As surprised as the personal computer industry was by demand for its products at Christmas, executives and analysts have been shocked at how the momentum has been sustained since then.
In the first quarter of this year, PC shipments rose 23 percent in the United States to nearly 4.7 million computers, according to International Data Corp., a market research firm in Framingham, Mass.
The nation’s largest computer retailer, CompUSA Inc. of Dallas, reported that sales for its fourth fiscal quarter ended June 24 rose 20 percent to $689 million.
All of this has happened amid widespread fears that sales would slow as customers waited for the introduction of Microsoft Corp.’s Windows 95 operating system.
“We’ve been very happy with sales recently, said Lawrence Mondry, CompUSA’s executive vice president for merchandising.
The industry is expected to gather even more steam in the second half of the year with the introduction of Windows 95 in late August and Intel Corp.’s debut of the successor to the Pentium microprocessor chip the P6 in the fourth quarter.
The trend is expected to continue for a long time. Dataquest Inc. of San Jose, Calif., estimated recently that 100 million PCs will be shipped worldwide in 1999, up from 48 million last year. The world market will nearly double to $185 billion in 1999 from $95 billion in 1994.
How big is the boom in PCs? So big that people want one even more than they want a new car.
According to CNW Marketing Research Co., 31.6 percent of American adults surveyed said they want to buy a computer in the next year, more than double the figure in 1990. Only 13.3 percent put new wheels on their wish list, down from 14.7 percent five years earlier.
“Ten years ago, status was a BMW, said Art Spinella, vice president of the Bandon, Ore., firm that tracks consumer spending habits. “Now it’s a 100-megahertz Pentium PC. Instead of putting income tax refunds to a down payment on a new car, today it’s a home computer.
Fueling much of the growth is demand for high-powered multimedia computers for the home, capable of playing the latest games and educational programs that integrate full-motion video and stereo sound. Consumers also want fast modem connections for hooking up with the Internet.
Spinella, whose survey of consumer spending includes a sample of 40,000 people nationwide, said home PC buyers often rationalize the purchase as something for the children’s homework. He said the devices are more often used by the whole family for games.
Home computers accounted for 31.7 percent of the PC market last year in the United States, up from 28.6 percent in 1993, according to Dataquest.
“The industry has been predicting this boom for 15 years, said Richard Shaffer, principal of Technologic Partners in New York. “Sooner or later, if you predict it long enough, you’ll turn out to be right.
The only potential dark clouds for the PC industry have been concerns about the availability of components, including memory chips, high-end disk drives and the fastest model CD-ROM drives.