Coronavirus Pandemic: Are USB devices the new Toilet Paper

One of the curiosities and great insights to human philosophy about how quickly this pandemic has grown and caught so many countries off guard is the panic shopping and in particular how quickly hand sanitizer, toilet paper (and kitchen roll) has become sold out across so many countries the world over. Even here in NY, where Walgreens, Acme, Target, Walgreens and independent stores – customers are being limited to 2 and in some cases a single roll.

As employees started hunkering down in the recently WHO-declared Coronavirus Pandemic and started working from home – some with IT support and some without – there’s been a clear run on USB devices like computer mice, adapters, cables and …. seemingly, webcams. While a lot of IT teams and IT managers have done well to deal with a massive change and sometimes accelerated digital transformation – many employees were sent to work from home without the right equipment, many without a laptop or PC.

As I have a Dell XPS, my laptop has a built-in webcam. However, the camera is located in the worst possible place – the bottom left corner of my screen which gives a terrible view of my neck (mostly) and I’ve been on the hunt for a decent 1080p USB replacement. To be honest, I wasn’t very motivated or in the slightest hurry to find one but I started to notice how quickly things like flat-screen monitors, mounting arms, USB and VGA to HDMI adapters were becoming scarce, as retailers like Best Buy, Target, Overstock, Amazon, Jet, Office Depot have quickly run out.

Google has a great tool for tracking the level of interest of a search phrase or topic, via its free service, Google Trends and its a firm favorite amongst SEOs for analyzing the most current search trends.

Google Trends – USB Webcam
It looks like the search for toilet paper is at last slowing down

I quipped on Slack with some of my current and ex-colleagues that I found a cheaper 25” HD screen in a Target store than I could online. In the past 2 weeks, e-tailers are all behind in shipping dates and stock. And they’ve been very confusing to buy from – often when you search for a webcam, you also get shown a lot of accessory equipment. So where can you turn to next?

While some can wait for online and store retailers to restock, I’ve found quite a lot of accessories, adapters, and cables on eBay. Most cables and adapters can be sent with USPS here in the US, and the shipping times have been very good. It’s also worth noting that Groupon stocks a lot of PC peripherals, and even though Amazon is giving dates in April-May for deliveries, I’ve had all of my orders arrive within 3-5 days but that can’t be guaranteed.

One of the frustrating things I’ve found is that on many sites (I’m looking at you OfficeDepot, Overstock, B&H in NYC and Target) is that even if you tick the box to only show products that are available, you’re typically only informed that it’s out of stock when you add it to your cart or try to check out. Office Depot is listing 42 webcams as in-stock but show this when you go to the product page:











“Available for future delivery”

Most standard webcams are completely out of stock, and for the past week or so, the cheapest webcam on Target is $167:














eBay is hotting up with Logitech C9xx series cams being the most popular for 1080p searches I’ve been looking at.  Second hand and sometimes quite worn looking C9xx’s are fetching upwards of $140 on auctions but there are a lot of brand new off-brand HD webcams available for shipping (often free) from China and Malaysia, as well as the US. Just remember that the basics of a webcam, a CMOS chip (and in this case a 1080p) are actually very common, have been mass produced for years and are very cheap.

And I would say the ship dates in eBay – being guaranteed dates will actually ship faster – especially via post which is quite cheap (countries with poorer economies are allowed to send via international post at local rates often much cheaper than if posted in the destination country, rightly or wrongly, that’s the current system). Most of the direct suppliers are selling high quality-looking HD webcams from $8 and up – is it worth the risk versus buying a domestic (but still overseas built) device for $80?

Still, things could be worse – Google Trends has another stark reminder for us as to just how bad the situation is (and this is in the US only): This graph is trends comparison for “Toilet Paper” vs “Unemployment”:

You can try your own searches here:

David Quaid is the founder, CEO and Managing Partner of Primary Position, an SEO Agency in NYC. David found Primary Position in 2004 in Ireland and moved to the US in 2015.

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I shared a view of Google Trends this week on Twitter and Reddit, where I looked at the search trends/interest levels for “Search Engine Optimization”