Which Gadgets Are Selling: For Some Technology, Analysts Say, It’s Buyer Beware

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What’s hot? What’s not? And what was the last gadget you actually bought? It’s quite the challenge to keep pace with technology’s latest and greatest trends, especially with disposable income tighter than ever for so many. Which made us wonder: Despite all the flashy ads and splashy headlines, which types of consumer electronics are actually selling? According to the top technology insiders we spoke with, the results may shock. Planning on buying a new PC or iPod this year? Surprise: Here’s why you might just be the odd man out…

HDTVs Still Topping Buyers’ Wish Lists

Top tech experts and leading retailers confirm it: High-definition television (HDTV) sets are by far the most popular item on holiday wish lists this year, and should continue to remain a must-have purchase throughout 2010.

Small wonder, considering the category’s popularity as a whole, as over 99% of US households own a boob tube of one sort or another (2.7 of them on average) according to a report by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). In fact, CEA’s chief economist, Shawn DuBravac, says that any category of technology would love to be as successful as the television, which enjoys continued mainstream popularity for several reasons – none of the least of which is a huge array of supporting accessories. Actual quality of programming aside, compatible add-ons such as Blu-ray players, video game systems, DVRs and a diverse array of complementary technologies from media streaming to built-in Internet features continue to keep these units top of mind, and constantly in demand.

Samsung UN46B8000Chris Rivera, sales analyst and home theater department manager for Best Buy, points to models like Samsung’s new LED HDTVs as a prime example, saying that the sets have been selling like crazy. “The price of televisions has gone down and their quality has gone up,” he explains, citing shrinking form factors, plummeting costs and continued innovation as key drivers for the category’s continued success.

In conjunction with HDTVs’ omnipresent best-selling status, Rivera further says that accessories for television sets are also often top sellers as well. Blu-ray player purchases have doubled in the past year, he reveals, adding that Best Buy has had trouble keeping Samsung and LG Netflix-streaming models on its shelves. Ultimately, Rivera attributes such devices’ popularity to their convenience, because now, not only do you not have to get in your car and drive to Blockbuster to enjoy Hollywood’s latest films, you don’t even have to get up to go to the mailbox to enjoy movie rentals.

Shoppers Keeping Smartphones on Speed Dial

Fact: All smartphones are popular. But some really know how to make a first impression, to the tune of millions of ringing cash registers.

HTC HeroCase in point: The HTC Hero (featuring Google’s Android operating system), which sold out at almost every Best Buy store the day it arrived. Other top smartphone sellers include the Palm Pre, Apple iPhone and the BlackBerry Tour and BlackBerry Bold according to the retail giant. But although the numbers are close and fluctuate from week to week, says Rivera, the iPhone is still the clear winner, which could be attributed to the mobile handset’s vast array of downloadable app options and high-profile marketing. In an interesting side note, DuBravac says that the CEA tries to organize its surveys by general categories, not by brands. However, so many consumers wrote in Apple’s hardware as an answer that the iPhone and iPod were awarded their own grouping – a testament to these devices’ overwhelming popularity.

Unfortunately for Apple, most industry analysts say that the iPhone’s popularity badge might get pinned on another smartphone soon. Per a report by market research firm Gartner, Google’s Android operating system could take the iPhone down a notch in the next few years. If people bought the iPhone for the device’s options and abilities, says Gartner, then consumers will definitely invest in Android smartphones, with these handsets’ application store and development environment backed by the power of Google’s search engine, giving users endless options and computing abilities.

Netbook and Notebook PCs Prove Popular Bargains

Michael Amkreutz, vice president of product management at Newegg.com, says his company has seen “explosive growth” in the area of portable electronics recently, especially in the area of netbooks. Amkreutz accredits the recent price adjustments [mostly price lowering] of netbook and notebook PCs for this boom, with ultra-portable mini computers outselling notebooks by a large margin due to their lower price point and convenience factor. Still, no matter which brand you choose – Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, etc. – Best Buy and Newegg both say that laptops, especially netbooks, are always top sales contenders, expecting a major spike in revenues as the holiday gift-giving season commences.

asus-eee-pcWhich, of course, explains the category’s explosive growth: Whereas a couple months ago Best Buy only had three or four netbooks options available, its stores now carry models from every hardware manufacturer under the sun. According to Rivera, the netbooks that usually walk out the door with a customer are the ones most willing to compete on pure economics, like HP’s 10-inch models for $299.99 and the Asus Eee PC for $249.99. Even so, more expensive options can still do well thanks to their relatively low asking fee too: The Dell Mini has been coming in as a close second with a slightly higher price tag of $399.99.

Holiday Gadget and Consumer Electronics Shopping Trends

Consumers always tend to give and get new products throughout the holiday season, with many types of gadgets easily notching up 40-50% of annual sales during the year’s last three months. So what’s the prediction in terms of items that will be top performers this year? Retailers’ anticipate success for a wide range of products new and old, although those likeliest to move will be items with more competitive pricing.

psp-goNewegg and Best Buy are both expecting heightened sales in the three categories mentioned above, as well as for a few other specific name-brand products. Newegg says it is anticipating several major holiday bestsellers on its website, specifically Sony’s PSP Go handheld gaming system and all Apple products and related accessories. Amkreutz says the average online shopper tends to purchase portable items from the Web, so Apple’s iPods, iPod cases, docks and iPhone will be a big hit. And the PSP Go is one of the portable devices people are integrating into their daily life, he suggests, making it more likely to sell in bulk.

Similarly, Best Buy also predicts heightened sales for Apple products, most notably any type of iPod. But the electronics retailer is also hoping for a rise in PlayStation 3 sales since prices recently dropped on the set-top video game console to a decent $299.99.

sandisk-sansa-clipTechnology and Gadgets That Won’t Sell in 2009

Every type of tech enjoys its time in the limelight, but unfortunately for certain devices, insiders say success just isn’t meant to be in 2009. For instance, although new generations of the iPod are expected to do well this holiday season, they are currently being overshadowed by smaller MP3 players with a lower price point. In fact, Rivera says that Best Buy’s iPod sales haven’t been as strong as expected because people are buying cheaper MP3 players like the SanDisk Sansa Clip for $50 and Samsung’s U5 MP3 player for $40 instead. Rivera attributes declining sales performance to the smartphone phenomenon as well—more people are storing music on their high-priced mobile phones and aren’t willing to shell out even more precious cash for an iPod or Zune.

In addition, it’s insinuated that the one place where iPods and MP3 players are excelling is where a few other genres of tech are falling woefully short. CEA’s director of industry analysis Steve Koenig says that any gadget that does not have mobile capabilities did not do as well in 2009, naming desktop computers as the number one victim of 2009’s tech downfalls. The numbers speak for themselves, as desktops amounted to a measly 33% of total PC shipments in 2009, whereas in 2006 desktops shipments were at 54%, roughly even with notebooks. Koenig says that the world is becoming more mobile, making netbooks and notebooks much stronger sales candidates in 2009.

Similarly, Koenig names car audio equipment as being the number two contender for 2009’s epic sales failures. “In the automotive technology space, portable electronics like iPods, MP3 players and GPS systems are more popular than installable car stereos,” he says. Koenig notes that automakers are now designing cars that have built-in amplifiers and portable media outlets so even top-notch car stereo systems are not selling to boot. He also mentions that anything analogue is having a tough time in any market. “Even great technology is not selling if it’s not digital or mobile,” he concludes.

These hiccups aside though, the consumer love affair with portable devices and new HDTV models is a relationship expected to progress well into the coming calendar year, when new tech trends will also manifest. So for now at least retail-wise, in a few categories, it’s relatively smooth sailing, while others are starting to perilously founder and sink given their inability to compete on this year’s most important selling points: Price and convenience.

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