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ACNeilsen Study Analyzes PC Purchases By Channel

According to a recent consumer survey by Schaumburg, Ill.-based ACNeilsen, the three primary channels for computer purchases are computer specialty stores, electronics stores, and direct from the manufacturer. The findings are part of ACNeilsen’s Homescan Tech*Watch service, a quarterly subscription service that tracks and measures consumer purchasing patterns.

The most recent survey, which gathered data from 38,000 ACNeilsen Homescan Consumer Panel households regarding PC purchasing from February 1, 1998 through September 30, 1998, showed that 12% of the respondents had purchased a PC, and more than 65% were repeat buyers.

Mail-order firms were a clear favorite with repeat buyers — more than 75% of their customers had purchased a PC previously — and department stores and mass merchandisers had the highest percentages of first-time buyers. Only department stores, however, sold a majority of their PCs to PC novices.

During the reporting period — admittedly early in the groundswell of activity in the sub-$1,000 market — the majority of PCs sold were priced between $1,000 and $2,000. However, in the mass merchandise channel, more than 60% of the PCs sold were priced below $1,000, and not surprisingly, the direct channel accounted for the lion’s share of the highest-priced PCs, with 60% of the PCs sold through that channel priced at $2,000 or above.

Another finding, ACNeilsen says, is that lower-income households are increasingly becoming PC households.

Comparing the most recent survey to one conducted during the 1996/97 holiday season, households with an annual income of less than $50,000 now make up the majority — 56% — of households that have purchased a new computer, up from 48% during the earlier period.

However, ACNeilsen notes, when indexed against the U.S. population, a disproportionate number of PC purchases are coming from upper-income households.

Not surprisingly, certain channels attract different types of buyers. Mass merchandisers and department stores, for example, derive a higher proportion of their sales from lower-income households than other channels, with 60% of the PC purchases made in the mass merchandiser channel coming from households with an annual income below $30,000.

The direct-from-manufacturer channel receives the highest proportion of sales from upper-income households, with 30% of PC purchasers reporting an annual household income of more than $70,000.

For more information about ACNeilsen’s Homescan Tech*Watch service, call (800) 988-4ACN or visit