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Summer of Shortages: 70% of Americans Having Trouble Obtaining Products and Services

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It’s not just you: 7 in 10 Americans report not being able to find the products they need or enjoy the services they’ve come to rely on because of product and labor shortages. That was the main finding in a LendingTree survey of more than 2,000 consumers.

As such, many consumers are choosing to wait things out rather than pay extra or deal with frustrating customer experiences. However, some consumers are understanding and accepting of higher costs in certain situations. Here’s what consumers had to say about the summer of shortages.

Key findings

  • 70% of Americans are struggling to obtain various products and services due to shortages. The most commonly cited product shortages include meat (21%), gas (20%), appliances (16%), cars (15%) and lumber (13%). But it’s not just goods — 23% of parents with young children are having trouble finding a babysitter, and 22% of restaurant patrons have noted unusually slow or poor service.
  • More than half of Americans (54%) are putting off big projects and purchases as a result of the shortages facing the nation. For example, 26% held off on a vacation and 20% tabled home improvement projects.
  • More people than not have accepted the price increases caused by shortages and rising business costs. While 54% are understanding of small businesses raising their prices, 46% feel it’s unfair to pass their higher expenses onto the consumer.
  • Three in 10 said they are willing to spend extra money in order to get their products or services faster during the shortages. On the other hand, 70% would wait “as long as it takes” in order to save.
  • Paying more for products and services is OK with 71% of Americans, if doing so means higher wages for workers. That’s more than the percentage who said they would be willing to pay more to prevent shortages in the future (66%).

From cars and chlorine to lifeguards and lumber, massive shortages take a toll on consumers

The vast majority of consumers (70%) are feeling the summer shortage crunch, whether it’s not being able to get a particular product or experiencing a lack of good service.

Product shortages seem to be hampering all aspects of life, from people’s diets, to their home remodeling plans, the electronics they buy and the cars they drive. For some, even just being able to prevent their pools from turning green has become a hassle.

Among the generations, Gen Z had the highest percentage of respondents say they’ve been impacted by product shortages with 75% saying so, versus 61% of Gen X and 48% of boomers. Gen Z is also unique, in that it was the only generation whose highest percentage of product shortage experience was with gas (29% versus 23% for millennials, 19% for Gen Xers and 12% for baby boomers). Meanwhile, the other generations experienced their highest percentage of shortage in meat products: 25% for millennials, 22% for Gen Xers and 16% for baby boomers (notably, Gen Z also had 22%, its second-highest percentage of that demographic).

Labor shortages are the other noticeable trend this summer, with 51% of survey respondents reporting difficulty obtaining certain services. The top areas affecting consumers include:

  • Unusually slow or poor service in restaurants: 22%
  • Pools, beaches or lakes closed due to lack of lifeguards: 12%
  • Difficulty getting an Uber or Lyft due to driver shortage: 12%
  • Flights canceled due to lack of airline workers: 7%

Of course, some shortages impact specific groups more than others: For instance, 23% of parents with children under 18 cited that babysitters have been hard to come by.

Shortage side effect: Holding off on big projects or purchases

Rather than deal with delays and frustrations, many consumers have adopted a “wait it out” approach regarding their summer getaways or home improvement plans.

It makes sense why 26% of consumers say they’re opting not to take a vacation this summer — with an even higher percentage among millennials (34%). For one thing, it could be harder to find flights (or at least ones at reasonable prices at times you’re willing to fly).

There have also been reports of rental car shortages, not to mention that it’s more expensive to gas up for a road trip. Plus, cruises are still few and far between. On top of it all, trying to get customer service on the phone to ask a question or book a rewards flight can at times be nearly impossible.

On the home front, the difficulty in ordering new appliances stems from a variety of factors. These include the shortage of computer chips and shipping containers, as well as the real estate boom — even home builders are dealing with unprecedented appliance delays. Add to that the high cost of lumber and the difficulty in finding contractors to hire, and it’s easy to understand why 20% of consumers say they are holding off on their home improvement projects right now. The percentage is even higher among consumers earning $100,000 or more per year (29%).

Some Americans willing to spend more to avoid delays, others worried about rising inflation

Not only are shortages and delays annoying, but with high demand and low supply comes an increase in prices. Overall, 7 in 10 consumers would rather put off spending for now in the hopes that prices will go back down. This is especially true for baby boomers (82%), and those with lower incomes (80% among those earning less than $35,000).

Still, many consumers are noticing bigger price tags due to the shortages, with nearly 1 in 5 saying that they’ve had to spend a lot more on items they regularly purchase.

However, a majority (54%) of consumers are understanding that businesses sometimes have to pass their increased costs in obtaining goods and services onto customers. Then again, the other 46% feel it’s unfair for consumers to have to shoulder the rising costs.

Even though consumers have varying levels of acceptance regarding temporary price increases, the vast majority (85%) said they are somewhat, if not very, concerned about what ongoing inflation could mean for their wallet.

Consumers care more about worker wages than avoiding shortages

About two-thirds of people are willing to deal with price increases to an extent if it means fewer shortages in the future. However, a higher percentage (71%) of respondents said they are OK with increased costs if it means better pay for workers.

The bottom line

Though product and labor shortages can be frustrating (and, in some cases, expensive) — especially after a year-plus of pandemic restrictions — take some comfort in knowing that things will eventually level out. In the meantime:

  • Try to exercise some patience with service businesses that may be short-handed. For instance, even if restaurants managed to avoid closure due to the pandemic, many are struggling with staffing as things ramp back up.
  • Make room in your budget to account for price increases on your must-have items. One idea for extending your budget: Look into using cashback credit cards strategically to earn money back on your everyday spending.
  • Consider alternative solutions and plans until the summer shortages subside. Waiting it out could prove to be a good move. For example, if your car is in good shape, it’s probably better not to rush into buying a new vehicle while prices are at record levels.

Methodology

LendingTree commissioned Qualtrics to field an online survey of 2,050 U.S. consumers, conducted from June 24 to June 29, 2021. The survey was administered using a non-probability-based sample, and quotas were used to ensure the sample base represented the overall population. All responses were reviewed by researchers for quality control.

We defined generations as the following ages in 2021:

  • Generation Z: 18 to 24
  • Millennial: 25 to 40
  • Generation X: 41 to 55
  • Baby boomer: 56 to 75

While the survey also included consumers from the silent generation (defined as those 76 and older), the sample size was too small to include findings related to that group in the generational breakdowns.