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Notebook PCs Outpace Weak Back-to-School Sales

While most retailers saw bleak sales this back-to-school season, consumer electronics chains saw renewed demand for notebook personal computers, according to a report from market research firm NPD Group.

Photo: Daniel Feldt

That could be good news for PC makers this holiday shopping season, with few stand-out gadgets to woo shoppers.

Overall consumer technology revenue for the U.S. back-to-school season fell 12.5 percent this year to $7.6 billion, NPD said on Tuesday. NPD measured sales for the seven-week period from late July through mid-September.

But notebook PCs performed better, as revenue for the category was flat versus a year ago, largely influenced by a drop in the average selling price per unit to $624 from $804.

Within that category, thin and light netbooks were a big draw, accounting for 14 percent of all notebook units sold for back-to-school. That was up from just less than 2 percent of sales last year, NPD said.

NPD called notebook PCs "the only true must-have" category for back-to-school in the consumer technology sector. They made up 21 percent of all revenue, it added.

"Notebooks seem to be recession-proof and this back-to-school season was no exception," said Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at NPD.

More consumers opted for netbooks and low-cost notebooks under $500 as viable options despite the weak economy, Baker said.

Hewlett-Packard Co. , the world's No. 1 maker of personal computers, expects very aggressive pricing for PCs during the coming holiday season, as consumers remain focused on buying lower-priced products.

Electronics retailer Best Buy Co. said last week it was beefing up holiday hiring, expecting a better holiday sales performance fueled in part by purchases of netbooks, flat-screen televisions and digital book readers.

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