Sales of computers, TV sets, cameras fall; smartphones remain popular

The Straits Times understands that the last major replacement cycle for television sets was in 2010, when StarHub screened all 64 football matches of the Fifa World Cup in high-definition. That year, many consumers bought large-screen, full-HD TV set
The Straits Times understands that the last major replacement cycle for television sets was in 2010, when StarHub screened all 64 football matches of the Fifa World Cup in high-definition. That year, many consumers bought large-screen, full-HD TV sets.

Fewer computers, TV sets and cameras flew off the shelves here in the first seven months of the year as Singapore consumers ran out of new things to buy.

This is the second time in two years that sales in these products have dropped, as retailers here grapple with a softening market.

This is also the industry's first continuing decline in six years, said market research firm GfK Asia, which measures actual sales at local retailers, including the major players.

From January to July, around 2.4 million computers, TV sets and cameras worth $936 million were sold. This is a 17 per cent drop compared with the 2.9 million units sold for $68 million more in the same period a year ago. During 2011's first seven months, retailers here sold 3.2 million units worth $1.06 billion.

But sales of smartphones and other telecommunication devices bucked the trend. Over 1.3 million units, worth $388 million, were snapped up in the first seven months of the year, said GfK, an increase on 1.2 million units sold for $329 million in the same period last year.

One IT distributor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, described the fall in sales for products like computers and TV sets as "the worst since the last recession in 2008". He said sales got worse in the last three months.

"The last growth spurt for computers was in 2012," he said, pointing out that was when gamers upgraded their hardware for the launch of Diablo 3, a popular computer game.

The Straits Times understands that the last major replacement cycle for television sets was in 2010, when StarHub screened all 64 football matches of the Fifa World Cup in high-definition (HD). That year, many consumers bought large-screen, full-HD TV sets measuring at 40 inches or more.

The Straits Times also understands that Singapore's reluctance to spend has hit smaller stores than megastores for now.

Still, the slowdown in Singapore was reflected in Harvey Norman's latest financial year, which ended in June. Without providing sales figures for Singapore, the Australia-based chain said sales in Singapore were "softer" than a year ago.

GfK South-east Asia managing director Stanley Kee said most consumers here already have a TV set, computer and camera - in what is known as "market saturation". He expects the drop to continue, with future purchases confined to the latest ultra-thin and touchscreen laptops or 3G and Internet-connected smart TV sets.

Consumers The Straits Times spoke to see few reasons to upgrade.

Researcher Solomon Chang, for instance, said there was no "wow factor" in new products. "The improvements in laptops, for instance, are marginal," said the 36-year-old, who is still using a two-year-old MacBook Air.

The convergence of technologies has also eaten into the camera and computer business.

Businessman Harry Chew, 43, said he would not buy a new laptop - touchscreen or not - if his current one fails, since the iPad Mini he owns is "good enough" for e-mail.

Another businessman, Mr Chee Kwok Liang, 39, now relies on his iPhone for taking pictures after selling his digital camera last year.

"The smartphone leaves us with the feeling that we don't need anything more."

itham@sph.com.sg