Commentary

The Geek Shall Inherit The Mirth

Big is back. Not as in 80s hair or powersuit shoulder pads, or even as in Wall Street excess, but as in Big Ticket. And it's not everywhere, but certainly it's in Big Ticket electronics. Back in January we saw an inkling of this: there was a mild indication that the chastened consumer of 2009 was returning to the marketplace in many categories, but the desire for electronics stood apart as unwavering, even during the recession. The trend has picked up momentum between January and now; the major takeaway of our April deep-dive into the consumers' mindset regarding electronics is that a clear majority of those surveyed -- 74 percent -- plan to make an electronics purchase in 2010. These consumers overwhelmingly expressed intent for a Big Ticket spend, with implications for brand loyalty and purchase behavior.

The domestication of big-ticket electronics is a recent phenomenon. Whereas the aforementioned 80s electronics have gone mainstream in every way possible: Wii, ringtones, Barbie-branded cell phone skins and everyone's new glamour toy, the iPad. No matter what your age or gender, if there isn't a product made just for you there's one that you can customize to reflect your individuality. Technology, which just a few years ago was quite intimidating, has become a tool for self-expression.

The consumer list of planned purchases for this year is long: 73 percent plan to buy a cell phone and the same number plan to buy a laptop. Just under half will add a new flat-screen TV, with more than a third looking for an HD flat panel and a few considering first-generation 3-D TVs. And few consumers will be surprised to learn of the spike in interest in e-readers and pads: 39 percent of users surveyed are budgeting to buy one this year.

Beyond product demand, we were intrigued by a trend in purchase behavior: the Citizen Researcher is now an integral strand of the online shopper's DNA. The majority of users -- 64 percent -- report they are beginning their research earlier than last year and lengthening their decision-making process -- and the time lengthens as the price point rises. It appears that expert and user reviews have become more important in product choice than comparison shopping as consumers are wary of money spent, but even more wary of money spent badly.

Although the December shopping season may seem far away now as we celebrate the summer, we see that up to 40 percent of our users surveyed say they will start holiday shopping before Labor Day. Bundle this with our finding that consumers are researching Big Ticket items for months in advance and you have a persuasive argument for priming the pump of the holiday season even as we pass the sunscreen.

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