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`PC ANXIETY' AND PROCRASTINATION AREN'T HURTING COMPUTER SALES MUCH

Keith Foxe of San Francisco is holding off buying a home computer. He wants one with double the memory of a machine he has his eye on, but at the less sophisticated computer's current price of $1,099.

"I'm a cheapskate, basically," he said. "I think there are other consumers out there who feel the same way."Indeed there are.

Computer guru Russ Walter runs into procrastinators paralyzed by the knowledge that computer prices are constantly dropping. He tells them that if they take the plunge, in a year they could be computer consultants successful enough to afford whatever machines they want.

PC anxiety was probably up a notch or two this week after IBM cut prices by as much as 27 percent on some older-model business computers. The move, responding to a previous cut by rival Compaq Computer Corp., probably does not signal the onset of another full-scale price war, industry analysts said.

But the headlines still could get some potential buyers' juices flowing enough to go shopping - and also keep a few from pulling out the credit card out of concern that they will get still more technological bang for their buck six months or a year down the line.

Throughout the past half-century, the rule of thumb has been that the price for any given level of computing power has dropped an average of about 30 percent a year, says Walter, a Somerville, Mass., consultant and author of "The Secret Guide to Computers," now in its 19th edition.

The last big drop in absolute dollar terms came in 1992. Since then, the average PC price has remained fairly flat, though buyers keep getting faster and more powerful machines for the same money.

Still, retailers do not report being overrun with tire-kickers and foot-draggers.

"I see that maybe 5 percent of the time," reported Chad, an electronics salesman at Sears in San Bruno, Calif., who declined to give his last name.

Other shoppers, he said, forge ahead despite the fact that "they already know that it's going to go down."

That's basic buyer behavior, said Seymour Merrin of PC consultants Merrin Information Services in Palo Alto, Calif.

"We've always had (continual price declines), and yet business has always been good," he said. "Everyone knows that it's happening, and you've got to make your decision in light of that."

Or, as Walter advises novices: "There's no particular time that's particularly good or bad to jump in (the PC market) - with a few exceptions."

Most computer buyers already are conversant with the technology from work or from owning a machine at home that they want to upgrade. Also, most shoppers are in the market because they believe they need a computer now, industry experts say.

Perhaps when more novices are buying home computers mainly for recreational purposes, hesitant "lookie-lous" will become more of a problem for retailers.

In a survey taken at computer stores from December 1992 to May 1993, more than two-thirds of computer users said they used their machines for work, and just 12 percent for entertainment, according to the Merrin firm.

But the tide already was turning. Of those interviewed who were actually buying computers, more than a third said it was only for personal use. Almost half said it was for personal as well as business use, and only about a quarter said it was solely for business use.

For those who do suffer indecision from the prospect of future price declines, Walters supplies the solution.

Take 30 percent of the price of the computer you're considering - $600 on a $2,000 system. That's the approximate amount the price should drop in a year.

Ask yourself whether you'll get $600 use of it in the next year. If the answer's yes, buy. If it's no, wait. If you still can't decide: Get a life.