TUPdate: For PC Holdouts, It’s Not About The Money

More than two-fifths of American households don’t have a Home PC because, basically, they don’t want one. They don’t see any reason to have one, and computers are just too complicated to bother with. In fact, they see merely shopping for a computer as too difficult. After all, for them, computers are just balky, fragile time-wasters. And if you think that falling prices might eventually win such people over, think again-price hardly comes up.

Why is this important?

Technology product manufacturers and developers that have dreamed of a quick fix to grow the market need to look further. In our recent surveys of these reticent respondents, they told us that saving a few nickels wasn’t the reason they haven’t bought a PC for their home.

MetaFacts, Inc. was able to shine some light on the attitudes of non-owners thanks to a survey of 1,842 Americans identified as owning a cell phone but not a home computer. As cell phone subscribers, they presumably had the wherewithal to acquire a computer if they wanted to, and also they were obviously not completely techno-phobic or anti-technology. This segment was selected from recent respondents to the recent Technology User Profile survey of 32,130 U.S. households. It shows that 57 percent of U.S. homes own a PC-meaning that 43 percent don’t. It further shows that 30 percent of U.S. homes have a cell phone, but don’t own a PC.

The cell-phone-owning PC holdouts were asked to rate a series of statements on a scale of one (strongly disagree) to seven (strongly agree). And 54 percent answered six or seven to the proposition, “We do not see a need for a personal computer.” Internet access may be a major reason for acquiring a machine, but 49 percent answered similarly to the statement, “We do not see a need for the Internet.” As for why they don’t, nearly the same proportion (47 percent) agree that, “Internet service is too expensive.”

But almost as many (44 percent) agreed as strongly that, “Computers are too hard to fix when they break.” This is an odd statement, considering that they don’t own a computer that would ever need fixing, and must speak to the reputation computer technology has earned among those who have not grappled with it. Fewer (25 percent) agreed that, “Computers break down too much”-a statement implying they have experienced a breakdown. Approximately the same percentage (21 percent) indicated previous experience with PCs, agreeing that, “We used to have a computer, but do not have one now.”

Thirty-five percent agreed that, “Computers are too complicated.” Again, this speaks more to the reputation of computers rather than the actual experience of the respondents. Interestingly, shopping for a computer was perceived as more complicated than computers themselves, with 41 percent agreeing that, “Finding the right computer is complicated.”

Substitutes such as, access to public machines was an issue, but evidently not the major one. Twenty five percent agreed that they were able to use a computer somewhere else when they wanted to, and 23 percent said they could use a friend’s or neighbor’s machine. (They must be cozy with their neighbors.) Sixteen said they were able to use one at work when they wanted to, and 11 percent said the same about school.

Price was hardly the major stumbling block. Only 15 percent agreed or strongly agreed that, “Computers are too expensive.” Slightly more (16 percent) agreed that, “Personal computes are not a good value.” As indicated earlier, more than double that number thought that computers were just too complicated and more than triple that number said they just didn’t need one.

All this is bad news for computer marketers, who must find an untapped body of potential buyers if the market is to resume any rate of expansion. Even if the user interface could be reduced to toaster-like simplicity, even if PCs had the durability of bowling balls, and even if the cost of Internet access fell to nothing, the majority of hold-outs would still simply see no need for a PC. Some “killer aps” might be lurking over the horizon that might win some of them over, and computer vendors might do well to search for and develop them. But they are not going to do much about the 28 percent who agreed that they just don’t like technology products. Or the 31 percent who say that computers take too much time-after all, any real use takes time. Presumably, the latter have lifestyles that preclude sitting in front of a computer.

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