Technology retailers still selling more for less

The first quarter of 2011 delivered modest value growth for the Australian consumer technical goods market, although photographic products were one of the worse-performing sectors, according to GfK in its quarterly TEMAX overview.

Consumers’ love affair with smartphones and web-books tipped the industry into growth, while most other categories remained in the doldrums.

Photography performed poorly compared to all other sectors besides consumer electronics, with an overall value decline of 7.5 percent. However GfK identified ‘positively performing sub-categories within the sector that are reducing the rate of decline’.

Digital SLR experienced a modest growth in the first quarter, while the new mirrorless interchangeable segment ‘is still very small, but rapidly growing in popularity’.

(It needs to be noted that GfK does not measure online sales, which may negatively skew these figures given an increasing rate on online purchases.)

It was a quarter of extremes for the Australian industry according to GfK. Floods, cyclones and heatwaves had a devastating effect on many parts of the country, while market performances ranged from 17 percent value growth for telecommunications, to -10 percent for the consumer electronics sector (TVs, audio, etc). Interest rates remained steady, unemployment remained low, and the Australian dollar continued its rise against the US dollar.

Smartphones rule

Smartphones have been outperforming traditional mobile phones in value for some time now, but Quarter 1, 2011 was the first in which unit sales of smartphones surpassed those of mobile phones.

In this market, touchscreens have become the dominant style, while Android is currently winning the battle of the operating systems.

The IT sector experienced a solid quarter, with the notebook and desktop markets delivering single-digit growth, while storage devices continued their outstanding value performance.

The introduction of web-books in late May, 2010 has fuelled the overall sector performance of a 14 percent increase, with web-books now accounting for nearly a tenth of the value of the total PC market.

Smartphone and notebook manufacturers are due to launch a swag of new models in the coming months.

The flat value performance of the small and major domestic appliances sectors (+2 percent and 0 percent respectively) masks their solid unit growth, which was well into double-digits for small appliances.

New South Wales’ heatwave resulted in unit growth for the dominant air conditioners category, but ongoing price erosion led to an overall decline in value. However, sales of electric fans received an unprecedented boost in both units and value thanks to their dual functionality: cooling in NSW/ACT, and drying in Queensland.

Food preparation and hot beverage makers continued to perform strongly across Australia, delivering double-digit value growth.

The heavy rain and floods in Queensland led to an increase in demand for replacement white goods, such as refrigerators, microwaves, dryers and washing machines, while Western Australia and Victoria also reported growth.

Poor performance in NSW combined with price discounting led to the flat national value result for the sector.

Declining – but more slowly

The consumer electronics sector experienced the most significant year on year value decline, at -10%. The rate of decline has slowed, but masks a double-digit unit growth. Flat screen TVs dominate this sector. A shift to higher-end, branded, LED-backlit and 3D TVs has begun to slow the price decline for the category.

The overall performance of the sector also disguises the growth of Blu-ray Disc players and home theatre sets in both units and value, with far more accessible price points driving the popularity of the categories.

The majority of Blu-ray Disc models now sell below the $200 price point, while Blu-ray home theatre systems have experienced a 38 percent decline in average price since the same period last year.


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