SAN FRANCISCOShipments of flat-panel televisions in the U.S. and Canada grew to 7.8 million units in the first quarter, up 17.3 percent from the first quarter of 2008, according to market research firm iSuppli Corp.
The year-over-year first quarter increase contrasted with the predictions of market analystsincluding iSuppliwho expected a major decline in LCD and plasma television sets in light of the weak economy. Consumers in the first quarter gravitated toward less expensive models, low-priced retailers and value brands, according to iSuppli (El Segundo, Calif.).
In a statement, Joe Abelson, vice president of displays for iSuppli, likened the behavior of U.S. consumers during the economic downturn to the response following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. He said consumers responded to the down economy by eschewing travel, "cocooning" at home and watching TV.
Tina Teng, a television analyst at iSuppli, said there has been a major shift in flat-panel TV purchasing price points, with 68.9 percent of TVs purchased in the U.S. priced at less than $1,000.
U.S. purchases of flat-panel televisions priced in the $600 to $999 range rose the fastest among all price bands, increasing by 3.6 percent in the first quarter compared to the second quarter of 2008, according to a survey conducted by iSuppli. Purchases of flat-panel sets priced at less than or equal to $599 increased by 2.6 percent, according to the survey, which showed a decline in percentage of purchases for TVs priced over $1,000.
Larger televisions40 inches and biggerare coming down in price as premium brands slash prices to match those of their value competitors, iSuppli said.
As U.S. consumers flock to lower-priced flat-panel televisions, they also are embracing lower-cost retailers, particularly Wal-Mart, iSuppli said. Wal-Mart was second among U.S. retailers in flat panel television sales in the first quarter, accounting for 22.3 of all U.S. flat-panel purchases, up from 13.8 percent in the first quarter of 2008, iSuppli said.
First quarter flat-panel TV purchases at the leading U.S. retailer, Best Buy, amounted to 23.4 percent of all U.S. sales, a slight increase from 22.8 percent in the first quarter of 2008, iSuppli said.
Television manufacturer Vizio Inc. became the No. 1 selling LCD-TV in the U.S. and Canada in the first quarter, selling 1.4 million units, up from 829,000 in the first quarter of 2008, iSuppli said. According to the firm, Vizio finished a close second in overall flat-panel television sales (including plasma sets) in the U.S. and Canada during the first quarter, with Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. remaining the leader.