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TWICE Retail Roundtable Redux: Panelists Pick The Holiday Hits

Days after the new year dawned, a panel of industry executives gathered around a conference table at International CES to share their take on the state of the consumer electronics business.

Much has transpired during the ensuing seven months, and TWICE invited our panelists back for an updated outlook on the back half of the year. Their picks for hit holiday products and pipeline forecasts follow.

TWICE: Which categories or products do you expect to be the biggest hits of Holiday 2008?

Dave Workman, executive director, Progressive Retailers Organization (PRO Group): Flat-panel TV, Blu-ray Disc players, gaming, PND [portable navigation devices], digital converter boxes, HD camcorders, digital SLR, and laptop computers — although the No. 1 have-to-have product will be the iPhone.

I think portions of the audio market will do okay, but it will be in selected areas.

Steve Caldero, senior VP/chief operating officer, Ken Crane’s: High-end products continue to be in heavy demand. We are anxiously awaiting the Mitsubishi Laser TV as well as their 3-D demo. Also, Samsung’s new LED LCDs will be out shortly, as well as Sony’s new XBR products.

Edward Maloney, president, Cowboy Maloney’s Electric City: The flat-panel business is still going to be hot, particularly in 32 inches and higher as 50-inch LCD becomes more affordable.

Jeannette Howe, executive director, Specialty Electronics Nationwide (SEN)/Nationwide Marketing Group: Our buying group dealer members are primarily in the home theater business, so although the new cellphones may be hot, that category does not have a tremendous impact on our sales.

That said, we are still seeing growth in all of the categories that touch iPods and iPhones.

Stephen Baker, industry analysis VP, The NPD Group (standing in for Ross Rubin): The usual suspects will be hot. We’re looking for a strong holiday from big-screen TV, specifically 40-inch and larger flat panels; notebook PCs; Apple PCs and the iPhone; digital-SLR cameras and their accessories; mobile navigation; and digital picture frames.

Of course video games will continue to be hot as well.

TWICE: Do you anticipate shortages — or gluts — in any categories?

Workman: The areas I am most concerned about potential shortages would be digital converter boxes, Blu-ray, small-screen LCD and. while not a core category for our members, Nintendo Wii.

Caldero: Pioneer Elite 60-inch plasma’s are very hard to come by.

Maloney: We’re not able to get everything we want right now, especially smaller LCD screen sizes.

Howe: It does appear that larger flat panels, 50 inches and up, will be in short supply.

Inventory is the hot potato; dealers don’t want to stock it until it is sold. Our Warehouse Direct fulfillment/distribution partners are all experiencing more than double-digit growth. It is a great advantage for dealer members to buy products, particularly video, at the right price and still get the goods within 48 hours. This gives the dealers better control over their cash flow and they are at less risk of owning a TV that drops in price 24 hours later.

Baker: Inventory mistakes seem more possible this year than others since demand visibility is so poor, and the cost of logistics on goods has changed dramatically over the past year, leaving everyone guessing as to volumes and reluctant to pay the cost to fix mistakes.

More electronics will come on the water as opposed to on a plane, and it seems likely that retailers and OEMs will not expend extra effort to make up shortfalls if the cost of shipping makes the available profit too meager. Whether this encourages retailers and OEMs to stock up or run lean is anyone’s guess, but I would suspect that errors will be made on the side of having too few as opposed to too many.