Work-from-home increases during the past 18 months led to a big jump in PC sales and also created knock-on demand for PC monitors, but now it seems demand is beginning to wane.
In the third quarter (Q3) of 2021, PC monitor shipments declined for the first time after five consecutive quarters of growth, according to tech analyst IDC.
PC monitor shipments overall were down 7.2% to 34.8 million units compared to Q3 2020 when remote workers snapped up 37.5 million monitors, many of them as second monitors. IDC estimates 86.7 million desktops and notebooks were sold in Q3 2021, up 5% from the same period a year ago.
At the pandemic's outset, some workers began 'productivity hacking' at home by buying a second monitor for their notebook to make things easier as they spent up to 13 hours a day on computer screens.
This trend brought a temporary boom for monitor brands, such as Dell, Lenovo, and HP. Vendors like Samsung continue to promote the benefits of daisychaining additional monitors to a notebook to create a bigger 'visual canvas' upon which to multitask from home.
"As more workers headed back to the office around the world, commercial demand has helped to recoup some volume loss from the decline in consumer purchases," said IDC.
Despite the decline in PC monitor sales to normal levels, IDC still says 2021 will be a bumper year for the segment and will provide a bigger consumer base to refresh from as hybrid work becomes the norm. Otherwise, monitor sales will fall back to its original buyers in the enterprise segment.
IDC estimates first half 2021 monitor sales will leave the sector with a 4.6% gain over 2020, with volumes for 2021 reaching 143 million units.
"We expect the market to have achieved peak volume as we end 2021 with the highest shipment levels since 2012," said Jay Chou, research manager for IDC's Worldwide Quarterly PC Monitor Tracker.
"Even as things settle back down, we still see areas of opportunity in the years ahead. Commercial segments will once again be the main driver of this space, but consumers will also refresh upon a much bigger installed base, which expanded during these challenging times. We believe the changes wrought by the permanency of hybrid work and flexible learning will enable faster refresh rates across all user segments."
Dell was the biggest winner and market leader in Q3 2021, with shipments growing 20.6% year on year to 7.67 million units, while Lenovo's shipments grew 6.9% over the period to 4.24 million units. These brands rely more heavily on commercial sales.
Consumer-focussed brands fared less well. Monitor shipments from TPV, HP Inc., and Samsung declined 30.1%, 21%, and 14.7%, respectively. They had respective shipments of 3.9 million, 3.7 million, and 2.9 million.
Demand for PCs has remained higher than usual through 2021. However, sales and supplies have been constrained by persistent supply chain and chip shortages.
IDC notes that supply constraints and spending priorities did negatively affect commercial monitor shipments, which declined 2% year over year. But the total consumer monitor market shrank more than 12% year over year.