Hardware

PCs brave Black Friday

Analyst says increase in PC product sales during Thanksgiving week is better than the industry feared it would be.

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By John G. Spooner
Staff Writer, CNET News.com

PC makers have some reasons to be thankful, according to new retail sales results from Thanksgiving week.

Overall PC hardware unit sales, which include desktops, notebooks, monitors, PDAs (personal digital assistants) and printers, rose by 4.6 percent that week versus the same period in 2003, according to data to be released late Tuesday by Current Analysis. Revenue, however, decreased by 1 percent during the 2004 Thanksgiving week, said the firm, which tracks retail sales of electronics in the United States.

That period includes Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, which marks the official start of the holiday shopping season. Black Friday is also typically one of the busiest shopping days of the season, helping to set the tone for holiday sales. This year, the National Retail Federation has forecast U.S. retail sales will increase by 4.5 percent to $219.9 billion.

Stan Schatt, senior research director for Current Analysis, said the increase in unit sales for PC products during Thanksgiving week is a fairly healthy sign.

"The numbers we're getting seem to be consistent with what we hear retailers saying, which is, 'It's going to be a good, but not a great holiday season,'" he said. "It's not as good as they want it, but it's better than they feared it would be."

Last year, U.S. revenue from computers and other electronics equipment totaled $631 million during the Thanksgiving week, including Black Friday, according to market researcher the NPD Group. NPD Group has not yet released any data for 2004's Thanksgiving week.

Breaking it down
Although the average selling price for a desktop PC declined by just over $50, from $663 in 2003 to $610 in 2004, desktop unit sales fell 4.2 percent year over year during the Thanksgiving week. Revenue dipped by 11.8 percent, Current Analysis figures show.

Notebook PCs, which were about 46 percent of PC unit sales, jumped 15.8 percent year over year thanks to strong interest from consumers. Revenue for the portable PCs edged up 5.2 percent, despite a decline in average selling price, which fell from $1,145 in 2003 to $1,033 this year.

Deals helped drive at least some notebook sales. Best Buy, for one, offered a limited number of Toshiba laptops for $500 on Black Friday. People began lining up at one San Diego area store at 4 a.m. PST just to get coupons to buy one, Schatt said. Other stores offered similarly deep discounts on electronics gear to lure shoppers.

PC monitor unit sales jumped 27.8 percent year over year, thanks to the popularity of LCD (liquid-crystal display) monitors and an average price drop from $342 in 2003 to $298 in 2004.

Printer sales also were strong, helped by consumer interest in digital photography. Printer unit sales increased by 7.1 percent, and revenue jumped 12.2 percent from 2003. The average selling price of a printer inched up from $133 in 2003 to $140 in 2004.

PDAs sales were lackluster this time around, however. Unit shipments dropped 60.1 percent, while revenue dipped 56.8 percent, as consumers continue to move away from PDAs in search of handheld devices with more functions, such as built-in cellular phones.

Current Analysis hasn't yet completed its analysis of music players or TV sales, Schatt said. The firm, headquartered in La Jolla, Calif., tracks sales at a number of well-known retailers in the United States, including stores such as Best Buy, Circuit City and CompUSA.

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