Black Friday: Are PCs and software as hot as gadgets?

How did PCs and software fare in comparison to other consumer electronics products on the day after Thanksgiving? The answer may depend on where those products are sold - online or up front - according to NPD's chief analyst.

HDTVs, MP3s, GPS, and other emerging gadgets seem to be outshining established electronics products categories such as PCs and software in Black Friday sales and promotions -- in brick-and-mortar stores, at least.

A number of industry reports are ranking laptops as popular items among Black Friday and other holiday shoppers. But by and large, PCs and Microsoft Office are not the sorts of items that resellers are selling as doorbusters -- and which consumers are standing in line to grab up at cheap prices, starting in the wee hours of the morning, said Stephen Baker, vice president of analysis at the NPD Group.

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NPD's numbers for Black Friday 2007 aren't in yet. But GPS devices and digital picture frames appear to be some of the products discounted most heavily and gobbled up most enthusiastically by shoppers, according to Baker.

"These two product markets are both rather under-penetrated right now. And the products are typically priced at $150 or less, meaning that they're very accessible to a lot of people," he explained.

In a survey of this year's holiday shopping patterns conducted by Deloitte & Touche, 45% plan to buy CDs, DVS and tapes. Meanwhile, 48% plan to purchase games, and 20% of those surveyed say they'll purchase games, said Gary Levin, a partner in Deloitte's retail practice.

But retailers and manufacturers are still running special price promotions this year around traditional computer and software products, right? Yes. But generally speaking, these are more along the lines of the typical promotions extended in stores during the holiday shopping period, according to Baker.

"With people buying PCs as holiday gifts, prices might be reduced a bit on office [applications] and on antivirus software," he acknowledged.

Moreover, among consumers stopping in at retail stores, the OS that happens to be running on the PC doesn't really matter all that much, according to the NPD analyst.

"Consumers who are buying PCs don't really care whether they're getting (Microsoft) Vista," Baker maintained. Similarly, Apple is doing well in retail stores with Macs. "But consumers aren't buying Macs because of Leopard or any other Apple 'cat,'" according to the analyst.

Moroever, the Linux-enabled PC that's been flying off the shelves at Wal-Mart over the past week is popular in brick-and-mortar stores mainly because it's priced at $199, not because it's based on Linux, he said.

"In fact, this might not even be an appropriate product for Wal-Mart stores to be selling, since a lot of Wal-Mart cusotmers might have trouble using these PCs," Baker noted.

Essentially, individuals who are technically savvy are more likely these days to buy their Macs and Windows- and Linux-enabled PCs online than in stores, according to the analyst. "I'd expect that long-time Apple users would go to Apple's Web site, for instance," he said.

Indeed, although the top sellers online also were dominated by products such as Nintendo's Wii game console and GPS devices, a survey on online buying at PriceGrabber.com shows Microsoft Office 2004 Student and Teacher software in sixth place among specific products sold on Black Friday, and laptops in sixth place among the product categories sold that day.

Meanwhile, numbers released today by Nielsen Co. show that online shopping on the day after Thanksgiving grew 10% this year, with Wal-Mart ranking third in this year's list of online shopping destinations, after InterActiveCorp. and Amazon.com, in that order.

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