I’m a big-time fan of fantasy football.  A combination of sports, statistics, and using numbers and intuition to predict performance… I love it.  We do that on a daily basis for our clients with market data so it wasn’t surprising that nearly half of our US office eagerly joined our company’s fantasy football league last month.  The key to finding good players and ultimately winning is picking up on a few key trends or team moves that will have an impact this year.  Luck helps a little too.

Since several of my football predictions came true in the first two weeks of the season and I’m beaming with confidence after my undefeated 2-0 start (!), I’d like to make a few wild predictions about the notebook PC market.  I’m not quite ready to publish these hunches in our weekly reports, but I’ll be sure to direct people back to this blog post should a couple of them come true.

(Note: These predictions are my own personal views.  They include forward looking statements and do not necessarily represent the view of gap intelligence… yada yada.  Take them with a grain of salt, or two!)

Prediction #1: Gaming laptops make a comeback

Why? Last week, Alienware gained its first placement at Best Buy in over a year.  Their laptops also re-emerged at MicroCenter last month.  MSI, who is now solely focused on gaming machines, has also made a comeback, gaining a significant number of placements at Fry’s and CompUSA over the last couple months.  And retailers are getting into the game.  Best Buy now has a dedicated “gaming series” section of its website, which features gaming laptops from Alienware, CyberPower, iBuyPower, and MSI.  Most of those brands have not been carried by Best Buy before, so the retail giant may be testing demand and trying to steal a piece of the gaming market from Fry’s and MicroCenter.  Look for more gaming models online and in stores before the holidays.

Prediction #2: Acer goes premium

Why? Acer is making moves.  They’ve wanted to make the Acer brand premium for years but have repeatedly failed to do so for a variety of reasons: a confusing brand strategy, weak products, and lack of effective marketing.  But they’re going to make inroads this year.  Acer’s Gateway brand is slowly replacing Acer laptops at Walmart, something we’ve waited years to see, and Acer announced innovative Ultrabooks that will launch at the end of this year.  Like other manufacturers, they’ve restructured and added some new talent to their executive team.  Possibly the most important move was hiring a new global marketing firm.  We’re expecting a huge ad campaign to begin later this year, which should boost Acer’s image.
Prediction #3: HP replaces Pavilion brand with Envy

Why? We found some interesting, unannounced products listed with bizarre naming structures this week.  The product names indicate a major shift in brand strategies for HP.  Sure, HP named a stadium “HP Pavilion” (Go Sharks!) so they’re not going to abandon the brand completely.  But I can see the higher-end Envy brand becoming the mid-range option, while Pavilion is relegated to more affordable entry-level products.  It may make things confusing in the short term, but it’s the right decision for the company and will allow them to better target different sets of consumers with sub-brands in the long run.

Prediction #4: Walmart targets high-end shoppers

Why? Why not?  Walmart will always carry the entry-level laptops at $299 but they’re beginning to add PCs that cost over $1,000 to their assortment!  There’s no harm in adding a few higher-priced models to shelves to see if shoppers will bite.  If anything, putting a $1,000 laptop next to one that costs $299 will just draw attention to how good of a deal shoppers are getting at $299.  I expect Walmart to be one of the best retailers to find an Ultrabook by the end of this year.

All four of my predictions point to manufacturers trying to escape the low-cost, low-margin game that has been dragging down earnings over the last couple years.  Price competition will continue to run rampant as the economy recovers but we’re beginning to see some strategies that give vendors and retailers a chance to succeed.  And I think a few of them will.