What a surprise! 2013 was a lousy year for PC sales

IDC's worldwide PC shipment numbers are in and the best you can say about them is that they weren't as bad as they could have been.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

According to IDC's Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker, Global PC shipments totaled 82.2 million units in the fourth quarter of 2013. That meant that for the year-to-year quarter comparison there was a contraction of 5.6 percent. Look at this way: It could have been worse. IDC had predicted 6.0 percent decline.

IDC PC Shipments 4th QTR 2013
IDC showed that 2013 was indeed a bad, bad year for PC sales.

For the full year 2013, unit shipments declined 10.0 percent from 2012, a record drop reflecting the changes in mobility and personal computing affecting the market. In December, IDC has predicted 2013 would see the "most severe yearly contraction on record" for the PC market. They were right.

The only 'bright' sport was that commercial purchases helped to prevent a larger decline. The consumer market remained weak.

Gartner's analysts, while labeling, "2013 as "the worst decline in PC market history," have hopes for 2014. Gartner principal analyst Mikako Kitagawa reported that "markets, such as the U.S., have bottomed out as the adjustment to the installed base slows." IDC also sees some hopes for if, not a recovery, at least a slowdown in the PC sales growth rate declines.

"The PC market again came in very close to expectations, but unfortunately failed to significantly change the trajectory of growth," said Loren Loverde, IDC's Worldwide PC Trackers VP, in a statement. "Total shipments have now declined for seven consecutive quarters, and even the holiday shopping season was unable to inspire a turn in consumer spending. Although US growth slipped a little in the fourth quarter, other regions all improved, reinforcing our view that growth rates will continue to improve gradually during 2014 despite remaining in negative territory."

HP had an especially bad year. "In the United States, market leader HP had a difficult quarter, contracting 12.3 percent year on year as the market slowed following an HP surge in the third quarter. However, Asian majors like Lenovo and Samsung achieved strong double-digit growth, driven partly by a modest commercial uptick and partly due to retail acceptance of their emerging product categories, such as Chromebooks. Dell and Toshiba also managed mid single-digit growth, essentially coming from large corporate refreshes in the enterprise segment," said Rajani Singh, Senior Research Analyst, Personal Computing. "Nevertheless, despite a dip in total shipments, the U.S. market outperformed most other regions and the worldwide market as a whole for the fifth consecutive quarter, reflecting a relative degree of stabilization."

In the US, with shipments totaling 17.1 million PCs in 4Q 2013, the U.S. market contracted by 1.6 percent from the same quarter a year ago. Consumers continued to take a wait-and-see approach, leading to delayed purchases to Windows 8.x. The migration from XP to Windows 7 and 8 continued to drive some momentum in the enterprise sector. Consumers remain reluctant to commit to Windows upgrades.

The EMEA market also had a lousy 2013's fourth quarter. As expected, demand in the commercial segment was supported by year-end budget spending, with XP end of support deals contributing to even stronger shipments in the last three months of the year. As anticipated, the consumer market remained much more depressed, with shipments remaining soft amid ongoing weakness in demand, as tablets continued to attract end users.

The only computer OEM with anything to break out the champagne for was Lenovo. Lenovo expanded its lead in total worldwide shipments with particularly strong growth in EMEA, Japan, and Latin America. The firm has continued to stay aggressive with its breadth of products, flexibility, and focus on channel development. Growth in the U.S. slowed, but remained ahead of other market leaders.

Dell, the number three PC OEM, also did relatively well. The newly private company saw growth rise to 5.8 percent in 4Q 2013 compared to the previous year. The Americas continued to be a strong area for Dell, while shipments in Asia/Pacific also returned to positive growth.

HP kept the second spot, but its shipments in the US dropped by more than 12 percent year on year. Fourth quarter shipments were also down slightly from the third quarter, suggesting a clearing of inventory as well as slowing projects in Asia/Pacific.

In such a weak market, and with Windows 8.x still proving unpopular, it's no surprise that the PC OEMs are not only embracing Chromebooks, but HP and Lenovo are giving Android PCs a try and AMD and Intel are pushing hybrid Android-Windows 8 systems.. Unlike in years past, the PC makers can't simply rely on new Windows updates to bring customers in. It's time to try radical changes to gain sales, and that's exactly what they're doing.

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