ChangeWave: MacBook sales up in next 3 months, HP and Dell down

  • Chicago (IL) - This month's ChangeWave survey of consumer purchases over the past and next 90 days paints a bleak picture for makers of consumer PCs and electronics. Despite strong demand for low-end netbooks that continue to gain importance -- the result of the depressed economy, the survey clearly shows yet another decline in computer spending and weaknesses in consumer electronics spending. In short, only Apple laptop sales will increase in the next 90 days, according to the report, whereas HP and Dell portables will drop as consumers opt for cheaper netbooks. When it comes to desktops, most prefer Dell but sales of desktops continue free-falling across the board as consumers turn to much cheaper netbooks, now representing better than one in six of all notebooks sold.

    The latest ChangeWave February research provides an unambiguous outlook of consumer PC and electronics purchases over the past 90 days, as well as insight into planned consumer purchases over the next three months. The findings released by the research firm are based on polling 3,115 consumers between February 2 - 9, based on a questionnaire that focuses on a consumer's current and future PC and electronics buying patterns. Readers should note that numbers exclude corporate buyers as these will be released in a separate report later this month.

    Planned consumer electronics buying dropped to the lowest level since the 2002 survey, which followed the collapse of the dot com bubble and the World Trade Center attacks. The market for shiny gadgets is obviously shrinking, with 12% of respondents planning to spend more on electronics over the next 90 days, but a whopping 43% opting to spend less in the same period. The latter figure represents 5 full percentage points decline compared to December numbers, just 60 days ago.

    Yet another decline in computer sales

    Numbers show the lowest planned computer buying ever recorded in a ChangeWave survey. Just 4% of respondents plan to buy a desktop in the next 90 days, a 1% decline over January's survey, while laptop buying remains unchanged at 6%. Purchases in past 90 days don't look better either, with just 6% and 11% of respondents buying a desktop and a laptop respectively in the past 90 days. Both figures represent a 1 percentage point drop over January results. ChangeWave noted that the combined percentage is "down significantly compared to February of 2008."

    Past and next 90 days: Apple wiggles, HP holds ground, Dell down

    Purchases of Mac desktops and notebooks in the past 90 days compared with January numbers reveal a sharper drop than aforementioned 1 percentage point dip of the overall computer market. Among respondents who bought a computer over the past 90 days, 15% and 20% went for a Mac desktop and laptop respectively, down 2 percentage points from the month ago period. Planned purchases of Apple desktops in the next 90 days among respondents also dropped 2 percentage points over 26% recorded in January but planned Macbook purchases rose 3 percentage points over the 30% recorded month ago.

    HP desktop and notebook sales in the past 90 days among respondents were up 5 and 4 percentage points respectively from the month ago period, and currently stand at 27% both. When it comes to the next 90 days, HP holds ground with 28% planned desktop purchases, the same as in January, and 22% (down 1 percentage point from the month ago) in planned notebook purchases. HP's figures should be taken with a grain of salt since the ChangeWave survey focuses only on the U.S. market where HP makes just 30% of its sales.

    Sales of Dell desktops and laptops in the past 90 days dropped 2 and 1 percentage point respectively over January figures, with 33% respondents who said they bought a Dell desktop and 21% a Dell notebook. The company also recorded 2 percentage points decline in planned desktop (32%) and laptop (26%) purchases in the next 90 days compared to January figures. Readers should note that consumer sales represent only one fifth of Dell's total sales, which are mostly corporate.

    Read on next page:  Netbooks undercut desktops, Apple hurt by not having a Mac netbook, sales down 6%, Customer satisfactory ratings...

    Netbooks cutting into desktop sales

    The overall decline in planned PC desktop purchases, of course, is explained by the proliferation of ultra-cheap netbooks that cost around $500 and deliver power and function most desktops could not have achieved just five years ago. Netbooks are obviously starting cutting into desktop sales due to shrinking consumer budgets amid gloomy economic outlooks. For example, netbooks make up 17% of notebook purchases among respondents over the past 90 days, meaning that netbooks now contribute to better than one in six of all notebooks sold. In the next 90 days, 18% of respondents eyeing notebooks said they will go with a netbook, an uptick of 4 percentage points from a month ago.

    Apple hurt by not having a Mac netbook, sales down 6%

    This makes Acer, ASUS, HP and Dell the biggest beneficiaries of rising netbook sales. Apple has shown little interest to enter the market, although chief of operations Timothy Cook, who is covering for Steve Jobs during his leave of absence, recently told investors that the company is keeping a close eye on it. The executive apparently told Sanford C. Bernstein & Co analyst Toni Sacconaghi that the company has some "ideas" for an Apple netbook.

    While Apple considers its iPhone a viable netbook replacement (because it replicates many Internet-related functions of a netbook), some analysts warn that the lack of a Mac netbook and long overdue iMac refresh have now contributed to NPD-estimated 6% Mac sales decline in Mac sales, first time in three years.

    Consumers still love their Apples

    "In terms of customer satisfaction, there's no question which company is the industry leader," said ChangeWave in a nod toward Apple and its unique vertically integrated user experience. Asked to choose if they were "very satisfied", "somewhat satisfied", "unsatisfied" or "very unsatisfied" with the computer they bought in the past 90 days, a whopping 81% of respondents who bought Mac said they are "very satisfied" with the system.

    This 81% figure reflects the recent Change Wave survey of corporate satisfaction with operating systems, in which 54% OS X Leopard users express they are "very satisfied" with the software, compared to 40% of Windows XP Professional users (between 5% and 12% Vista users reported to be "very satisfied" with their operating system).

    Established brands like HP, Dell and Sony are far from Apple in this ChangeWave survey, recording 52%, 55% and 56% in the "very satisfied" rating respectively. It is interesting to note that Dell outranked HP in consumer satisfaction, whereas both ASUS and Acer recorded higher ratings than HP and Dell with 67% and 61% respectively. This is most likely due to a rise of netbooks that ASUS and Acer rule.

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