GPU bundles have been one of the only ways to buy a graphics card in 2021, and they’ve been met with a mixed reception. Claims of endless profiteering and offloading undesirable products have run amok, painting retailers as nothing more than money-hungry entities that are capitalizing on a bad situation.
There’s a thread of truth to that, but after talking with market experts and retailers, I’m convinced that GPU bundles help more than they hurt. Although there isn’t a magic bullet to solve the GPU shortage, retailers can make cards easier to find by bundling graphics cards with other products.
Here’s why, and more importantly, how.
Why graphics card bundles make sense
Unless you have a local Micro Center or have been lucky enough to score a GPU at one of Best Buy’s in-store restocks, there’s one main way to buy a new graphics card in 2021: Through a bundle. Led by Newegg’s Shuffle lottery program, retailers have started selling graphics cards exclusively with other PC components or accessories.
Antonline is one example. It sells bundles of EVGA graphics cards along with other EVGA components and accessories at a slight markup (much less than the markup of graphics cards alone elsewhere). Newegg restricts all but the most expensive graphics cards to bundles, too, with many bundles exclusively part of Newegg Shuffle.
It’s easy to draw a conclusion here: Demand for graphics cards is still through the roof, and retailers are taking advantage of the situation by offloading products that may not sell on their own. That’s part of why we’re seeing GPU bundles, but it’s far from the full story.
Ted Pollak, senior gaming analyst at graphics research firm Jon Peddie Research, says that “bundling makes sense.” Scalpers and bots snatch up graphics cards quickly, and Pollak says that bundling can be an effective way to deter them from graphics cards. “Nothing can circumvent scalpers and bots, but bundling makes the economics much worse for people trying to flip product.”
It’s not just a matter of pointing the finger at bots and scalpers, though. The increased prices of GPUs have led gamers to seek out graphics cards to resell. Gamers likely don’t account for a large portion of the millions resellers have raked in through graphics cards. But if an extra graphics card is on the table, there’s an incentive for gamers to offload it for a profit.
“The retailers don’t really have control here no matter what they do on unbundled cards sales,” Pollack said. “Even gamers will take advantage of arbitrage situations, and if they can buy something for $500 that they can instantly sell for $850, they will do it.”
Bundling makes sense for graphics cards. It changes the economics enough to make GPUs less attractive to scalpers, and it removes the incentive for gamers to set up a GPU reselling business on the side. When I asked Catherine Comerford, chief merchandising officer at Antonline, if bundles are beneficial right now, she made it clear: “One-thousand percent.”
That doesn’t mean bundling is perfect. In August, Gamers Nexus published a detailed look at two Gigabyte power supplies that were bundled with graphics cards as part of Newegg’s Shuffle program. These power supplies had some major issues, which could lead to the power supply failing or, in the worst case, sparking and potentially causing a fire.
A dead power supply is bad enough. Worse, Newegg doesn’t allow returns on bundles unless the full bundle is returned. So, if you bought a power supply that failed, you’d be forced to send it back along with the GPU. This is a policy Antonline has, too. Every product page says that “only new and sealed complete bundles will be eligible for returns.”
It makes sense. Retailers would be destroying the benefit of bundling products together if they allowed individual items to be returned. The solution is to bundle products that are actually useful.
Comerford said that’s a focus for Antonline. Instead of bundling backstock, Antonline builds bundles with products that people may use — say, a power supply that’s rated for the card you’re purchasing or a few months of Xbox Game Pass for PC. Comerford said that Antonline is constantly changing its bundles, too, both in response to customers’ feedback and to confuse bots scraping the site.
Newegg isn’t as generous. At best, the company offers graphics cards with a motherboard or SSD. But if you frequent Newegg’s Shuffle program, you’ll often find cards bundled with a single stick of RAM, or a high-end motherboard bundled with a low-end graphics card. I’ve found PCIe 4.0 graphics cards with PCIe 3.0 motherboards, too.
There’s a tightrope for retailers to walk. GPU bundles are inherently opportunistic, so it’s important that they come with products that support the graphics card. Although Newegg bundles graphics cards with other PC components, they’re often disjointed or unrelated. For GPU bundles to work, they need more than other products the retailer has in stock.
They need to unlock a reasonable price, too. Bundles at Newegg, for example, are at most $10 cheaper than the price of the components on their own. And in many cases, you can’t purchase the graphics card alone. You have to pay the price Newegg could sell the card for on its own while picking up another component you may not need.
GPU bundles aren’t ideal, but they can offer a path for gamers to pick up a graphics card. The important things are that the bundled products are useful and that the price of the graphics card is lower than what the retailer could sell the card for on its own.
Getting back to normal
The GPU shortage is a complex issue, and it’s impossible to know when you’ll be able to buy a graphics card at list price. Pollak told me that he expects things to return to normal in March 2022, “barring new virus or political problems.” The biggest hurdle is supply, though, and executives warn that supply issues may carry well into 2023.
GPU bundles may be around for a while, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. By bundling supporting products and working to balance the cost of the GPU, bundles can be an effective way for gamers to access graphics cards without paying the astronomical prices set by resellers.
Although there are still issues to work out, Comerford says everyone is working toward the same goal. “Everyone in this community is frustrated about scalper activity that’s happening, and everyone has the goal of getting products in the hands of gamers and real tech enthusiasts.”