How white-box purchasing is affecting the channel

By Maxine Cheung, ITBusiness.ca |  Channel, laptop, netbook

The overall Canadian client PC market is expected to decline this year by 13.4 percent year over year, says IDC Canada. The only area where the firm is expecting growth this year is in the consumer portable market space, which brings both good and bad news to the channel, according to the research firm.

Overall, unit volumes for the Canadian client PC market, which includes desktops and portable PCs and doesn't include x86 servers, were down 14 percent in the first quarter, compared to the same quarter last year.

Tim Brunt, senior analyst for personal computing and technology at IDC Canada, said that while the overall client PC market showed a decline year over year, consumer notebook purchases rose by 14 percent, year over year. In the consumer space, notebooks are generally being purchased for home, home office and small office use, Brunt said, which is why this market segment continues to grow.

"Commercial products and desktops are really getting hammered," Brunt said. "The recession is definitely impacting commercial businesses because they're delaying their purchases now and their overall spending is being impacted."

Netbooks, which have garnered a lot of attention over the last several months because of their compact sizes and lower-prices, saw unit shipments down five percent in the first quarter versus last year's fourth quarter, Brunt explains.

"Mini notebook volume has leveled off, but continues to (gain) a larger share of the overall portables market, where their price point is very appealing to the cost-conscious consumer market," Brunt said. "We find people are also buying machines because of the operating system. Maybe some people are waiting for Windows 7 to come out, so we'll have to wait and see for that."

Ed Boutilier, president and CEO of Woodbridge, Ont.-based Stealth Computer Corp., a system builder that specializes in computer systems and peripherals, said he hasn't seen any customers purposely delaying their spending just to wait for Windows 7.

"I believe Windows 7 is highly anticipated and it will drive sales in the desktop and white-box replacement market," he said. "Some of the new features, such as improved user interface ... and support for virtual drives ... will wet the appetite (of customers) and drive sales."

But even still, any delays in notebook and netbook purchasing are not the be-all and end-all for channel partners, Brunt said.

"Desktops are more corporate-driven products now," Brunt said. "But even though unit volumes are declining, customers are still buying. Desktop spending won't go away, there just won't be as much mainstream purchasing as there was before."

In the white-box space, desktop unit shipments were down 35.6 per cent in the first quarter compared to the fourth quarter. System builders in metropolitan areas and larger communities where big box retail stores are present are the ones who are suffering the most, Brunt said.

"With desktops, consumers and businesses are more likely to buy online and direct through manufacturers," he said. "However, customers still want to see, touch and feel portable PCs at the big box stores. There are better market opportunities for partners in rural areas, depending on where they're located, because it's a tightening or narrowing of the market."

Boutilier added that due to these challenging economic times, it hasn't been business as usual for his company either.

"Clients are being more diligent with their choices when purchasing," Boutilier said. "In my opinion, some of the white-box desktop business has declined due to drastic form-factor changes in hardware. We are seeing the adoption of small form factor deployment in the market compared to previous times."

Partners that offer more niche-type products will typically be the ones who will profit from and be most successful in the PC market space, Brunt added.

Fortunately for Stealth, Boutilier said the company was able to capitalize on the growing small form factor market because it introduced smaller footprint products over five years ago.

"Our LittlePC.com-branded products have been successful in fulfilling a growing demand for processing power being deployed into smaller places," Boutilier said. "We can offer the same power and performance of a white-box in a fraction of the space and this is very attractive to the end-user."

Moving forward, Canadian PC sales will continue to be a struggle this year, IDC's Brunt said.

"Our forecast is predicting that Q3'10 is when we'll really start to see some growth coming back into the market," he said. "In Q3'10, we're expecting year over year growth at 2.13 per cent over Q3'09."

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