"This spring, digital picture frames took off like nobody's business," says Liz Cutting, senior imaging analyst at The NPD Group. According to NPD's Retail Tracking Service, digital picture frames grossed nearly $12 million, selling more than 112,000 units, during the week before Mother's Day.
The May week's sales were just as strong as Christmas and beat the week of Black Friday. The trend is expected to spike again during June's holiday troika of graduation, confirmation and Father's Day, although not as high as the sales boost over Mother's Day.
Price, novelty and availability are driving the category. Last year, according to NPD, 54% of the digital picture frames sold were 5.6 inches in size, with an average price of $148. From January through April of this year, 54% of the digital picture frames sold were seven inches and went for an average of $102. The average selling price of a seven-inch frame dropped from $139 last Mother's Day to $81 this year.
The novelty factor is helping to drive the trend this spring. Digital picture frames include an LCD screen with multi-media capabilities; it's like having a mini-Power Point presentation on the living room mantel. Consumers can program the frames or simply pop the memory card from their digital camera into a slot.
The frames rotate still images or play video, and both options can be accompanied by sound. Some brands enable consumers to program pictures to be displayed at certain times, which could be quite a bonus for anyone who's ever been criticized by parents and in-laws for not having enough pictures of them with the grandkids.
The number of players grew from 13 last year to 70 this spring, not including private labels. "They run the gamut from household names to imaging-centric names and then to firms no one's ever heard of," says Cutting. The long list of marketers include Kodak, Polaroid, Philips, Westinghouse, Ceiva, Mustek, Pandigital and Smartparts.
Kodak is extending its "Easyshare" branding to its digital picture frames. Pandigital plays on the downside of digital cameras--that consumers forget or neglect to print the pictures. The tagline on its Web site: "Moving digital images out of your camera and into your life!"
Smartparts, which was created in 2003, has come out with a frame that's not just like a PowerPoint presentation, it actually is one. On June 1, the company introduced a 15-inch frame that includes preloaded software called OptiPix Pro. This enables the frame to display PowerPoint presentations, PDF files and graphics in nearly any format, says Colleen Mathis, a spokeswoman for the company. The suggested retail price is $399.
Given that consumers love digital cameras but are slow to have their photos printed, the digital frame category has nowhere to go but up. "Digital cameras are maturing in terms of gee-wiz and bling; they're becoming work-horses," says Cutting. "But companies are finding exciting ways for people to view and display their pictures."