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An Exuberant, Cautious CES

The 2013 International CES has come and gone at blinding speed, with a blur of revolutionary and evolutionary products, new companies trying to make names for themselves, and old ones recharging their fortunes.

Not to mention the plethora of celebrities, politicians and entrepreneurs of many stripes who helped crowd Las Vegas last week.

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), producer and owner of the show, reported the event was a record-breaker, the largest in its 45-year history, in terms of exhibit space. If unscientific observations of crowded show aisles and taxi lines are any indication, we may eventually find out the 2013 CES set a record in attendance.

Yet reality or caution, take your pick, was also on display during CES. More than one leading Japanese CE supplier acknowledged the financial hits they have taken in the past year during typically upbeat press events.

CEA’s own projected industry shipment report said that for 2013, sales in the U.S. will be up just 2.7 percent. While the estimate shows a gain, if it is accurate, it will be the smallest CE increase since sales went down 6.5 percent during the depths of the recession in 2009.

So what gives? According to CEA, video, audio and electronic gaming will be down this year, while information technology (including smartphones), automotive technology, accessories and home technology (whole-house and security systems and products) will be up. And it doesn’t mention a new, growing category — lifestyle and health care products.

In video, retailers seem to be retooling, emphasizing more profitable larger screens and moving away from the commodity tonnage of smaller-sized sets.

As for smartphones — as I mentioned in a blog written during CES — if you lose one, your entire life is gone as well as your ability to access your home entertainment and security systems.

This CES was nothing if it wasn’t an apps show, and there were more apps to enable to smartphones to control more of your tech systems and devices than ever before, not to mention your car and even your refrigerator.

Few can make a guess how the economy will turn out this year, with all the political theater going on in Washington.

But since 2009, when the recession hit, the industry has been, slowly, adapting. Unilateral pricing policies (UPPs) and similar programs on the manufacturer side is a start. And retailers know only too well how the TV market has changed and that they should move into mobile products — to gain traffic if nothing else.

Here’s something to think about to put all of the change the industry has recently seen in perspective: Tom Malone, Audiovox Electronics president, said during his company’s CES press event, “I’ve been with the company 25 years and back then the word was the car audio business is dying. Well, it didn’t then, and it isn’t now.”

Today car electronics is thriving. Just give that some thought when you consider adding or reducing categories to carry in 2013.