published Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Tablets lead gadgets lineup among Christmas shoppers

  • photo
    Don Withrow walks in front of several different brands of televisions on display inside of the Sears at Hamilton Place in Chattanooga. Withrow was assisting his friend who has not bought a television set in many years. Electronics, including televisions are a big seller this year.
    Photo by Jenna Walker.
    enlarge photo

Poll
Are you buying electronics as Christmas presents?

This is the biggest year for tablets since Moses came off of Mount Sinai.

Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet computer sold a million units a week so far this month in a Christmas season dominated by the devices. Since the iPad was introduced in the spring of 2010, Apple has sold more than 40 million of the tablet devices and millions of such hand-held, touch-screen computers have been sold by other technology companies.

"Tablets are huge. We don't see a ton of discounting for tablets, and it's because they still remain a premium product in some respects," said Ben Arnold, an industry analyst with consumer market researchers NPD Group. "It's safe to say those will be huge gifts in general over the holiday season."

Tablets were a hot item in Christmas 2010 following the arrival of the first iPad, but this year the market has exploded with a variety of tablets such as the Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble's Nook, which run on Google's Android operating system.

Wendell Norman, manager of the Gunbarrel Road Best Buy, said his store's tablet sales have been evenly split between the iPad 2 and Android-based tablets. The devices are by far his biggest holiday item.

"Tablets took over," he said. "You don't even have to do anything but put them out."

Beverly Charlton was on her way out of Best Buy Tuesday, a new Kindle Fire in tow. She's been using an original iPad for a while and figured she'd help her husband get on board with the devices with a tablet for Christmas.

She expects he'll use the device to read books, but isn't sure just how much time he'll get with his gifts.

"I'm shopping for my husband, but I'm pretty sure this'll go to the kids," she said. "They took the iPad over."

TV SALES DRAW CUSTOMERS

TVs are also high-volume sellers this season, according to Arnold. Unlike tablets, retailers have been offering deep discounts on the bigger screens, bringing price points down to more manageable ranges for many.

"That has really helped to fuel the movement of boxes out the door, however the revenue picture is a little bit different," he said.

But those reduced revenues are often more than made up for in accessories. An NPD Group study showed customers buying TVs often grab pricey products such as HDMI cables and Blu-ray players. That motivates retailers to slash TV prices to lure holiday shoppers.

"Nothing gets someone in the store like a sale on a 50-inch TV that they can roll out and not even fit in their car," Arnold said. "Bundling things like that helps increase the overall spend."

Customers are willing to spend a little more on TVs if their investments can help save money in the long run, according to Norman. Smart TVs have been his biggest seller, attracting customers with their ability to play video services such as Hulu and Netflix right out of the box.

"People are looking for smart TVs first," he said. "They're trying to find a way to eliminate cable."

Brenna Lype was just looking for a way to get her parents to the 21st century as she shopped Thursday. Their TV broke, so she was going to grab them a 42-inch Insignia flatscreen for Christmas.

"They're getting older," she said. "They need something bigger."

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