While driving on the 401 in Toronto on any weekend during the holiday shopping season, I am forever amazed at the lineup of cars at a complete standstill on the exit ramps leading into Yorkdale, one of the busiest shopping malls in Canada. Being personally averse to shopping in general, I cannot fathom the thought of being a part of that endless twisting queue. I also recognize, with some reluctance, that shopping is an inevitable activity, and as a means of avoiding the madness, I embraced online shopping many years ago and the volume that I purchase online has only increased with each successive year.
Action camcorders are among 2014’s handful of hot tech products. Strong rugged camcorder sales throughout the year (up 69 percent 12 months ending October) have been a boost to the camcorder category overall, and set the stage for a strong holiday season The Black Friday kick-off to the holiday shopping season is increasingly important to action cam sales. According to The NPD Group’s Weekly Tracking Service, 28 percent of action cam holiday sales occurred during Black Friday week in 2013, up from just 12 percent in 2012. This holiday season, action camcorders topped my list of winning product categories and I expect even more sales will occur during Black Friday week.
The true nightmare of Black Friday is not the prices, the crowds, the marketing, the lack of sleep, or the challenges involved for us to makes sense of it. The biggest nightmare for the consumer and the retailer (and analysts too) is the logistics of trying to make it run.
Last night and this morning, as the holiday shopping season kicked off, I made my annual trek to the shopping hot spots of Northern Virginia. With three Best Buys, five Targets, three Walmarts, two HHGreggs and three Staples and Office Depot’s all within about five miles of my home I certainly have my choice of places to observe. After a night and a morning of shopping, watching, tweeting and observing – I think the most useful thing I can say is that this Black Friday night, and morning, was uneventful and fairly similar to the last few years.
This Black Friday, there’s no reason NOT to go shopping if you live in the Washington DC area.
Despite a wintry mix that delivered some snow and ice Wednesday, the weather is on par for this time of year. Robert Griffin III (RG3) was benched this week, so nobody in Washington will care about football until July. And while there aren’t any “line up around the block in freezing weather” type products this year, there is a good mix of new products and decent discounting that should get shoppers into the stores.
Streaming speakers are leading a broad resurgence in the audio market. Along with stereo headphones (up 28 percent in dollar sales since 2011) and soundbars (sales have nearly doubled in two years), sales of wireless speakers have surpassed $1.3 billion in the 12 months ending in October (from just $150 million in 2011), according to The NPD Group’s Retail Tracking Service. But, as the speaker market has grown over the past three years, it’s also become increasingly diverse– the number of brands making speakers has doubled since 2012 and trends in consumer usage of the devices have helped carve out new segments in the market, like expandable and ruggedized.
Of all our Baker’s Dozen Holiday predictions the one I am most confident in is that notebook sales will soar during the holiday, but those gains will come at a considerable cost in ASP. While we thought this scenario might play out as the holiday unfolded, our weekly data shows this price war has already begun, and the implications and challenges around a new level of Windows notebook pricing will reverberate around the industry.
Apple’s new fall lineup of iPads has been introduced, and I find myself struggling to analyze the myriad of SKUs and configurations available. One thing is for sure – the iPad has been struggling in 2014. For the first 40 weeks of the year sales are down 16 percent; performance that has caused many U.S. retailers, who were counting on the iPad to continue to provide sales lift, to seek alternatives. One of those alternatives has been Android tablets, whose sales growth was a boon earlier in the year. However, the fact is that Android has also fallen victim to challenging product positioning and a murderous pricing cycle.
With taglines including “Better Sound Through Research” and “People Aren’t Hearing All the Music” from companies like Bose and Beats by Dre, sound quality is, and continues to be, a pillar of audio marketing. And with good reason, according to The NPD Group’s Headphone Ownership and Application Study, 58 percent of premium headphone buyers say sound quality is an important purchase motivator- the highest rated factor measured. The same goes for wireless speakers, where 89 percent of owners say sound quality was the leading motivator in their decision to buy, according to NPD’s recent Wireless Speaker Study. But what exactly defines good sound quality? Is it deep base? Clear vocals? A perfect reproduction of a live performance? Defining sound quality is like art in many ways “I know it when I see (or hear) it.”
Tuesday’s Apple event proved, once again, that the industry should never underestimate how successfully Apple can break the mold or flaunt conventional wisdom. Everyone knew two new iPhones were coming – and that they would be 4.7” and 5.5” and that they would look nice, and that they would fit neatly into the current buying, stocking, and usage trends for smartphones in the U.S. (as we discussed in our press release last week). But seeing a mock-up, or sketching something out as a model, or examining a pirated photograph is a poor substitute for seeing something in person. And it is impossible to express how slick both new iPhone models are until you see them in person and hold them in your hand.
As I sat with the rest of the world watching Apple’s annual Fall product announcement, I could sense in those I connected with on Twitter a feeling of excitement as Tim Cook finished the first part of the program and led into his “one more thing”. Apple certainly did not disappoint. If NPD Connected Intelligence’s Eddie Hold asked Apple to amaze him and I’ve asked companies to push the smartwatch beyond what we’ve seen thus far, then we both got our wish. The Apple Watch fits what a smartwatch should be- a nicely designed fashion accessory and a piece of technology (that does more than relay phone notifications to your wrist).
Today we had a chance to participate in a webinar with our friends from TWICE, sponsored by New Age Electronics. While it always seems early to talk about Christmas in July, those of us on the retail calendar are always far ahead of the seasonal calendar, so it likely is the perfect time to be talking about holiday expectations.
In 1964, Bob Dylan released this iconic song that, at the time, was written as an anthem that spoke of changes in civil rights and folk music. If a similar song was written today it could very well speak to Canadian consumer habits and their use of screens within their homes. According to NPD’s just released Battle of the Screens Report, Canadians not only have numerous media/entertainment devices in their household, (more than 9), but their usage of these devices is changing.
In a move rivaling only LeBron James’ decision to join the Miami Heat, Apple is reportedly in talks to acquire Beats by Dre. From the Beats perspective, what can be gained by such a merger? They already own 62 percent of revenues in the premium ($100+) headphone market which, through the 12 months ending in March, has grown to over $1 billion. And in the rapidly ascendant wireless speaker category, Beats has managed to grow their line of Pill speakers and now account for a 9 percent of revenues in a category I expect will double this year. I don’t believe the merger with Apple is about growing their headphone or speaker business—they’ve got it covered.
The consumer technology landscape is shifting rapidly. More than ever before new products are changing the way we interact with our electronics; our electronics are interacting with each other more than ever before as well. As products change, the way we merchandise and think about sales at retail has to change as well. In the last year, product displays, sales floors, and retail formats have gone through more changes than in the entire previous decade. Progress has been made in many areas, except for one; the home theater department. The lack of progress is especially evident in the classic retail TV wall display which remains much the same as it was originally envisioned at the dawn of the flat-panel era, and that revision was hardly much of a change from the tube world, except you couldn’t mount tubes on the wall.
April 15 is significant for two reasons: it’s Tax Day- a time when many Americans settle last year’s tax bill with the IRS; it also happens to mark Google’s one-day sale of its most intriguing product: Google Glass. Closed betas for emerging products are common in the tech industry; however one day sales of new products, especially those as notable as Glass, are not. So what’s behind the move? [Read more...]
For nearly a year, the tech industry has been abuzz with rumors and speculation that Amazon would enter the rapidly growing media streaming device market; challenging category incumbents Apple, Google, and Roku who accounted for 88 percent of category revenue during the 12 months ending February. Wednesday, Amazon did just that, announcing their Amazon Fire TV to much fanfare.
One of my favourite scenes from “Wayne’s World” is when Wayne, Garth, and their two buddies belted out Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” while driving through the night streets of Aurora, Illinois in their AMC Pacer. We all do it – fantasize ourselves as rock stars, singing at the top of our lungs in the safe confines of our automobile. That was true 50 years ago and it’s no different today. While the technology of both audio devices and audio media has changed dramatically in just a few short years, according to NPD’s Audio Consumption in Canada study, the car is still the most popular place for Canadians to tune in to their favourite songs.
One of my first tech coverage areas as a young(er) analyst in 2009 was the home automation market. As I studied up on the space- the major products, companies, and consumer segments most willing to purchase the systems – I had a feeling that the connected home was the future. Our home appliances, utilities, climate control, and entertainment would all soon be programmable through a single interface and come to know our habits and activities. The momentum I felt in the market suggested this transformation would happen en masse, and that improved broadband speeds and increased mobile phone ownership would be the main catalysts. Then, early in 2010 the technology universe went tablet crazy, and the momentum in home automation market suddenly went on standby.
Sony announced today that it is shutting down its worldwide PC business and selling it off to a Japanese investment firm that will maintain the business in that country. Of course, the trends in the traditional PC business have been difficult for the last few years, but in general we believe Sony’s problems (to the extent there really were problems) are more self-made than a function of the industry troubles.