PC shipments sink in first quarter as supply fails to meet demand

Computers were in higher demand as more people work at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, but supply issues led to a drop in actual shipments.

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The spread of the coronavirus has forced us to isolate and keep our distance from one another. That unfortunate circumstance should have increased purchases of PCs as more people need technology to stay and work at home, but that same virus also caused production and supply issues for the PC industry, prompting shipments themselves to drop for the quarter.

For the first quarter of 2020, research firms Canalys, Gartner, and IDC all recorded a decline in PC shipments. Canalys estimated a drop of 8% from the prior year's quarter, with shipments of desktops, notebooks, and workstations totaling 53.7 million. Gartner pegged the decline at 9.8% with shipments of 52.3 million. And IDC's numbers picked up a 12.3% drop as shipments fell to 51.6 million. But the factors were the same across the board.

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Image: IDC

Though demand for PCs surged during the quarter--mostly due to the at-home restrictions driven by COVID-19--supply chain issues hurt the industry. PC production was relatively healthy in January before the outbreak started wreaking havoc in China and then across the globe. But in February, the virus began to shut down factories, leading to delays in production, manufacturing slowdowns, and labor difficulties. As such, demand simply outstripped supply, leading to the fall in overall shipments.

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"The single most significant influencing factor for PC shipment decline was the coronavirus outbreak, which resulted in disruptions to both the supply and demand of PCs," Mikako Kitagawa, research director at Gartner, said in a press release. "Following the first lockdown in China in late January, there was lower PC production volume in February that turned into logistics challenges. Once coronavirus-related lockdowns expanded to other regions, there were new, sudden pockets of PC demand for remote workers and online classrooms that PC manufacturers could not keep up with."

The results varied across the globe, mostly due to how and when each country was affected by the virus. As the outbreak originated in China, Asia Pacific was the hardest hit with a 27% drop in shipments, according to Gartner, the region's worst year since the firm started tracking the PC market. In China itself, PC shipments plummeted by more than 30%.

In the US, the PC market grew throughout 2019, but the first quarter of 2020 showed a decline of 4%, IDC noted, the lowest quarterly volume seen in more than a decade. In the EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa) region, shipments fell by 7% from the prior year's quarter to 16.8 million, according to Gartner. Demand for computers was especially strong among small and mid-sized businesses forced to go on lockdown, IDC said. But the constrained supply chain took a bite out of shipments.

Among PC vendors, Lenovo finished the first quarter in the lead with an estimated market share of around 24%, followed by HP at around 22%, leaving Dell, Apple, and Acer to round out the top five. With the exception of Dell, all the top computer makers saw their shipments fall for the quarter. Dell didn't fare as badly as the others thanks to solid relationships with the supply chain, IDC said. The company also saw strong growth and relatively stable demand in the Americas, at least until March, Gartner noted.

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Looking ahead, PC shipments are expected to continue to suffer as consumers and businesses rein in their budgets in the face of economic issues.

"Few businesses will be spending on technology for their offices, while many homes will have been freshly equipped," Canalys analyst Ishan Dutt said in a press release. "Many parts of the tech industry have benefited from the early part of this extraordinary lockdown period, but we expect to see a significant downturn in demand in Q2 2020. With factories now reopened and virtually up to full speed in China, PC vendors will face a challenge to manage supply chain and production correctly over the next three to six months."

However, IDC sees some light toward the end of the tunnel as more organizations and individuals turn to a work-from-home model.

"IDC believes there will be longstanding positive consequences once the dust settles," Linn Huang, research vice president for Devices and Displays at IDC, said in a press release. "Businesses that once primarily kept their users on campus will have to invest in remote infrastructure, at the very least, for continuity purposes. Consumers stuck at home have had to come to terms with how important it is to keep tech up to date. This should provide a steady, long-range tailwind for PC and monitor markets, among other categories."

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Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto