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So what’s the least desired electronic gadget this holiday season?
Well, flat-screen TVs and mobile phones are still in, but cash-strapped shoppers are likely to shun anything closely linked to entertainment in the home or car because such electronics are seen as dispensable in an economic crisis.
That includes audio speakers and desktop computers and even GPS navigation systems made by companies such as TomTom NV and Garmin Ltd.
A popular item as recently as last year, GPS may fall by the wayside, since they can be pricey and not viewed as essential, according to Stephen Baker, an analyst for research firm NPD.
“GPS may have some demand issues,” he said. “If you are looking at necessity versus discretionary, that is a category that is not very well-penetrated, which is in its favor. But the negative part is people saying: ‘Do I really need this’?
A recent national survey says the dubious distinction of least desirable holiday gift belongs to Bluetooth Headsets, those thumb-sized devices beloved by some for their convenience and ridiculed by others as odd looking.
The online survey conducted last month on behalf of auction site eBay Inc also found that only 5 percent of those who wanted personal electronics desired a Blu-ray disc player. Even so-called “retro video game” systems and one game in particular — “Dance Dance Revolution Hottest Party II” — got the thumbs-down.
Digital picture frames, the sleek devices that can scroll dozens of pictures and even update remotely via an Internet link, may feel the pinch if shoppers’ budgets force them to decide on one electronic product or another, Baker says.
“A lot of people think of frames as a neat thing to do, but may end up saying: ‘I probably really need a new digital camera.'”
STORES OFFERS CLUES OF LOSERS
Electronics stores are already gearing up for the holiday rush, hoping consumers snap up deeply discounted devices. But there are clues to how some stores — who give hot items premium placing and downplay the laggards — feel about certain products.
On a recent visit to a suburban New York Circuit City, this reporter crossed through the threshold and saw four products placed prominently: flat TVs on the left, digital audio players on the right and straight ahead, mobile phones and — oddly enough — high-end Dyson vacuum cleaners.
Scanning the huge big-box store, it was hard to locate home audio speakers, car radios and cordless phones, which were either hundreds of feet away from the front door, beyond eyeshot, or on shelves below eye-level.
At a Best Buy store on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, the rear of the lower level, far from the bustle, is where you will find Logitech International’s $149 Harmony programmable remote controls, not far from Bose’s $329 bookshelf speakers and Sony Corp’s $399 770-watt home theater receiver and a host of computer printers.
Tim Herbert, an analyst for the Consumer Electronics Association, suggests the rapidly changing — and cost-saving — nature of consumers’ use of certain products is also affecting shopping habits.
“For example, in the category of cordless phones and answering machines, in years past that was always a very hot category, but more and more people are moving toward a cell phone-only model of communication,” he said. “Or the answering machine capabilities are built into a service that you get with your carrier or phone service.”
But that will not stop shoppers from spending freely on a great deal. For example, Wal-Mart says its holiday sales include a basic Compaq laptop for $298 and a Sanyo 46-inch LCD high-definition television for $898.
“Consumers are going to be more mindful of their budgets,” said Herbert. “It’s a tough question to say morally whether it is right to spend on the holidays this year when they may be feeling economic strain, but historically, its somewhat in our nature.”
(Additional reporting by Nicole Maestri and Andre Grenon)