x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Netbooks help spur recovery

Prices steady but makers and retailers add more features

Computer sales increased in the first quarter of this year despite the economic downturn, boosted by sales of budget-friendly and more portable netbooks. Total sales of computers rose 9.8 per cent in the first quarter to 250,500 units compared with the first quarter last year, data from the consultancy GfK Retail and Technology showed.

But the total value of sales rose only 1 per cent to US$14.4 million (Dh52.8m). Abner Jores, a product manager at GfK, said this was due to manufacturers cutting the prices of computers or adding more features for the same price to stay competitive. Mr Jores said more consumers buying lower-priced netbooks was another reason. "It's getting more affordable," he said. "We're not saying it's cheap but it's becoming more affordable for the consumers."

The sales boost comes after a difficult year for most retail segments, as shoppers put off making non-essential purchases. Last year, shoppers in the UAE spent Dh2.73 billion on computer hardware such as desktops and laptops, 22.4 per cent less than in 2008, data from GfK showed. While the total number of hardware units sold rose 5 per cent, the total sales dropped as manufacturers and retailers cut prices to attract buyers.

But this year is showing signs of improvement and prices are not falling as fast, said Mr Jores. This year's first-quarter sales of netbooks, a relatively new category, have risen the most. Sales rose 59 per cent to 47,700 units compared with the same quarter last year, the GfK data showed. Total value of sales grew at a slightly more modest rate of 46 per cent to Dh18.1m in the first quarter. Netbooks are priced at between Dh999 and Dh2,000, compared with notebooks that cost more than Dh3,000, said Mr Jores.

But the biggest sellers are notebooks, or laptop computers. The number of units sold in the first three months of this year rose 3.1 per cent to 174,000, compared with the same period a year earlier, GfK data show. Sales value rose 4.1 per cent to $137m. Desktop computer sales in the Emirates fell by 2.1 per cent in the first quarter to 28,700 units, while the sales value rose 1 per cent to $14.4m.

Probir Mukherjee, the managing director of electronics for Al-Futtaim, said another factor driving sales was new technology, such as faster processors and new operating systems. Mr Mukherjee said many manufacturers were choosing to throw in more features for similar prices. "Pricing has been competitive and we saw last year that prices have gone down," he said. "But with these new computers, you're getting much more value for the same or slightly higher price points."

People in the average household were increasingly opting to buy their own computer instead of sharing a family desktop, said Ashish Panjabi, the chief operating officer of Jacky's Electronics. "With things like Facebook, Twitter, you tend to spend a lot more time online than you would earlier," Mr Panjabi said. "And a lot more people in the family are online at the same time now and they can't share a PC any more."

aligaya@thenational.ae