Tablet Sales Up, PCs Down. What Does It Mean for Retail?

May 29, 2013

Okay, so no surprise here. Tablet sales are on the way up and personal computer sales are headed in the opposite direction, according to International Data Corporation (IDC). If there is a surprise, it would be the rate at which the change is taking place.

According to an IDC forecast, worldwide shipments of tablets are expected to grow nearly 59 percent this year (229.3 million units) versus last (144.5 million units). IDC projects tablet shipments will surpass laptops by the end of this year and blow past laptops and desktops combined by 2015.

"Many users are realizing that everyday computing, such as accessing the Web, connecting to social media, sending emails, as well as using a variety of apps, doesn’t require a lot of computing power or local storage," Loren Loverde, program vice president, PC Trackers at IDC, said in a statement. "Instead, they are putting a premium on access from a variety of smaller devices with longer battery life, an instant-on function, and intuitive touch-centric interfaces."

"PCs will have an important role in this new era of computing, especially among business users," Ryan Reith, program manager for Mobility Trackers, said in a statement. "But for many consumers, a tablet is a simple and elegant solution for core use cases that were previously addressed by the PC."

Lower costs for tablets are helping to spur tablet market growth. The average selling price for tablets is expected to decline nearly 11 percent to $381 this year as more low price Android devices hit the market.

What does the rise in tablet sales and the decline in PCs mean for retailers selling these devices to consumers? What are the implications for the use of computing devices in business environments?

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17 Comments on "Tablet Sales Up, PCs Down. What Does It Mean for Retail?"

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Ken Lonyai

This topic is really getting overhyped. Obviously mobile devices are a new technology that will displace PCs for certain market segments just as hybrid cars have done in certain automotive markets. The PC will still be with us for a long time to come and will (in my opinion) hit a sales bottom and rise somewhat someday again, even in the consumer market. Many consumers will only buy a new computing device every x number of years; right now they’re choosing tablets, in a few years some will again buy PCs—Intel for one is betting on it. Retailers simply have to adapt to market demand—something not too hard if they know how to manage their inventory.

There’s no one answer for business environments. Just as so many devices have done before, mobile devices will find their space, in some business sectors more than others. There are still many use cases for large screen PCs that switching to tablets just to be trendy or save a few bucks won’t address properly.

Gene Detroyer

George is right, “No surprise here.” Any retailers that didn’t see this coming had their heads in the sand. Mobility and portability will continue to be the trend. And, tablets are not the end of technology development in computing.

While I am not into a tablet yet, the single biggest driver in my decision for my latest computer purchase (and the one before that) was the weight. Simply, lighter is better and I am not willing to make trade offs.

My next purchase will likely be a tablet. I will do it as soon as I am comfortable that I can use all my office functions. The key here is “as soon as I am comfortable.”

As more and more of the computing work goes to the cloud, the less I need to carry around.

Adrian Weidmann

The era of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is upon us and IT departments will need to address this reality. This expectation will become further blurred as mobile devices owned by both sides of the aisle—employees and shoppers will need to share the same connectivity infrastructure.

I recently worked with a client whose sales department wanted to deploy tablets but the IT department argued that they already had laptops and saw no reason to address this issue. They further rationalized that if the sales staff felt they could be more successful, they should purchase the tablet themselves. The irony was that even in that scenario, IT would not allow those devices on “their” network! This is not a visionary company. One of their competitors is moving forward with deploying tablets for their salespeople. The limitations of this new tablet enabled landscape are IT resistance and visualization of multiple ‘screens’ into a collaborative environment.

Steve Montgomery

As more and more retailers improve their inventory services, they are able to adapt faster to changes in purchasing patterns so the current trends towards to tablets should not present an inventory problem. Their smaller footprint should mean the store space can be very efficiently utilized, but may require some slight remodeling and fixture changes. The question then becomes one of sales volumes and margins. I admit I’m not familiar with the difference in margins between PCs, laptops, and tablets so can’t comment on the profit implications.

Tablets allow business users more mobility than do laptops, but the importance of this will vary by industry and company.

Anne Bieler
Anne Bieler
4 years 4 months ago

Tablet sales are growing, as they have become powerful and versatile for our overlapping work and lifestyles—so easy to take them wherever we go. Our work PC is still essential in business environments to handle business docs, presentations, reports, designs, drawings, etc. Retailers would do well to understand changing needs of business consumers and help us maintain the right level of connectivity.

Ralph Jacobson

Devices are very personal choices for shoppers, and the form factor will continue to evolve as tastes and technologies evolve.

Retailers must be agile to adapt and (even better) predict these trends.

In business environments, using a laptop is almost archaic as of today. Tablets are the new norm, for certain.

Kevin Graff

One thing for certain is that the rise of tablets makes it much more practical for more retailers to get into the business of selling them. No clumsy cables, monitors or even software to inventory, learn about and sell. It’s a solution in a box!

I would look to see PC sellers become even more specialized to differentiate themselves on the service front and appeal to business. Alternatively, I can imagine buying a tablet at my local grocery store one day soon.

Paula Rosenblum

So, let’s see…retailers will be trading in a $1000 low margin device for a $500 low margin device. Feels like a “push” to me.

The only use I see for PCs/Macs in the long term is for actual applications like spreadsheets, creating presentations and the various and sundry graphic apps. I’ve even switched to a tablet with keyboard for conferences. So much lighter! And I long since got rid of my last desktop.

It’s a reality. I don’t see retailers losing a lot of money on this deal. Just needing (yet again) less real estate.

Roger Saunders

There will be space in consumers’ technology budgets for both PCs and mobile devices (tablets, smartphones, etc.). Retailers will find this both a blessing and a curse.

For 20+ years, we have been pointing to the fact that the digital age would alter the way that consumers are companies employ the web primarily for messaging, gaming, e-commerce, and learning/informing purposes. Those consumers are not all confined in Silicon Valley or are between the ages of 18-34.

This is yet another reason that the consumer is in charge. Retailers have to remain current with how those customers are continuously changing in order to keep their message fresh and flexible to the different devices and timing that their customers are accessing their digital devices.

Alejandro Padron
Alejandro Padron
4 years 4 months ago

It is a systemic change. Gone are PC ecosystems; in surge the new key categories of mobile with tablets and smartphones. All retailers that sell electronics must rethink how to serve the new customers’ demand for mobile solutions (very different from PC solutions).

gordon arnold

There are only a few ingredients necessary for the final chapter of the laptop. When additional memory and storage are added to allow for practical consumer and business application software to be included with the capabilities of the tablet, sales will jump significantly. When a common usable serial port (or 2) is added to the tablet’s output capabilities, the sales will sky rocket and the laptop is a goner. When voice recognition software evolves to a fully expandable user input device forcing retirement of keyboards, then tablets will fear the smart phone for their own potential extermination.

In any event, the evolution of Information Technology will be the reason that all of the devices named here will soon be sleeping with the beepers in the not so distant future.

Lee Peterson

It means that consumers will be even more empowered than they are now, due to increased mobility, which is really saying something. It does NOT mean, however, that the fundamentals of good retail will change. It just means that as a retailer, you’ll have to be better at them: excellent sales staff, endless aisle, in-store, kick-ass environments, exclusive product and a great brand promise, to mention just a few.

Personally, FWIW, with a tiny MacBook Air and smart phone, I’m good! Solid.

Vahe Katros

This recent Demo Day at AngelPad in SF (a respected incubator) was mostly B2B; the implications of this platform shift is that we are potentially on the verge of altering some of our basic business functions—obvious, but large. The ownership of smartphones is already revealing that corporate telecom is about to be turned upside down (especially with telephone services in the cloud and next-gen WiFi)

Brian Kelly
4 years 4 months ago

High tide floats all boats.

More tablets quicken the “omni-channel” call to action because customer media usage and shopping are changing. Tablets encourage multi-screen use; more folks will be on line more frequently. Pressure to ensure a seamless experience while optimizing channel experiences.

Customer expectations for retailers to adopt appropriate and relevant technologies will rise. Retailers have to sort out what that means.

As we say, “retail ain’t for sissies.”

Shep Hyken

This shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s really the same story that one new technology is replacing another. However, there will still be a place for the personal PC, especially in the work environment. Tablets will replace some of the PCs, but not all of them. I don’t see PCs being obsolete. There will be need for larger screens than on a tablet, full keyboards, etc.

Jerry Gelsomino

A friend in the tech business said something interesting to me. People are still using their PCs just as much to “create, generate new content, strategize financially and innovatively.” For the PC sales market though, those people are hanging on to their old equipment much longer than in the past. I don’t need a new computer or software right now…what I’ve got I’m used to and it works fine!

Kai Clarke

This is a shift in the computer model which retailers must reflect if they are to stay in this business. Perhaps more importantly, retailers must reflect the even larger move to the phablet or large phone market which is growing even faster and becoming even bigger.


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