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Internet-Portable Sellthrough: Unit Growth Accelerates In ’02

Port Washington, N.Y.— The overall portable-audio market might be down, but sales of Internet audio portables keep going up, NPD Techworld found.

Retail-level unit and dollar sales of flash-memory and hard-drive portables rose sharply in the first three quarters of this year following strong 2001 growth, the research company said (see tables). In fact, unit sales grew at a faster rate during the first three quarters of this year than they did during the year-ago period, when sales were also up sharply.

Price erosion, however, caused the percentage growth rate in dollar sales to slow slightly during the January-September 2002 period, but dollar growth rates nonetheless remained in the double digits.

NPD’s Internet-portable statistics cover brick-and-mortar, click-and-mortar, catalog and pure Internet sales.

During the first three quarters of 2002, unit sales rose by 97.8 percent compared to the year-ago period’s 57.8 percent gain, NPD said. Also during the three-quarter period, dollar sales rose 56.4 percent to $94.6 million compared to the year-ago period’s 67.6 percent gain to $60.5 million.

For all of 2001, unit sales rose 57.9 percent, while dollar sales gained 42.2 percent to $125.9 million.

Average prices grew in the first two quarters of 2001 but slid in 2001’s second half and in 2002’s first three quarters, the statistics show.

Marketers attribute the unit and dollar sales surge to more affordable high-capacity flash-memory devices (with at least one 128MB model retailing for $129 after rebate in the fourth quarter) and to the growing popularity of higher capacity, higher priced hard-drive models.

Despite the growth, Internet portables remains a small niche in the portable audio segment, which was forecast early this year by CEA to slip 1 percent to $2.03 billion in factory-level 2002 volume. Unit sales were forecast to hit 46.4 million units. The numbers combine boombox and headset stereo sales, including headset Internet audio portables.

Here are additional details about the NPD numbers:

Unit sales: If double-digit growth continued in the fourth quarter, the industry could break the million-unit mark at the brick-and-mortar retail level in 2002, NPD statistics show. Unit sellthrough nearly doubled (by 97.8%) during the first three quarters, with third-quarter growth hitting 99.1 percent, second-quarter growth hitting 114.9 percent, and first-quarter growth hitting 78.3 percent.

Dollar sales: The category posted high double-digit growth rates throughout 2001 and during the first three quarters of 2002.

This year, dollar sales growth rates accelerated with each consecutive quarter: 24 percent in the first, 67.2 percent in the second, and 81.5 percent in the third.

Percentage gains during 2001 and 2002 ranged from a low of 24 percent in the first quarter of 2002 to a high of 96.5 percent in the second quarter of 2001.

NPD’s results are based on actual consumer transactions from a panel of more than 400 retail outlets, including appliance and electronics stores, office and computer superstores, mass merchants, mail-order companies, and department stores. The data are then projected to represent the total market, including sales by pure internet retailers. Data representing Wal-Mart and warehouse club sales are not projected.

Internet Portable $ Sellthrough

Unit Growth (Percentage growth in units)