On 18 August 2009, Sony finally announced the new PlayStation 3 Slim model and the new price: $300. The last time the PlayStation 3 received a price cut was in November 2007 with the launch of the 40 gigabyte model, the first lacking PlayStation 2 backward compatibility.
According to average sale price (ASP) data provided exclusively to us by the NPD Group, it appears that the impact on Sony's hardware sales was immediate and dramatic.
In rough terms, the PlayStation 3 was available for $400 for the first two weeks of the period the NPD Group was tracking and $300 for the next two weeks. (We estimate sales of the $500 systems for the first two weeks can be neglected.)
By the end of the month, Sony's PS3 had sold for an average $335 per system. That works out to 65% of the systems selling at $300 and the remainder at $400.
According to Sony, “top retailers” saw a 300% increase in PlayStation 3 sales in the first week of September (the first week not covered in this latest NPD data) relative to the week in August before the price cut was announced. Speaking in general terms, that could work out to over 100,000 units per week if it were true across all retailers covered by the NPD Group.
Going forward, we can shift our question about Sony's business from “When and by how much will they cut the PlayStation 3 price?” to “What is the new baseline sales level for the PlayStation 3, and how long will it last?”. There are a couple of precedents we can consider.
When the $400 PlayStation 3 was released in November 2007, sales of the system surged through the middle of the the following year. Notably, the higher-priced system outsold its primary competition – Microsoft's Xbox 360 – in four separate months during the first six months of 2008.
Another precedent to consider is the Xbox 360 in September 2008, when the Arcade model dropped from $280 to $200, the Pro from $350 to $300, and the Elite from $450 to $400. Consumers have responded by pushing sales of the Xbox 360 up 8% year-on-year during the last 12 months. Sales of the PlayStation 3 dropped 15% year-on-year for the same period.
Each of these was an effective price drop, and sales were positively affected for 8 to 12 months afterward. It seems likely to us that the PlayStation 3's new $300 price will increase the system's sales at least through May 2010.
By how much will it increase sales? During the last quarter of 2009, we expect the PlayStation 3 could finally move 2 – 2.5 million systems in the United States. The previous record was 1.4 million during the last quarter of 2007 followed by 1.3 million during the last quarter of 2008. When the Xbox 360 was priced similarly during the last quarter of 2007 it moved 2.4 million systems.
It would be prudent to revisit these questions in a month's time after the NPD Group has released its reading of September's sales. September may give a good indication of what kind of monthly PS3 sales to expect going into January and February of 2010.
At that time we should also have a better idea whether Microsoft's own pricing strategy – removing the Xbox 360 Pro and dropping the price of the Elite model down to $300 – has had any resonance with consumers.
Once the Pro hardware clears retail, Microsoft's system will have only two primary configurations on the market for the first time since the Elite model was launched over two years ago.
According to exclusive NPD Group data, the Xbox 360's average retail price in August 2009 was $260, a modest decline from around $270 earlier this year. That average price could drop even further now and we will hopefully finally get an estimate for how popular the Arcade model is at $200 against the Pro/Elite at $300.