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Best Buy’s GPU price gouging marks a worrying trend

Best Buy restocked Nvidia RTX 30-series graphics cards today. With some of the best graphics cards up for grabs at list price, Best Buy has been the sole place to buy an Nvidia graphics card at a reasonable price over the past year and a half. But today, hopeful buyers weren’t met with list price GPUs.

The graphics cards sold today were part of an exclusive promotion, one only available to Best Buy’s Totaltech subscribers. This $200 per year membership offers a handful of perks — free two-day shipping and 24/7 Geek Squad support among them — and now, graphics cards are locked behind it, too.

It’s a worrying sign for the GPU market in 2022, following hot on the heels of two egregiously bad GPU releases. Signs point to the GPU shortage ending this year, but if Best Buy’s new paywall is any sign, cards won’t be any less expensive.

A bastion of MSRP

Line outside of Best Buy for RTX restock.

It’s not impossible to find a graphics card at list price, or at least, it wasn’t. Although few and far between, Best Buy has offered in-store restocks of RTX 30-series graphics cards for over a year, selling the coveted Founder’s Edition models at list price.

I bought my RTX 3090 at one of these restocks, and even its astronomical list price seemed quaint when stacked up against the options on eBay. Best Buy has been the only option to buy a GPU at list price since the GPU shortage began. With the new paywall, it’s now officially impossible to buy a GPU at MSRP.

This isn’t a retailer adapting to a bloated market. It’s a cash grab.

Every retailer is handling the shortage in a different way. Newegg offers a lottery that gives you a microscopic chance to overpay for a graphics card (lucky you, huh?), while Micro Center lists the few GPUs that stay in stock far above list price. Antonline is better, offering GPU bundles for more reasonable prices, but you’re still locked into buying products you may not need.

The situation is even worse for Best Buy. Every other retailer is stocking cards as normal, and prices are subject to the whim of the supply chain (a key reason prices are so high). Best Buy has an exclusive partnership with Nvidia to distribute RTX 30-series graphics cards. This isn’t a retailer adapting to a bloated market. It’s a cash grab.

This has been building

RTX 3080 graphics cards among other GPUs.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends.

The clock’s ticking. All signs point to the GPU shortage ending or at least massively improving by the end of 2022. Crypto is down, AMD and Nvidia are likely releasing new GPU generations, and supply, according to industry insiders, is starting to improve. That’s not good for AMD and Nvidia, which have both become very wealthy during the past year and a half.

AMD’s Radeon and Ryzen business is up 32% compared to last year. Nvidia’s gaming division? Up 42%. You don’t have to look any further than the massively overpriced 12GB RTX 3080 to see what’s going on here. When prices inevitably drop and demand wanes, AMD and Nvidia won’t put up record profits like they have.

For Best Buy, it’s about getting in while there’s still time. There’s no saying if Best Buy will keep up its Totaltech paywall for future GPU drops, but for the time being, it’s a way to squeeze a little extra money out of a cash cow that will dry up soon.

Only a matter of time

Given programs like Newegg Shuffle and GPU bundling, it was only a matter of time before Best Buy found a way to monetize the GPU shortage beyond list price. In this case, it’s just particularly bad. With exclusive access to Nvidia’s Founder’s Edition cards (and likely strict pricing requirements), Best Buy is forcing Totaltech simply because it can.

It’s an early sign of how the next year will play out, following two of the worst GPU releases I’ve seen (the 12GB RTX 3080 and AMD RX 6500 XT). The well of money will eventually run dry, and it seems everyone from chip designers to retailers are trying to find a way to keep it full.

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