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Incentives keep iMac moving

CompUSA says that recent promotions have helped boost sales of Apple's new computer at a time when demand was waning.

The largest U.S. retailer of PCs reported yesterday that special sales incentives such as free peripherals and low-cost loan programs have helped boost its sales of Apple Computer's iMac computers at a time when demand for the system has been tapering off.

CompUSA said that last weekend's iMacs sales were the largest since the product's initial launch in August. This makes the iMac the best selling computer for the computer superstore chain. CompUSA is the largest such chain with more than 200 stores across the U.S.

The promotions helped boost iMac sales just as interest was beginning to wane. The computer was the No. 1 selling desktop model in PC superstores in August and September according to Matt Sargent, industry analyst at ZD Market Intelligence, a research firm.

However, the results of iMac sales in the overall retail market are not showing significant long-term strength, Aaron Goldberg, vice president of the same firm wrote in a report earlier this month.

Goldberg said iMacs sold at the rate of about 20,000 per week after its mid-August introduction, but in September, the number dropped to less than 10,000 per week. Other research confirmed the trend: PC Data said the iMac slipped from No. 2 to No. 3 in sales from August to September on the list of best selling PCs.

In contrast, Hewlett-Packard is a rising star and had the best-selling model in October, according ZD Market Intelligence. HP sells the Pavilion line of home PCs.

To counter the iMac drop-off, this past weekend CompUSA offered rebates on Epson printers and Umax scanners bundled with the iMac that amounted to offering the peripherals for free. Apple's recently introduced loan program, which enables customers to buy an iMac for just $29.99 per month, was also cited as a draw by CompUSA.

Analysts speculate that the promotion was an attempt to draw sales away from Best Buy, which just launched sales of the iMac after re-signing as an Apple reseller.

Apple also has offered up some modest modifications to the iMac to maintain interest in the translucent computer.

Some customers--such as those interested in games--may have been waiting in the wings because of the iMac's modest 3D graphics capabilities, but Apple said it is now including a more powerful graphics chip and three times as much graphics memory for improved performance.

New systems are shipping with the recently released version 8.5 of the Mac OS now, as well as Adobe PageMill 3.0, which allows users to create and manage their own Web pages.