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Tablets Still Topping Holiday Wish Lists: CEA

ARLINGTON, VA. – Apparently, emerging categories are not quite ready for primetime.

Despite a plethora of next-gen CE this season, the now traditional category of tablets continues to head consumers’ wish lists as the top tech gift for Holiday 2014.

According to the Consumer Electronics Association’s (CEA) “21st Annual Holiday Outlook” report, presented during its Innovate! conference in Phoenix, last month, 13 percent of U.S. adults chose tablets when asked to pick the one technology gift they would most like to receive this holiday.

Following in close order were notebooks at 11 percent, TVs at 8 percent, and smartphones and video game consoles tying at 7 percent each.

Legacy products including Blu-ray players, MP3 players, e-readers and digital cameras are seemingly the tech equivalent of coal this holiday season, with each receiving only 2 percent of the respondents’ vote — followed by desktop PCs at 1 percent.

But what of the up-and-comers — the exciting, nextgeneration of tech toys that includes wearables, home automation, 3D printers and Ultra HD TVs? According CEA statistics, the emerging categories are clearly enjoying a growth spurt, with projected 2014 sales skyrocketing 242 percent year over year. But the sector’s haul, which comes in just shy of $5 billion, represents less than 2.4 percent of total projected industry sales of $211 billion, the trade group said, and its growth rate is expected to slow to 108 percent in 2015.

CEA’s advice, based on consumer purchase intentions, is to “build out the basket” with attachments for core holiday tech fare. For tablets, that would include headphones (on 49 percent of tablet buyers’ shopping lists), app gift cards (42 percent), memory cards (39 percent), cases (37 percent) and smart watches (20 percent).

Top TV attachments cited by survey respondents included streaming set-top boxes (37 percent), A/V receivers (24 percent) and soundbars (20 percent).

In total, 73 percent of gift buyers plan to buy CE as holiday gifts this season (excluding accessories), CEA said, although that figure is down from 74 percent last year and 77 percent for three of the four previous years. Indeed, holiday tech spending is only projected to rise 2.5 percent (compared with 4.5 percent for overall retail sales), which is a significant improvement over last year’s 0.9 percent gain, but well below the 10-year average of 4.7 percent growth.

So how can retailers ensure their piece of the holiday pie? According to the data, presented at the conference by CEA chief economist and senior research director Shawn DuBravac and industry analysis director Steve Koenig, the biggest CE spenders include, in descending order, households with incomes north of $100,000; early tech adopters; 35- to 54-year-olds; and households with children.

Diving down deeper, the analysts found that, on average, women drive spending higher than men, as do early (vs. mid and late) tech adopters.

More surprising, perhaps, is where consumers will be buying their holiday CE. Rather than an either/or scenario, the findings point to channel gains for both brick-and-mortar and online retailers, with 77 percent of respondents planning to shop physical stores (up from 75 percent last year), and 54 percent planning to buy online (vs. 45 percent last year).

What’s more, with 12 percent of online holiday sales coming through the mobile channel this year, fully 67 percent of consumers planning to buy CE said they will use a mobile device to help them shop for tech devices.

When used in-store as a shopping aid, respondents said they will employ their mobile devices to check or compare product prices (84 percent), get product information (78 percent) and search for coupons or discounts (74 percent).

On the topic of showrooming, the verdict is mixed: 66 percent of in-store mobile customers said they would use their device to buy a CE product from the retailer they were currently shopping, while 59 percent would buy from a different retailer.

Mobile is also the fastest-growing sales channel, with projected holiday gains of 19 percent, followed by online (up 15 percent), full-line merchants (up 1.1 percent) and CE specialty dealers (up 1 percent).

Consumers also intend to shop earlier this year, CEA said, which may reflect early promotions, the prominence of Black Friday, and a shorter holiday shopping season with five fewer days this year.