Retailers increasingly boost notebook sales

Hewlett-Packard and Acer have been using a strong retail presence to record growing market shares in PC shipments over the past several quarters, analysts said.

The trend toward users buying notebook computers instead of desktop PCs is helping boost market share for companies that have a strong retail presence, such as Hewlett-Packard and Acer, according to analysts.

The trend is dovetailing with the interests of retailers because notebooks deliver a better profit margin and take up less shelf space than desktops, said John Jacobs, director of notebook research at DisplaySearch. The falling prices of notebooks are also attracting buyers. A notebook with plenty of storage, graphics and performance can be bought for $US999, and prices continue to fall, Jacobs said.

Until a few years ago, 70 per cent to 80 per cent of the laptops shipped were to enterprises, but now it's equally split between enterprises and consumers, Jacobs said. That has raised the importance of retail stores to computer makers, redefining the distribution strategy of companies like HP, Acer and Dell, Jacobs said.

HP outpaced Acer and Dell in notebooks shipped in the fourth quarter of 2007, according to research from DisplaySearch released on Wednesday. HP shipped 6.6 million notebooks, growing 42 per cent from the previous year and representing a 20.1 per cent market share. Acer overtook Dell for second place, shipping 5.25 million units, growing 32 per cent with a 15.9 per cent market share. Dell shipped 4.64 million units, growing 32 per cent, with a 14 per cent market share. In the fourth spot was Toshiba, followed by Lenovo, Fujitsu-Siemens, Sony and Asus. Apple was ninth, shipping 1.34 million units, growing 38 per cent over the previous year.

Overall, notebook shipments totaled 33 million in the fourth quarter of 2007, growing 41 per cent.

Acer used a strong retail and channel presence in Europe and Asia to increase its notebook shipments and overtake Dell, Jacobs said. Acer recently acquired Packard Bell and Gateway to expand its presence in Europe and North America. Dell has, to a degree, neglected its retail strategy by placing far more focus on enterprises, Jacobs said. However, Dell is signing more retailers and placing products on more shelves, which could boost the company's notebook shipments.

During a recent conference call, Dell CEO, Michael Dell, said that notebooks are outselling desktops six to one, and that the company's PC sales are getting a boost from the retail strategy it introduced last year. Dell is now selling PCs in about 10,000 retail stores worldwide. Most of Dell's retail sales have been in the U.S., though the company's agreements with European retailers are starting to take effect, Dell said. The company signed up European retailers including Carrefour and Tesco to sell PCs.

Dell's retail strategy took off in the fourth quarter of 2007 and will expand this year, said David Daoud, research manager at IDC. HP sold 2.67 million PC units in the U.S. through retail in the fourth quarter of 2007, much larger compared to Dell, which sold 225,000 PCs. Dell is witnessing an uptick with every quarter, and its growing retail presence could bite into HP's numbers this year, Daoud said.

Dell rules online notebook sales, but the strength of HP and Acer in stores pushed them ahead of Dell in market share, Daoud said. Consumers tend to research online but are increasingly going to retail outlets to buy notebooks.

Retailers prefer notebook PCs because of better margins, DisplaySearch's Jacobs said. Retailers are also finding better margins in selling notebook accessories, such as backpacks, and components, such as extra memory, Jacobs said.

Moreover, the days of users blindly buying notebooks online have slowed -- buyers need to touch, feel and customize a notebook to their liking before buying it. "It's critical to have that look-and-feel, that touch presence. At the end of the day, the physical experience is very important," Jacobs said.

Desktops are more about configuration -- the processor, memory and graphics card -- than notebooks, which have more style, IDC's Daoud said. People want mobile products that represent them, and notebooks fit that profile, Daoud said. PC makers have been slow at paying attention to style and customization of laptops, which could be a potential growth area, he said.

Offering notebooks also brings more customers into retail outlets such as Best Buy and Staples, which have better exposure by offering more brands, Daoud said.

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