There is no question about which is the key period of the year for the
consumer printing market. While the September-October return to school and
university undoubtedly gives the market a much needed boost after the first half
of the year, it is December when we really see a surge in sales.
In 2006, 15 per cent of the year’s inkjet printer sales were rung up in December. Just over half (54 per cent) of those machines were multifunctional devices (MFDs), which continue to dominate sales of consumer printers.
Throughout 2007 we have seen strong double-digit sales growth compared with 2006 for MFDs. Sales have been driven not only by continued price erosion and value for money of both photo and non-photo models (a quarter of all printers sold in September cost less than £35; 77 per cent under £75), but also by the arrival of consumer-friendly fax- and wireless-enabled machines.
With year-to-date sales growth of 63 per cent, fax-enabled MFDs now account for close to one in five of all units sold a high proportion considering the prominence of much cheaper traditional printer/copier/
scanner models. Wireless, which has only been fully embraced by some manufacturers since June, is now an integrated feature in almost one in every 10 models sold.
Total year-to-date (January to September 2007) inkjet MFD sales are up 37 per cent on 2006. While the strength of sales performance in the final quarter of 2006 means I would anticipate this figure falling to somewhere around the 25 per cent mark by the end of the year, MFDs will be the key sector for both manufacturers and retailers this Christmas, particularly as single-function devices are having such a rough
time of it.
In contrast to the MFD sector, and as a direct consequence of its success, the sales of A4 single-function printers have seen big, double-digit volume and value declines throughout the year. Overall year-to-date sales have fallen by 21 per cent compared with 2006.
The price gap between a multifunctional and single-function device has disappeared in the past 18 months. At £80, the average price
of a multifunctional photo-capable machine (one with six or more colours, card slots or PictBridge) is now less than that of the single-function equivalent (£85).
In addition to dropping prices, many major retail outlets have continued to move further towards multifunctional machines in terms of their ranging, prominence in store and promotion. With the exception of the bargain end of the market, and some attractively priced camera and small photo printer bundles, this trend is likely to continue, moving into the festive period.
Small photo printers (devices with smaller than A4 output) have fared even worse. Year-to-date sales are 30 per cent down on 2006. The sector has moved from year-on-year growth to decline in a very short time span.
The small photo printer sector is strongly affected by seasonality and is dependent on gift buying. A third of the sector’s 2006 sales came in December and while there will undoubtedly be a Santa-driven surge in sales, the level reached will probably be significantly less than the 220,000 units and 33 per cent share shifted last year, as more consumers opt for gifts such as LCD image frames. September sales of such frames were more than double those of small photo printers.
Neil Frackiewicz is an analyst at GfK.
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