PCR looks at the state of the market and asks whether a boom in tablet sales this Christmas can match last year’s impressive load…

Trollies full of tablets: Can Tesco’s Hudl win this Christmas?

Sales of tablets in Western Europe more than doubled year-on-year in the first half of 2013, according to research firm Context, and the ever-popular mobile devices are set to once again become the top-sellers this Christmas.

But can they match the heights of last year, when during December they outsold laptops by around four to one?

“There is little doubt that consumers with money to spend on technology are choosing the form factor they have yet to acquire – namely a tablet,” comments Alex Tatham, sales and marketing director at Westcoast.

Nikhil Gohil, category manager at Staples, adds: “We certainly expect sales to peak significantly leading up to the Christmas period.”

Mark Hosgood, category manager for tablets, e-readers and projectors at Currys and PC World agrees with the prediction, saying: “We expect tablets to be just as popular this year as last year possibly even more given the amount of great products available.”

Adam Brown, tablets and telecoms buyer at John Lewis, is confident the retailer will see a lot of demand for tablets: “This year we’re going to have seen every big brand refresh their product line ready for Christmas, so I think this Christmas will see good growth versus last year.

“We’re certainly expecting a lot of demand – we’re forecasting to sell one tablet every 15 seconds over the Christmas period.”

Tesco recently launched its first own-branded tablet, the Hudl, and while many may have instantly groaned at the thought of a supermarket releasing a mobile device, it turns out the Hudl isn’t the low-spec budget tablet that its £119 price tag suggests.

While being less than half the price of an iPad Mini, the Hudl has a higher screen resolution, packing a 1440×900 pixel screen compared to the iPad Mini’s 1024×768. Coming in four different colours, some could argue it has the ability to appeal to a wider audience than just monochrome fans – something that Apple itself has addressed with the release of the iPhone 5S.

While there’s an array of tablets on the market, many of which fall into a similar seven-inch form factor as the Hudl, it would be quite easy to brush off Tesco’s attempts at tech and assume that the device will go down the same hole as the Next 10-inch Tablet – the retailer launched it’s very own tablet in 2011 priced at £180. Remember it? No? Neither did anyone else.

Shortly after the Hudl was launched, Tesco revealed that 35,000 tablets had been sold in just two days – a great start for a supermarket’s own-brand tablet.

To keep the momentum going, the Hudl is going to have to compete with a number of established brands on the market, many of which are tipped as top sellers for Christmas.

“Our top tablets for this Christmas are the Samsung Galaxy Tabs and the Google Nexus 7, alongside the ever successful iPad range,” Gohil tells PCR.

“We also expect the hybrid options such as the Asus Transformer Book T100 to be popular this year as customers look to get as much for their money as possible.”

Hosgood adds: “The Google Nexus offers the best of Android with an unbeatable screen. Samsung with its Galaxy Tab 3 range offers something for everyone. The Microsoft Surface will be popular for those looking for a touchscreen Windows experience and Apple’s range is as strong as ever.”

Tesco is keen to market the device as one aimed at those who are ‘intimidated by technology’, but with the tablet’s integration of other services such as Blinkbox and Clubcard TV, the grocer has found a secondary use for the tablet – the promotion of its own range of digital content and services.

Having acquired online bookseller Mobcast and beefed up its Blinkbox TV and film offering over the past year, Tesco can pull these offerings together, along with its online banking, broadband and telephone services, and put them right into shoppers’ hands.

While the aforementioned Next 10- inch Tablet didn’t take off, Amazon has proved that a retailer’s own-brand tablet can work. Its Kindle range may have started off as a simple ereader but the popular Kindle Fire tablet is now an established iPad competitor.

While Argos has also recently announced its own-brand MyTablet, other retailers have decided to go down the ‘exclusive partnership’ route, meaning they can support a device despite being unable to build their own one from scratch – one example is WHSmith and the Kobo ereader.

So, are any other retailers likely to release their own own-branded tablet?

Staples is considering the option; “We are currently in the process of investigating the opportunity to align Staples with some great value tablet options,” explains Gohil.

“Creating our own brand tablet is something we are also considering as part of this investigation to offer our customers a great product at a very reasonable price.”

Maplin, on the other hand, is planning to take the opposite route and not tie itself down to a particular brand or product.

“The research and development that goes into bringing a tablet to market is a very lengthy and costly process,” Maplin marketing director Breffni Walsh, tells PCR.

“By not committing ourselves to a particular tablet we are able to have the flexibility to bring the latest products onto market into our range online and in-store very quickly.”

While John Lewis hasn’t totally discarded the idea of offering their own device, Brown believes building a really compelling own-brand tablet is a very difficult thing to achieve: “Tablet computing is one of the most competitive markets in consumer electronics right now so we’d only pursue it if we thought we could hold ourselves up to the exceptionally high standards that our current own brand products have set.”

With IDC predicting that 84.1 million tablets will be sold in the lead up to Christmas, regardless of retailers’ mixed feelings about the importance of an own-brand device one thing is for sure – they’ll be selling an abundance of tablets over the next two months.

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