Retail sales helped to keep the channel alive during the fourth quarter of 2008 after demand from corporate customers collapsed, according to the latest figures from research firm Gartner, with the firm saying growth had returned to 2001/02 recession levels.
Echoing fellow research company IDC, Gartner revealed that growth had collapsed during the fourth quarter, but unlike IDC, its figures show some growth – at 1.1 per cent – unlike IDC, whose figures showed that the market actually shrank by 0.4.
The UK was particularly hit hard, displaying the weakest growth of all the markets in Western Europe, especially in the business sector where Gartner found many firms were scaling back IT procurement and spend.
"The professional market is now experiencing the full impact of the economic slowdown, as all business markets were affected," said Gartner in its report.
The good news for retailers is that though the UK consumer market is still growing, albeit at a slower rate than previously. "The consumer market was the least affected of all the segments, with mobile PCs driving growth," it added.
However, it echoed IDCs warning that much of this growth was being driven by the uptake of netbooks; something that is having a serious impact on margins and profitability. "Shipment growth was boosted by steep ASP declines, which were further accelerated by the popularity of netbooks," commented principle analyst for Gartner's Client Computing Markets group, Mika Kitagawa.
However, despite the dramatic downturn in demand seen in the fourth quarter, PCs still managed to hold on to double figure growth during 2008, with worldwide sales up 10.9 per cent on 2007, breaking the 300m-unit mark, at 302.2m units shipped.
In EMEA, sales were up 17 per cent on 2007 with 107.9 per cent PCs shipped in the region during the year. However, during the fourth quarter growth was slashed to 4.9 per cent as both consumers and businesses tightened their belts.
In terms of vendors, HP managed to retain their lead as the world's largest vendor, echoing IDC's findings and displaying a similar level of growth at 3.5 per cent year-on-year. Gartner also found Dell was particularly hard hit worldwide due to the downturn in its primary markets, which include business and governments.
Acer also demonstrated a rapid increase in its market share – partly attributable to its merger of Gateway and Packard Bell earlier in the year – but also because of the success of its Aspire One netbook, which was confirmed as the best selling device in that category, outselling the combined Eee family, as reported by PC Retail.
That performance wasn't enough though to prevent HP regaining the number one position in EMEA after a particularly strong quarter in France. It grew by 12.5 per cent year on year, while Acer only managed 6.8 per cent for the same period.
"As expected the EMEA PC market slowed rapidly during the fourth quarter of 2008 with growth levels hitting those last seen during the 2000/2001 period," commented principal analyst for Gartner's Client Computing Markets group in EMEA, Ranjit Atwal.
"Although the fourth quarter results lowered the overall 2008 growth rate, the market still saw strong growth at 17 per cent for the year and Hewlett Packard retained the leading vendor position in EMEA," he added.