Analysis: PC retail woes continue

Retail index stays slow, but lots of action in the share wars.

The latest data from Storeboard, concerning sales of desktop PCs at retail is in, and unfortunately, it looks like October sales did nothing to reverse the trend that has been building since June.

That trend? The anemic growth (less than 20%) in retail desktop PC shipments year-over-year. This comes as a little bit of surprise given that the first half of the year was so strong, but now that we've had four months in a row where things aren't so rosy, I'm starting to get a little nervous. Oh well, at least pricing has stayed level so that revenues are not getting whacked.

The saving grace is that October has not generally been of the stronger Q4 months. In fact, the seasonal data shows that generally retail desktop sales drop slightly in October from September levels. So while the data isn't exactly great news, I'm not feeling too scared at the moment.

However, the reality is that things had better pick up soon if the fourth quarter is going to be a strong one. So far the entire year is just slightly more than 20% ahead of last year, but big November and December results can make that number closer to 25%.

The marketing "volume", though, is pumped way up. Prices are at their lowest levels yet, and there are a plethora of "teaser" ads out there talking about $399 systems. In fact, a local lumber liquidator here in the Northeast (yep, that's right a "lumber" as in building supplies dealer) is selling refrubed 486 systems with monitor for $199! Not something I'd want to use, but it does create traffic.

And this year I think every single major PC supplier has a bowl game, including the Micron PC Bowl. Apple appears to be the only one missing, but somehow I can see them doing some clever "anti-bowl" promotion. So I'm not willing to think that Q4 won't materialize yet.

Wild times for vendors
On the vendor side of things, it's wild times. IBM is continuing their climb back - they're not only coming back into contention, but into a position to challenge market leader, Compaq. Compaq did bounce back, but their share is not nearly what it was a few months ago, but they are still the one to beat.

Packard-Bell is also riding a share curve that has been in moving in a consistent upward fashion. Just like my own dearly loved New England Patriots, PB is peaking at the right time of the year.

HP did have a pretty tough month, with a precipitous share drop. I'm not willing to proclaim anything more than that though, as one month in the retail market has about the same lasting impact as an Internet Year. So check back here in about three weeks as we get the November results right out to you.

November should hopefully show the kind of upturn we normally expect. Whether it does or not, you'll find it out right here.