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Earlier this week, Jessica Mauerhan found herself in possession of two commodities that have recently grown scarce: a box of antiviral masks and a Logitech webcam.
Mauerhan, a software engineer based in McKinney, Texas, donated the masks to her local midwife's office so they could continue delivering babies. She gave the webcam to a neighbor so he could begin working from home.
"Both offered to bring me toilet paper as payment," she tweeted. "What a world we live in now."
Logitech webcams and other cheap video conferencing devices have largely sold out worldwide as millions work and study from home because of the coronavirus pandemic. In many cases, buyers placing orders today will have to wait one month or longer to receive the equipment. Dell is telling U.S. customers it won't be able to deliver one popular Logitech model until early July.
Headsets designed for workplace communications are also harder to come by than usual. On Microsoft's online storefront, several popular Poly and Logitech headsets are currently on back order.
The shortage of these devices is frustrating students as they begin taking classes from home and healthcare providers as they look to set up virtual appointments with patients. Many businesses have been unable to equip their newly remote workforces with the webcams and headsets they need to participate in online meetings fully.
After many staffers began working from home earlier this month, Chapman University accelerated its rollout of Microsoft Teams. Webcams and headsets suddenly became essential tools for its workers. Fortunately, the school ordered a limited number of devices before they began selling out. But obtaining additional equipment has become nearly hopeless.
At first, the school thought it could merely reimburse employees who found the gear themselves. "But the reality is that's almost impossible," said Phillip Lyle, Chapman's assistant vice president of enterprise and research infrastructure.
The shortage is doubtlessly tied to a surge in the usage of cloud-based video conferencing apps. Microsoft said its Teams collaboration app added 12 million daily active users between March 11 and March 18, a 37% increase. Cisco, meanwhile, said last week traffic to its Webex meeting service had tripled in the United States.
The current pandemic has disrupted IT supply chains because many electronic manufacturers are in China, where the epidemic started. China has stopped the spread of the virus, but manufacturers are recovering slowly. IDC recently reported that factories won't be operating at full capacity until May or June.
Logitech, a leading provider of inexpensive webcams, acknowledged its manufacturers were behind in fulfilling orders. "We were well-positioned to meet the normal demands of our business," the company said in a statement. "However, the events of the last few weeks have significantly changed that demand, and we are increasing production to meet those needs."
Some resellers have started jacking up the prices of webcams. On Amazon, one merchant was selling a Logitech C920 high-definition webcam for $339.95 on Wednesday. The vendor's suggested retail price is $79.99.
"It's just like hand sanitizer in a lot of ways," Lyle said.