Apple hangs on as consumer spending dips

By , Computerworld |  Business, Apple, Dell

Apple's share of U.S. consumers' planned spending on home entertainment products and computers remained stable during the last month, even as rivals such as Dell lost ground, a market research firm said Wednesday.

According to ChangeWave Research , 11% of U.S. consumers said that they planned to shop at Apple's retail and online stores in the next 90 days, the same number that pegged Apple in a similar survey last month.

Meanwhile, just 4% of the 2,800 consumers polled last week by ChangeWave said that they planned to shop at Dell's online store in the next three months, down from December's 6%.

In November's ChangeWave survey, 9% of the people polled said they planned to shop at Apple for home entertainment and computer products in the coming quarter. That month, ChangeWave predicted that Apple would weather the downturn better than most of its competitors.

Overall, consumer electronics spending plans were off significantly from last month, but that's normal at this time of year, said Paul Carton, ChangeWave's research director. "There was a large fall-off in consumer electronic [buying plans]," said Carton Wednesday, "and it remains in the doldrums. But we see this fall-off every year after the holidays."

In fact, only a few outlets -- including Amazon.com, Staples and Target -- saw their numbers increase from December to January. Amazon's share of the places people said they will shop during the next 90 days, for example, climbed from 23% last month to 24% this month.

The bigger economic picture remains uncertain, Carton said, although he noted that the poll earlier this month revealed "signs of stabilization" in consumer spending. "The street is reacting today to the collapse of consumer spending in December," said Carton, referring to the government report released today that noted a 2.7% drop in retail sales last month. "But we [knew] we were going to have a horrible December."

Based on ChangeWave's polling, last month Carton said "a massive consumer spending breakdown" was in the wind and called the 90-day outlook the "worst on record" in the research company's history.

"Today is the reaction to the December numbers coming in," he said. "But we're seeing a different picture now."

Although he labeled the numbers going forward as "horrific," at least "things are not getting really any worse," said Carton. "We're seeing something different here, something we haven't seen for a very long time." Specifically, fewer consumers this month said that they were planning to spend less and more said they were planning to spend more in the next 90 days. The uptick, while small -- 13% said that they would spend more in the next three months, compared to 11% who said that in December -- is noticeable.

"We're also seeing a bounce in consumer sentiment," said Carton, talking about consumer opinion about the general direction of the economy. While 56% said that the economy will worsen in the next 90 days, that's down 10 percentage points from December's 66%.

"It's far too early to tell" whether the January numbers are an indicator of a turn-around, or just a one-month blip, cautioned Carton. The latter, he said, might simply be due to the turn to a new year, and anticipation of Barack Obama reaching the Oval Office next week.

"There are signs of stabilization, but we're not sure if we're even seeing the bottom here," he concluded.

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