Starting with Thanksgiving Day, I visited my local Best Buy several times. I have also made similar visits to Staples, Target, Office Depot and Walmart. On these visits I monitor how many are looking at what items in the Computer/Tablet sections and chat with employees in that store section. Last year I also checked to see which touch screens were dirty, but alas, the stores have started cleaning them often and that is no longer useful. Daily, I also monitor the Amazon Bestsellers list, looking mostly at the top 20 for Tablets and Laptops, but also occasionally looking at the whole top 100 and also Desktops.
This methodology is obviously partially anecdotal, but at least last year I wasn't all that far off.
Below is a summary of my observations:
- Sales of all systems, from all makers running all OSes are slower than last year. The one exception is Chromebooks. Chromebooks are all over the top 100 on Amazon with several top 20 entries and at least 2 in the top 5. Best Buy has a poor selection, but they still get traffic. You can now find Chromebooks at Office Depot and Walmart.
- As I predicted, Best Buy's Windows Store is a flop. Even on Thursday, with a number of great deals, the Windows Store was not crowded. It is usually empty, especially in the Ultrabook section (the bulk of the Windows Store). The Samsung Store sees significantly more traffic than the Windows Store.
- In Best Buy and on Amazon, Samsung is doing rather well. I have never seen less than two sets of people in the Samsung Store at Best Buy. And (ignoring Kindles) Samsung has by far the best selling tablets on Amazon. (I'm not denigrating Kindles here. It is just a different class of tablet than what I am usually concerned with. They appear to be great consumer devices.)
- Sales of Macs at Best Buy and on Amazon are less than they were last year. In Best Buy, the Mac section of the Apple Store is nearly deserted. This is in sharp contrast with what was going on last year.
- On T-day, the Microsoft Surface was getting a lot of attention, but I saw no one buy one. It appears that Microsoft's commercial barrage did manage to get people to look. I've seen no one in the section since T-day though.
- I have not seen even one laptop or desktop sold from either the Mac or Ultrabooks sections of Best Buy. This is very different from last year, where I would have seen at least a half dozen sales by now. I have seen several sub-$400 laptops sold though. I am very impressed by how nice a $300 laptop is now. My father bought 2 for my nephews (at the Best Buy I've been monitoring). I very much expect the average selling price of laptops to be below $400 this holiday season. (It was $420 last season.) A quick look at Amazon's laptop bestsellers list should convince you I'm right about this.
- Here's the big shocker. The iPad section at Best Buy has never had a single customer in all the times I've been in (even T-day). This is phenomenally different from last year -- I saw multiple customers every time I went in. Also, the tablet sections in Walmart and Target (really only sell iPads and a few low-end Android) have always been devoid of customers (did not go to these stores on T-day/Black Friday though). On Amazon, the only iPad ever selling in the top 20 is the 16gb iPad mini (non-retina). It's beginning to look like Apple has priced itself out of the market.
- Android is clearly leading tablet sales on Amazon. I have yet to see a tablet sell of any kind at Best Buy, or the other places I monitor. This is very different from last year when I would have seen over two dozen sold by now. Best Buy has made a serious mistake in taking out the low end tablet section they had last year.
- HP released a whole line of Android products this year. The only one being carried at any of the stores I'm monitoring is the Slate 7 at Office Depot and Walmart. It acts as their low-end offering. So the question remains, why is HP not promoting their Android offerings?
- The Nexus 7 is available at Best Buy this year (wasn't last year). It gets a fair bit of traffic, but I've not seen anyone actually buy one. The Nexus 7 is usually in the top 20 at Amazon.
- Lenovo, Toshiba and Sony Android tablets seem to have vanished from the face of the planet.
- One Windows hybrid is actually selling well. This is the ASUS Transformer Book T100TA-C1-GR. It is $449 (for the 64gb model... the 32gb model only has 3gb free... Windows is a pig). For a brief period it displaced Chromebooks for the Amazon #1 bestselling laptop position. It is a crime that this machine has a Bay Trail 3740 instead of the 3770. Microsoft and/or Intel seem to be intentionally limiting what technology can be made available at reasonable prices. For example, if OEMs want to use Bay Trail, they seem to be limited to 10.1" screens, 2GB RAM and a 3740 if they want to be able to sell it cheaply. To show just how outrageous the pricing and specs are, consider this $300 laptop (it's what my father bought for my nephews). A 3740 pales in comparison to high end ARM chips... why is a 3740 being used in anything but LOW-END (sub-$200) tablets? Intel let me down with Clover Trail, now they've done it again with Bay Trail... it will be a long time before I believe anything they say prior to touching a shipping system myself. This infuriates me... when will Microsoft and Intel learn? Just how many terrible holiday seasons will it take for them to understand that people want sub-$500 laptops, with SSDs, 4gb+ RAM, good battery life, no fan, and no @#$@!& touch screen! But no, they had to protect the Ultrabook pricing... not that many people are buying those. HEY INTEL! Most people do not want or need a Core i5/i7 CPU. HEY MICROSOFT! Most people don't like touch screens on laptops and all-in-ones. (Sorry, just got back from Best Buy... it always depresses me these days.)
If you are a Windows fan, you should be more upset than I am. How is it one can get a sub-$200 Haswell-based Chromebook, but cannot get an equivalent Windows machine even at $500?
It is clearly the year of the Chromebook... but next year will be even bigger for Chromebooks. I'll have more to say about that in a future post.