Hard Schooling - PC Retail

Hard Schooling

PCR takes a look at the back to school hardware market
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The back to school season is upon us again, and with it comes a huge demand for a wide variety of educationally focused products.

The shopping period is unique in that it presents opportunities for both retailers and resellers. On the consumer side, there are plenty of categories that are predicted to perform well, including netbooks and storage devices. On the schooling side, Windows XP Pro laptops, networking and storage are expected to see high demand from customers.

"It's potentially the most important part of the year," states commercial director of CCI Distribution, Mark Wilson. "Around 25 to 30 per cent of revenue in the third quarter can be attributed to back to school sales." With so much revenue potential, it really shouldn't come as a surprise that other distributors agree with Wilson. "Back to school is one of the busiest times of the year for most IT hardware resellers," adds product manager at VIP, Darren Jackson.

STORING UP POTENTIAL

A recurring message from the distributors and vendors interviewed is that availability of cheap storage has fundamentally revolutionised the way that schools and pupils handle personal information such as homework and coursework.

"We always see a spike in demand at this time of the year due to the back to school season," comments Kingston's regional director for UK and Ireland Ann Keefe. "Prior to all new school terms, and particularly during the summer before the new university intake, we see an increase in sales of USB flash drives."

Jackson puts the increase in demand for portable storage down to the changing nature of school's interaction with IT: "As technologies have advanced, lessons and homework have become much more interactive and creative. As images and videos have become more integrated into school life, the demand placed upon storage requirements has grown."

In particular, USB drives have been a key product. "Today, storage is much more flexible, allowing you to easily back-up information and move your content around with you," says SanDisk's regional marketing manager, Nikki Willcock.

"Low cost storage devices such as USB flash drives offer pupils much more flexibility than in the past," adds Keefe. "They can work on a pool PC at school and then take work back home."

Indeed, storage has had such an impact that distributors who have not traditionally been involved in the education market have seen uplift in demand around the peak times of the year. "It has become increasingly important over the past four to five years," comments Meroncourt sales director, Steve Walsh. "Each year we see an increase in revenue from this period. USB pen drives have been fairly constant in sales volumes." Walsh put this down, in part, to falling prices for wholesale memory. "While the capacities have increased, prices have remained the same. Three years ago 1GB and 2GB were the norm, now it's four, eight and 16GB."

PRICE VS BRAND
Inevitably, price comes into the equation, especially with the budget limitations for schools and local education. However, as Interactive Ideas' Andy Miles stresses, value doesn't always mean cheap. "Education is an area we believe should not be compromised on by buying in low quality products through pushes for budget cuts and we don't expect this to be the case either."

The same applies across the spectrum for pupils and the schools, he adds: "A brand is not necessarily a guarantee of a good or bad product, just as the same can be said for price. So we are expecting schools and pupils alike to be searching beyond the first brand or price they see."

Some feel that the whole debate is no longer relevant. "I would potentially suggest neither," argues VIP product manager Chris Bloxham. "Pricing has come down over the past few years, so purchasing a new notebook or netbook is not the investment that it once was."

On the flipside, many of the channel experts we spoke to said that ultimately, it came down to the child. "Brand has a very important part to play in the selection process. The pupil will understandably want to select a 'cool' brand that will improve others' perception of them, whilst packing enough punch to cope with the workload," senior campaigns manager at Ingram Micro, Daniel Lewis states.

Target's marketing manager Caroline Spillane agrees, adding that parents are swayed by familiar brands: "They are often advised what to buy by the child, who is likely to be brand orientated."

A DELAY ON THE CARDS?

The arrival of Windows 7 and Snow Leopard after the school year begins has resulted in genuine worries from resellers and retailers that consumers and schools may be put off buying.

Many on the distribution side do feel the late arrival will impact sales, on either side. "Despite Windows 7 coming this October, schools are more concerned with sticking with Windows XP Pro," claims education manager at Spire, Neil Reynolds. "Their main desire is that there will not be any conflict with anything: it's all going to go in and work. When they have to change, they will do the change then."

On the consumer side, the Vista upgrade scheme will solve many of those problems, adds Lynch. "I don't think we should see any problems. From an end user's point of view, they can buy the latest Vista now and still get the free upgrade to Windows 7 when it is released so I don't think they will be disappointed."

APPLE IN THE EYE

One interesting development within the educational market over the past couple of years is the increasing introduction of Apple hardware. While many of the key programs such as Word and Excel are available on Macs, buying trends suggest the hardware a pupil's school uses has an impact on their own purchasing decisions.

"Pupils who are used to using Apple hardware are more likely to return back to the brand when making their own purchasing decisions," concurs Daniels. "Those who are more familiar with PC technology or are looking for a lower initial purchase price are more likely to stick with a well-known PC brand."

Spillane agrees with this observation, adding: "Cheap licences on Microsoft software for schools and universities, which extend to home use too, tend to also encourage PC use."

Apple Range
Thanks to Apple’s dominance of the creative industries, Macs have become essential hardware on many design, photography, video and music courses. Add to that its desirable brand and you have computers that are guaranteed to be a hit with those in further and higher education.
Distributor: Ingram Micro, Westcoast


Dell Latitude 2100

Dell has created a laptop specially designed for the needs of pupils, teachers and IT technicians. The Latitude 2100, Dell says, is affordable, durable and internet ready. It also features rubberised casing to make it stronger and less likely to get damaged in transit.
Distributor: Dell

Rock Range
Rock may have originally been a high-end consumer gaming brand, but its purchase by education vendor Stone Group opened up its performance products to a new market. The PCs are ideal for environments when schools need power, or students want to be able to use their computer for entertainment.
Distributor: Stone Group

Epoch Notebook Case
Capable of holding a 15.4-inch laptop, the Epoch is a lightweight design that utilises soft but durable materials. It carries a protective notebook compartment with file and organiser sections for paperwork and cables, plus soft grip handles and permanently attached shoulder strap for portability.
Distributor: Avenues Europe

Intel Classmate
Available in two models – a traditional clamshell and clamshell tablet – Intel’s Classmate range has been designed specifically for the needs of schools and pupils. With rubberised shells, handles and a touch-screen in the tablet version, few devices are as specialised for the education market as this.
Distributor: CMS Computers


Kingston Datatraveler 400
Kingston’s range of DataTraveler USB memory sticks provide a wide selection of features, ranging from ease of use through to ultra-high capacity. In particular, its 101 range – available with up to 16GB of storage – has been designed for the education market, with the ability to brand the device with school or pupil details, as well as a protective cover to prevent damage and loss of important school work.
Distributor: Computer 2000, Ingram Micro


Sandisk Ultra Backup USB Flash Drive
Described by Sandisk as the first product of its kind, the Ultra Backup USB Flash Drive features the ability to back up all information stored on a computer at the push of button, without the need to use cables or install software. Available in capacities up to 64GB, it has been designed for ease of use and security of the data stored.
Distributor: Arrow

Messenger Traveller Bag
This item has been designed for users who are looking for a stylish, useful laptop bag that can also double up as a practical document case. As well as a notebook compartment that is protected by high-density foam padding, the Traveller carries a large accessory pocket and zipped side pouches. Available in red, blue or black.
Distributor: Computer Gear


Lapcabby Range
Monarch’s LapCabby range of laptop and netbook storage solutions have been designed for the modern school environment and feature a number of inbuilt facilities, such as on-board charging and power management systems. Aside from the safety design, which prevents children from accessing the power compartment, it also features vents to prevent damage to the products by keeping the compartments cool.
Distributor: Monarch


Wacom Intuous 4E

Popular with high schools, colleges and universities, Wacom’s graphics tablets are an essential tool on many creative courses. The Intuous 4 is a high-end device with a wide working area. However, they are expensive, so for those who wish to own their own tablet, the vendor’s consumer Bamboo range is a viable alternative.
Distributor: Computers Unlimited

Flip Range
The Flip Video device has proven popular with consumers and according to distributor Widget, major resellers such as RM and Tag Learning have already started ordering the devices due to demand from schools. Institutions from primary schools through to university are among those using them for various types of work.
Distributor: Widget

Digital Blue Digital Video Movie Creator 3
Along with the Flip, Digital Blue’s Digital Movie Creator comes with everything teachers need to introduce their pupils to the principles of recording video and editing. Using SD cards, each camera can record two hours of footage per 1GB and its included software is easy to use.
Distributor: Interactive Ideas


Veho Discovery USB Microscope

With a zoom factor of x400, Veho’s Discovery VMS-004 USB microscope is ideal for science-based environments. It has a full adjustable stand, two-megapixel lens and can take stills or record movies. Whether it is for a student’s coursework, or for the teacher to demonstrate via a projector or whiteboard, it has the potential to change the way schools do science.
Distributor: Target

Wacom Intuous 4E
Popular with high schools, colleges and universities, Wacom’s graphics tablets are an essential tool on many creative courses. The Intuous 4 is a high-end device with a wide working area. However, they are expensive, so for those who wish to own their own tablet, the vendor’s consumer Bamboo range is a viable alternative.
Distributor: Computers Unlimited

Flip Range
The Flip Video device has proven popular with consumers and according to distributor Widget, major resellers such as RM and Tag Learning have already started ordering the devices due to demand from schools. Institutions from primary schools through to university are among those using them for various types of work.
Distributor: Widget

Digital Blue Digital Video Movie Creator 3
Along with the Flip, Digital Blue’s Digital Movie Creator comes with everything teachers need to introduce their pupils to the principles of recording video and editing. Using SD cards, each camera can record two hours of footage per 1GB and its included software is easy to use.
Distributor: Interactive Ideas

Veho Discovery USB Microscope
With a zoom factor of x400, Veho’s Discovery VMS-004 USB microscope is ideal for science-based environments. It has a full adjustable stand, two-megapixel lens and can take stills or record movies. Whether it is for a student’s coursework, or for the teacher to demonstrate via a projector or whiteboard, it has the potential to change the way schools do science.
Distributor: Target

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