Mac Musings

Apple Gaining Back-to-School Shoppers Despite Lack of Netbooks and Low-end Laptops

Dan Knight - 2009.08.20 - Tip Jar

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I'm getting tired of the nonsense headlines such as "Lack of Netbook, Price Hurting Apple in This Year's Back-to-School Market". And doesn't it seem suspicious that a dozen websites would come up with exactly the same headline?

They're all reporting or commenting on a press release: Retrevo Survey Says Apple Loses Back-to-School Laptop Shoppers to Netbook & PC. (About 20 sites simply repeat the title of Retrevo's press release. Retrevo does know how to get others to bring traffic its way.)

Problem is, they're not really thinking through what Retrevo is reporting. Mostly, they're regurgitating the survey findings, which are:

  • 34% of students plan to buy a netbook
  • 49% plan to buy full-sized laptops
  • 58% plan to spend less than $750
  • 18% plan to spend over $1,000
  • "The majority of student laptop shoppers will not consider buying a Mac."

What Retrevo's survey of 300-some concludes - that Apple is losing customers to netbooks - is something the evidence doesn't support. As far as I can tell, they didn't ask "Were you considering a MacBook but are now planning to buy a netbook?" or "Were you planning to buy a MacBook but changed your mind because of the price?"

Questions like that might have justified the headline.

We should analyze what isn't being reported: What percentage of student laptop shoppers will consider buying a Mac? Is it 5% or 49% - either of which would not be a majority. Retrevo is surprisingly quiet here.

Further, if 18% plan to spend over $1,000 and Apple accounts for 80% of all sales in that price range, it stands to reason that about 15% of student laptop shoppers (18% time 80%) will probably go Mac. So will some in the $750 to $1,000 range, where Apple has only one new model and a few refurbs.

24% of this market is in the $750 to $1,000 range. Assuming Apple sells to one out of five in this range, we end up with somewhere around 19% of the entire market.

That's pretty impressive for a company that has maybe 10% of the North American and European markets!

If you only read the headline, you'd think there was bad new for Apple when the opposite is true. Netbooks have been eviscerating the low-end notebook market, but that's not a market Apple pursues, so Apple isn't "losing" customers. In fact, students seem to be buying MacBooks at a higher level than the general population.

Expect one laptop of five on college campuses to be from Apple this year.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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