More headphones, bigger TVs and a passion for BBC Radio 4 - UK consumer electronics trends revealed

UK households are harbouring 46 million TVs, buying 24,000 pairs of headphones a day, enjoying over a million new smartphones a month and purchasing more consumer electronics online than anywhere else in Europe. These are just some of the findings from the latest GfK report on UK consumer electronics (CE) sales.

In a market where the consumer confidence index is six points lower than a year ago, and in which CE sales have suffered double-digit percentage decline over the same period, there remain some technology products the British public find irresistable.

Have apps? Have that...

For example, tablets - primarily at this stage the Apple iPad/iPad 2 (above) - have boosted an otherwise ailing IT market to post 1.1% growth in the past year, while 13.8m new smartphones have found pocket-space.

TV sales fall, but sizes rise

Let's start wtih those TV figures first. With no big summer 2011 sporting event to boost sales - unlike last year's World Cup football - TV sales have fallen 14%. Gfk predicts 800,000 less TVs will be sold this year compared to last - though it remains a £3.3bn market.

There may be less sets being sold, but we're paying about the same for our TVs - it's just that we're demanding bigger screens and more features for our money.

The average price of a 37-42in TV has fallen less than £100 - from £634 to £545 – in the past year, yet that little extra cash is buying a slightly bigger set (37in sales are in decline; 40-42in sales have grown more than 10%), often with internet connectivity/streaming services as part of the price.

Likewise the price fall for 46in+ sets - just a touch down at an average selling price of £970 (compared to £1007), yet highly likely to be larger (boosted by the arrival of larger, LED-backlit LCDs), with features like Freeview HD tuners and internet TV as standard.

However, there's also a solid market for no-frills 50in plasma TVs which is keeping that average price down. Bargain-hunting Britain has been snapping up basic spec big plasmas - half of them HD Ready, not Full HD - as retailers push discount deals.

All these moves mean that, for the first time, sales of 37in+ TVs account for the largest sector of the market (31.6%), just pipping 26-32in TVs (31.1%).

What about 3D?

And 3D is making inroads into the market - but, it seems, more by default than anything else. Around half of 46in+ TVs sold are now 3D or 3D ready - but then as anyone buying a set at that size will know, it's tough to find more premium sets without the ability for an extra dimension (even if you do have to pay extra for the glasses/transmitter...)

3D has also become increasingly prevalent in Blu-ray players, with half of all units sold now being 3D-capable.

Not that Blu-ray players are flying out of the shop as fast as expected - Gfk notes that the growing popularlty of satellite/cable TV (including access to video-on-demand selections) streaming services such as LoveFilm, means UK movie nights are less likely to be disc-based these days.

Blu-ray needs a boost

Blu-ray player sales continue to rise slightly compared to last year, and prices are fairly stable (average price has fallen from £155 to £129), but will still just fail to hit that magic sales target of 1m units this year.

However, Blu-ray-based home cinema systems are on the rise - as prices fall. In 2010, when the average price point was £435, there were 95,600 Blu-ray systems sold. Move on a year and that figure has jumped up to 166,000 - while the average price now stands at £350.

It's also worth noting that these Blu-ray sales figures don't include Sony's PlayStation 3, the fresh price cuts for which should boost Blu-ray's entry into UK homes - as well major BD releases such as the Star Wars and Jurassic Park trilogies.

Ambridge adds extra DAB sales?

A format that's already benefited from a boost this year is digital radio. Sales of DAB units were in slight decline along with the wider CE market, until the April 2011 rebranding of BBC digital radio station, BBC7 as Radio 4 Extra.

The launch of Radio 4 Extra– featuring The Archers spin-off Ambridge Extra and a mix of other new and classic drama and comedy – coincided with a big rise in listeners for the 'parent' station, Radio 4, doubtless giving even more people an incentive to invest in a new radio.

That boost puts DAB radios in a select group of CE products (also including HD camcorders) where sales are up from between 1-10%.

10 million headphones by 2012

An even bigger success story is headphones: sales are up by 13% to 8.75m - that's 24,000 pairs sold on average every day from July 2010 to June 2011.

Now a £137m market, headphones are expected to hit further heights as sales continue to grow for the rest of 2011. By 2012, Gfk expects 10 million pairs of headphones to be bought in Britain.

The most popular purchase remains affordable, in-ear headphones - replacement fodder for the dreadful Apple buds, hopefully - but one of the fastest-growing sectors is for serious on- and over-ear designs. The bestselling 'traditional' headphone costs more than £200.

Docks clock up more sales than ever

Audio systems for Apple iThings- iPod, iPhone and now iPad and iPad 2 - also continue their inexorable rise, with almost 1.5m speaker docks sold in the UK over the past year.

In total, more than 3.1m products were sold in 2010-2011 complete with Apple docks - from clock radios to home cinema systems.

Apple AirPlay makes an entrance

Of course, the 2011 arrival of AirPlay means a product doesn't need a dock in order to play audio from your Apple portable (or Mac). Gfk estimates that up to 7% of audio system sales are of AirPlay-supporting products; it'll be interesting to see how that figure changes when we get the next set of stats.

The general uptake of streaming products is growing slowly, with a mere 74,000 sales of dedicated audio clients/servers/streamers recorded. However, an 81% growth rate for audio clients (such as the Sonos Play:5 and Play:3 - pictured above) and a 15% rise in sales of streamer sales (such as the Logitech Squeezebox) means this is definitely a sector to watch.

And remember, these figures don't include the army of audio/cinema systems and separates (including TVs) that also boast streaming capabilties - including, once again, the multi-million-selling Sony PlayStation 3.

Users want to see system benefits

On the subject of systems, more visible benefits - including the aforementioned iPod docks - appear more of an incentive to buy than less obvious features, even including DAB radio.

From budget micros to luxury tabletop systems - such as Vita Audio's R4i above - there is a preference for docks over DAB, though buyers ideally want both.

Sales of hi-fi systems have fallen sharply over the past year - with many CD micros quite clearly being replaced by iPod speaker docks - but there are some interesting exceptions.

For example, sales of £300+ systems have grown by 18% in the past year, with almost 75,000 higher-end boxes being bought.

Hi-fi separates feel the squeeze

No such surges in the audio separates market (in Gfk terms this includes AV receivers plus speakers and speaker packages), which fell to a value of £167m - a fall of £10m since last year, and a mighty drop since its 2001 peak of £419m.

And it's not just CD players that are suffering - though they have been hard hit. Just over 34,000 CD player separates were sold last year (down 15%), at an average price of £336.

Meanwhile, almost twice as many turntables - 62,200 - were sold, but prices have plunged by more than 26%. The popularity of ultra-cheap USB decks means the average selling price of a turnable is now just £89.

Falls for music and movie amps

We're buying less stereo amplifiers - 13.6% less, with 56,400 units sold - but paying around 4% more for them: the average amp is now selling for £350.

AV receivers - for several years a separates success story - have also seen a slight (1.9%) fall in sales. However, that still means more than 101,00 AV amps were bought in Britain last year, at an average price of £399.50.

More than 10,000 of those new AV receivers were bought online; almost 11% of receivers were sold this way, making these products the most popular hi-fi/AV separate to buy on the web in percentage terms.

But in terms of units, speakers are the biggest online buy - around 45,000 sets of stereo or AV speakers were internet purchases last year: just over 10% of the total 449,000 sets sold, at an average price of £221.

Get set for 2012

So, what can we expect for 2012? Obviously a lot will depend on how the UK's financial health fares. It will be particularly interesting to see if traditional purchase-drivers - such as the European football championships and the Olympics; plus the climax of the digtial TV switchover - work their magic.

Let's just grab a cup of coffee while we wait and see. Someone certainly is: boosted by sales of high-end coffee machines, the market for small home appliances is up by almost 11%....