We are still buying record numbers of PCs, and it doesn't seem we will stop any time soon

The PC market is still growing impressively, even one year into a pandemic that triggered a boom in shipments.
Written by Daphne Leprince-Ringuet, Contributor
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Since the start of the pandemic, PC sales have reached record highs.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

After registering record sales last year, there's no sign of the popularity of PCs dwindling. New analysis from researcher IDC shows that desktops, notebooks and workstations have sustained impressive levels of growth in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), throughout the first quarter of 2021. 

EMEA shipments increased by just over 44% compared to the same time last year, to reach almost 24 million units, according to IDC.  

The trend falls in line with the statistics published throughout the past year, which saw demand for PCs globally reach the highest levels the market has seen in a decade. Prior to the surge that occurred in 2020, the PC market had experienced years of decline. 

But since the sudden switch to remote working and online learning caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, there has been sustained demand in the commercial segment of PC sales.  

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While desktop sales have kept plunging, the downward trend in PCs overall has been offset by a boom in devices more suited to the flexibility of remote work and education. In Western Europe, for example, desktop shipments were down 21% year on year, while demand for notebooks jumped by almost 75% compared to the previous year. 

In Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), as well as the Middle East and Africa (MEA), strong growth was also recorded in the commercial market. According to IDC, this boom is largely driven by the requirements of online education. 

"A lot of people are now equipped for remote working already, and the bulk of growth is remote learning," Simon Thomas, research analyst for IDC, told ZDNet. "That's where the big impact comes from on the commercial side." 

Although commercial sector deals have played a major role in driving PC sales, consumer demand has increased even faster. Across the EMEA region, in fact, the growth of commercial PC shipments increased by about a third year on year; consumer-driven sales jumped by more than 65%.  

In Western Europe, the trend is even more striking: consumer growth posted an increase of more than 75% compared to the same time last year. 

This is due to consumers increasingly looking for entertainment during lockdown – and in this scenario, often turning to desktops. In fact, while demand for desktops in the commercial segment reduced, it grew by more than 46% year on year among consumers. 

Thomas said that the jump in consumer demand can also be attributed to the gradual re-opening of physical stores.  

"In recent months and even weeks, people have finally had the chance to see the devices they are thinking of buying," said Thomas. "At the same time, they have been saving up money, and are now spending it on devices. This has helped consumer demand get stronger." 

A positive outlook for vendors 

While familiar names still dominate the list of top PC vendors, IDC noted that major players are slowly losing their market share. HP and Lenovo almost equally share just over half of the market, with HP leading the way; but both companies are seeing their shares shrinking slightly, respectively by 0.6 and 1.2 percentage points. In third position, Dell is also losing some of its market share. 

On the other hand, Acer (8.5% market share) and Asus (7.3% market share) are both growing their positions in the market. "Other" PC vendors are also growing fast, especially in notebook sales, where competition is growing against players like Microsoft, Huawei or Samsung. 

All vendors, however, will have to manage the supply chain issues that have been hitting the industry for the past few quarters. Since the second quarter of 2020, global PC shipments have been faced with pandemic-related shortages on PC parts and components, which mean that vendors have had difficulties meeting the explosive demand for devices. 

"The first shortages came about three or four quarters ago with CPUs," said Thomas, "and since then have moved between panels, IC boards or semiconductors, which were all big problems." 

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Without the challenges linked to the supply chain, said Thomas, the shipments recorded in the past quarter could have been even higher – and this means that the next few months are unlikely to see a reduction in PC sales, as demand rolls over into future quarters. 

"Despite huge demand currently, we still think there will be a lot of demand into the rest of 2021," said Thomas. "It's only looking into 2022 that we think we will see more of a slowdown." 

As demand subsides slowly, supply chains will also be able to catch up, said Thomas, but more constraints can be expected throughout the rest of this year. 

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