High Demand Means Rising Tech Prices

Despite the broader trend of falling computer and hardware prices, buyers are seeing four products buck the trend.

For more than a decade, computers and computer hardware prices have been falling at a steady pace as input and production costs fall and technology advances. For example, in just the past three years, desktop computer prices have plummeted 23.6%. Hardware production costs have decreased substantially during this period in response to an estimated 1.7 percent average annual dip in semiconductor prices and the introduction of new industrial technologies, which have automated the manufacturing process and reduced labor requirements. Meanwhile, the rapid rate at which computer hardware products verge toward obsolescence encourages suppliers to pass their savings on to buyers in the interest of retaining market share and offloading outdated models.

Despite steady drops in prices across the board, IBISWorld has identified four computer hardware products — programmable logic controllers, graphics and accelerator cards, intercom systems, and network switches—whose prices are bucking the trend and are actually projected to grow moderately through 2017. Price growth in these markets, which is largely due to expanding demand, means that buyers should consider procuring the relative products as early as possible to avoid future price increases. Additionally, buyers can leverage their awareness and understanding of market dynamics and buying strategies to reduce their exposure to price growth and make better purchasing decisions. 

Programmable logic controllers

Programmable logic controllers (PLCs) are specialized computers used to control and automate industrial processes or machines. PLC sales are strongly tied to industrial output and the amount of private investment funneled into computers and software. IBISWorld expects industrial output, as indicated by the industrial production index, to rise at an annualized rate of 3.4 percent through 2017, while private investment in computers and software is forecast to grow at an annualized rate of 5.7 percent. Growth in these areas will spur aggressive spending on PLCs. Meanwhile, new PLC manufacturers face high upfront capital requirements and competition from large established vendors that can leverage economies of scale and significant pricing power. These barriers to entry are expected to slow supplier entry into the market. Without a significant infusion of new suppliers, anticipated demand growth over the next three years is expected to push up prices for PLCs considerably. As such, IBISWorld forecasts PLC prices will rise at an average 4.2 percent per year through 2017.

Facing imminent price growth, PLC buyers will benefit from procuring these devices as early as possible. Because PLCs are used in conjunction with a variety of other hardware equipment and software, buyers are often able to obtain discounts by bundling their PLC purchases with related products from the same supplier. Buyers should seize these bundling opportunities to help offset the impact of rising PLC prices. Alternatively, buyers might consider substituting a PLC with a digital logic system (DLS). Although the functionality of a DLS is not as broad, the devices are less expensive and are often just as effective for less complex automation systems.

Graphics and video accelerator cards

Graphics and video accelerator cards, or simply graphics cards, are attachments for personal computers that manage and process high-definition images and videos. Graphics cards are commonly used by consumers for video and gaming applications, and by advertising and marketing teams to manipulate images and video for advertisements; therefore, growth in household computer ownership and advertising expenditure stimulate demand for graphics and video accelerator cards. In the next three years, IBISWorld projects the percentage of households in the United States with at least one computer to grow from 79.8 percent to 84.3 percent, while advertising expenditures will rise at an annualized rate of 1.6 percent through 2017. These trends are expected to yield strong demand growth within the graphics and video accelerator card market. Also, accelerator cards will become increasingly commoditized during the period, forcing suppliers without competitive prices out of the market. As suppliers exit the market and demand rises, the pricing power of those suppliers that remain will grow. IBISWorld expects the net result of these trends to be 2.6 percent annualized price growth in graphics card prices during the three years to 2017.

Unfortunately, buyers’ ability to avoid price growth is more limited in this market than in many other hardware markets. Graphics card manufacturers typically specialize in only graphics card production, making bundling related goods to offset the impact of future price growth difficult. Furthermore, indirect procurement of graphics cards is generally for quantities that are too low to qualify for bulk discounts. Without strategies for lowering costs or substitute products to choose from, buyers should procure graphics cards early, even prior to making other hardware purchases when possible. Buyers will also benefit from securing long-term contracts to lock in current prices for future orders.

Intercom systems

Intercom systems are voice communication systems independent on the public switch telephone network. Intercom systems are primarily used as entry systems for buildings, allowing for two-way communication between a transmitter and a receiver. These systems are purchased by buyers within both the private and public sectors, and so their sales are heavily dependent on corporate profit, government consumption and investment levels, and the value of private nonresidential construction. Over the three years to 2017, these three metrics are projected to increase steadily. The value of nonresidential construction in particular is projected to rise 6.3 percent per year on average. This growth across the board is anticipated to stimulate strong demand for intercom systems. Meanwhile, unlike most mature markets, the intercom system market is exhibiting rising investment in research and development (R&D) as suppliers attempt to differentiate themselves through innovation and offerings of unique complementary technologies. Rising R&D costs and demand are forecast to drive intercom system prices upward at an annualized rate of 2.7 percent through 2017.

Projected price growth within the intercom systems market makes these devices prime candidates for early procurement and long-term purchase agreements. Additionally, intercom systems may require a host of complementary equipment, such as speakers, housing units, batteries, foot pedals (for hands-free use) and lights, which can often be bundled to reduce the buyer’s total cost of ownership. Fortunately for buyers, innovation in this market is largely superficial, slowing the rate at which these devices become obsolete. As such, buyers will have ample opportunity to procure slightly less advanced models at a substantial discount without a large risk of product change rendering their system outdated. Although most buyers will not require enough intercom units to qualify for bulk discounts, early procurement, long-term contracts, bundling and purchasing slightly older models are effective methods to combat rising intercom system prices.

Network switches

Network switches manage the flow of data between computers, servers, printers and other devices on a computer network. These devices are primarily used to construct large enterprise networks and are essential for connecting these networks to the internet. During the three years to 2017, the number of broadband internet connections in the United States is projected to grow at an annualized rate of 4.3 percent, while the number of employees in the country will rise at an average rate of 1.7 percent per year. As companies make significant investments in developing their networks, private investment in computers and computer software is forecast to increase over the next three years, swelling at an annualized rate of 5.7 percent. These conditions are anticipated to push up demand within the network switch market, which will encourage suppliers to raise their prices. Moreover, top-tier vendors, which control more than 75.0 percent of the market, wield considerable pricing power. Consequently, network switch prices are projected to rise an average 2.7 percent per year through 2017.

In addition to procuring network switches as early as possible and using long-term contracts to limit exposure to rising prices, buyers will want to bundle related goods, seek out less expensive substitute technologies and look to smaller players in the market. Network switches are used in conjunction with an array of complementary products, such as modems, cables and networking software. Bundling these products will often reduce the total cost of these goods, which can help offset the impact of rising switch prices. Alternatively, network routers may be used in place of network switches; they are generally less expensive and perform a similar function.

Although using a router instead of a switch may compromise performance for some networks, buyers can often save considerably when leveraging router options in negotiations, particularly as switch prices grow. Finally, buyers should consider using lower-tiered suppliers rather than those with significant brand-name appeal. Although buyers will need to spend more time researching quality metrics among lower-tiered suppliers, finding one with less brand equity but of similar quality will grant buyers more leverage and allow them to procure switches for a price that is lower than the market average.

Improve your buyer power

Price growth within the four markets highlighted is evidence that some hardware prices continue to rise despite broader trends of price deflation for most computer products. Common trends driving price growth in these markets include strong demand, high market share concentration, relatively low availability of substitute goods and rising R&D costs in some cases. Buyers requiring hardware products not included in this discussion should look for these trends as indicators of impending price growth. With anticipated price growth in mind, buyers should consider making purchases sooner rather than later. Additionally, buyers should explore opportunities for bundling related complementary products and services, seek out up-and-coming suppliers with quality products and reduced pricing power, and consider substitute technologies. Computer hardware prices rise and fall very quickly: therefore, buyers who can recognize key price growth indicators and respond with an effective procurement strategy will boost their buyer power and reduce their costs.

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