It's that time of year again, when the clever folk at GfK serve up the retail stats on exactly what we've all been buying for the past 12 months. How has the recession affected our hi-fi and AV buying habits? What's hot and what's not? How much are we spending, and where? Just how many pairs of headphones does a person need? Read on and we'll reveal all...
Six billion reasons to be cheerful
When I reported on the 2008 figures a year ago, the recession had shrunk the Consumer Electronics industry by more than eight percent; 2009 saw a further - though smaller - fall of 5.4%. But we spent more as Christmas approached - the market was only 1.8% down for October-December, as consumer confidence grew.
Times may be tougher for CE manufacturers and retailers, but the UK's love affair with technology still saw the nation spend £6 billion on TVs, hi-fi, AV and accessories last year. And some sectors - as we'll see shortly - are booming (literally).
Where are we spending all our money?
More than ever of that £6bn was spent online in 2009, with internet retailers bagging almost 16% more business. During the pre-Christmas buying frenzy, online sales accounted for as much as 27% of all CE purchases.
It's not just cheap buys we're picking up online, either – in almost every sector, other than high-end audio separates (many of which remain unavailable to buy online), consumers are actually more likely to buy pricier products via the internet. We're a nation in search of discount deals...
Docks vs decks - the winners and losers last year
If 2008's success story was TVs, 2009's was all about the inexorable rise of the iPod and the smartphone.
Apple's iPhone and its smartphone cohorts saw a 268% rise in sales last year, with a staggering 31m new mobiles sold (or provided free with a tariff) in the UK.
Even with the growth of these music-and-movie playing mobiles, sales of higher-end portable players - notably the iPod Touch - have soared. Traditional audio fans may read significance into the value of the PMP (portable media player) market - £666m in 2009, of which £542m was £100+ players.
With our pockets sprouting players and smartphones, it's unsurprising that we're buying plenty of things to plug them into. The market for iPod docking products - from dedicated systems such as the B&W Zeppelin to clocks-with-docks and hi-fi add-ons – rose 49% last year, and is now worth £230m. That's more than the entire audio separates sector (of which more shortly).
The darling buds
And now those headphone figures. It's not just that we bought 10% more pairs of cans last year, but that we spent 19% more on them, too - £106m, to be precise. The UK now invests more per year on headphones than it does on speakers and speaker packages!
Just under 7 million pairs of headphones were sold in the UK in 2009 - that's a sale every five seconds. 5.1m of them were in-ear models; 943,000 were traditional hi-fi headphones; 638,000 were mini/lightweight designs (such as the Grado iGrado, or Sennheiser PX100), while 174,500 were wireless.
Another accessory success is the much-debated HDMI cable. No less than £40m-worth of HDMI cables were sold last year, with an average selling price of £24.
Blu-ray grows as DVD declines
An interesting year, meanwhile, for Blu-ray. Gfk had predicted sales of 1m units for 2009, but in reality 570,000 standalone Blu-ray players and 57,000 Blu-ray systems were sold, with Panasonic selling 10,000 Blu-ray recorders.
Blu-ray now accounts for more than 25% of the overall DVD/HD/recording market, which fell by more than 1m units - largely due to falls in sales of DVD recorders as well as players themselves (though with 2m sales last year, DVD players continue to be popular).
But these Blu-ray figures do not include sales of Sony's PlayStation 3 - boosted by the launch of the PS3 slim, almost a million more PS3s were sold in the UK last year.
We're paying less for our new players, too. The average selling price for a Blu-ray player in 2009 was a mere £189 - falling as low as £114 in the post-Christmas sales, as sub-£100 bargains abounded on machines such as the Sony BDP-S360 (pictured above).
Blu-ray systems, meanwhile, sold for an average price of around £500 - a rare area of stability in a home-cinema system market that dipped £10m in value last year, as demand for DVD-based systems went into sharp decline.
Stream if you wanna go faster
Blu-ray players - and TVs (we're coming to them) - are among the growing range of home entertainment products to boast Internet connectivity. A network-friendly approach to any product proved very popular in 2009, though numbers in most sectors remain small.
For example, Internet radio sales rose 78%, to 107,000 units. In comparison, 2 million DAB radios were sold last year.
Streaming systems, meanwhile - such as the Logitech Squeezebox, and the Sonos line-up - started to make their mark in the wider audio systems sector. 11.000 units, worth £3.3m - were sold in December 2009, with 32,000 units (£5.3m) selling over the year.
Receivers - the separates success story
Gfk measures the audio separates market (including speakers and speaker packages, though not DVD/Blu-ray players) as a single, hi-fi and home cinema entity - one that fell by £10m to £189m in 2009 . The market has halved in size over the past decade.
Receivers were the only sub-category to grow in value over the past year - £45m worth of product was sold (up from £39m), boosted by demand for HD Audio. The biggest increase in demand was for £1000+ receivers (such as Yamaha's DSP-Z7, above), which accounted for almost 30% of receiver sales. Around 23% of sales came in the £500-£1000 price point, while sub-£500 receivers remain the most popular, at over 47% of sales.
While AV amps thrive, their stereo counterparts dwindle in popularity - dedicated stereo amplifier sales fell from £28m in 2008 to £22m in 2009. However, just as with receivers, sales of £1000+ products actually rose slightly last year, with the budget and mid-price sectors feeling the greatest squeeze.
The end of the vinyl revival?
After surprisingly large sales in the past few years, turntables proved less popular in 2009 - £9m worth of decks were sold, compared to £10m in 2008. But wait! Although the value of the market fell, sales of turntables actually rose, by 1.6%. Discount decks are selling strongly...
Vinyl's successor, CD, fared worse, with both a fall in value (21%) and volume (38%) of CD player sales. £15m worth of CD players were sold in 2009; that was a £73m market back in 2000.
Speaker and speaker-package sales, meanwhile, fell from £100m to £94m, with the last separates sector - tuners - falling from £4m to £3m.
However, the effect of the recession cannot be underestimated: as the economy improves, so do separates sales. October-December 2009 saw the first period of growth for some time, with sales up 1%.
Record flatscreen sales - at ever-cheaper prices
And so to flatscreen TVs, which account for a mighty £3.8bn of the entire consumer electronics market. Record numbers of TVs were sold in the UK last year - almost 10 million sets – though the value of the market shrank 2%.
This is down to the fast-falling prices of flatscreens. The average price of larger (33in+) sets declined to £738 over the course of 2009, with 26-32in sets falling to an average of £391.
The fastest-growing screen-size, incidentally, is 20-25in, as second-room sets start to populate British homes. It remains the smallest sector, though - just under 1.5m units - with 32in+ TVs remaining the most popular.
What's in store for 2010
It hasn't been the best start to 2010 - the continuing poor weather has seriously dented CE sales, with the VAT rise adding to what Gfk described as "a disaster" for retail – almost 20% down for some weeks.
Both shops and manufacturers do, however, have the World Cup to look forward to: a frenzy of TV buying is anticipated, with portable radio sales also expected to benefit.