Staples is the latest retailer in the tablet market to offer a price promotion on tablets. The company is offering a coupon for $100 off tablet purchases (excluding the HP TouchPad) through July 30.
The coupon is the latest price move by a tablet player to spur demand. Tablet brands have recently been lowering prices to boost demand as the US market enters the high volume back-to-school season. Motorola dropped $100 off its Xoom, from $599 to $499, earlier this month. Acer cut $100 off its Iconia A500, from $499 to $399, this past week in Best Buy circulars. Toshiba launched its Thrive at $429 for the 8GB version. Apple’s iPad starts at $499 and had initially set the bar for what tablet pricing should be. However, brands are having trouble reaching levels similar to the iPad’s success with their devices.
Brands and retailers have been gradually catering to the emerging device category through differentiated floor space, dedicated business units, and specific sales strategies. Staples is the first major retailer to offer a price promotion on tablets. Price cuts tend to be viewed as a last resort. Still, many are aiming for significant adoption, viewing iPad sales as the basis for their expectations. Apple reported sales of 9.2 million units in Q2, up over 180% Y/Y. Other brands are nowhere near experiencing iPad-like success.
These price moves may boost demand in the short term, although I doubt it will be to the level they’re expecting, but long term, it devalues the category and threatens the margin levels that they are hoping to achieve. This is especially risky at the start of a category because it sets the consumer’s expectation of what a product should cost. It also makes it difficult to raise that price expectation in the future. We saw that with mini-notes (or netbooks) and the impact on notebook average sales prices.
To a certain extent, the brands and retailers have their hands tied because Apple is having so much success with their tablet. There is an impression that if you can’t reach that level, then you’re messing it up. The reality is: the brands and retailers competing with Apple are playing from behind, and in their desperation, they might be digging themselves into a deeper hole. One could argue that the brands and retailers are responding to what the market is willing to pay for their tablets. That might be easier to accept if the devices in the market were fully mature and not experiencing glitches; however, it is giving the impression that these products aren’t completely finished.