have provided hundreds of devices to parents, but we just can't facilitate the demand that is out there, currently."

If parents are going to purchase a Chromebook, Edmonton AM tech columnist Dana DiTomaso said ordering through their child's school is a good option. The prices are comparable to other retailers, but it comes with an additional three-year warranty, that includes coverage for accidental damage.

"Typically, you get a one-year warranty, and you can pay extra to extend that in the store, but you never know who is going to be servicing that," Di Tomaso said. "The school board has a deal with these organizations that if something goes wrong, they are offering a three-year extended warranty. That's honestly worth paying the same price as in the store."

No matter where they order from, parents are probably going to be waiting for a Chromebook delivery. Pavlatos predicts the current backlog should be cleared by mid-to-late October.

With files from Ariel Fournier


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