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Tuesday, April 14, 2009, 11:30 am PT (02:30 pm ET)

Easter delivers first signs of iPod growth since start of year

Despite a slowdown in consumer spending, iPods remain one of the top go-to gifts during the holidays, with Easter reportedly driving sales to levels not seen since the start of the year.

Data from market research firm NPD indicates that iPod unit sales grew 2 percent during the week of April 4th, as consumers likely chose some of Apple's more affordable portable media players (PMP) as Easter basket stuffers.

Barclays analyst Ben Reitzes notes that this represents the first week of year-over-year iPod growth since the first week of January. Similarly, sales during that week were likely buoyed by consumers redeeming Apple gift cards that they had received during the holiday month of December.

The Easter boost is a rare burst of light for Apple's iPod business, which was down some 14 percent on a year-over-year basis during the first calendar quarter — the company's second fiscal quarter — of 2009 ended March, according to earlier figures coming out of NPD.

As was noted in an earlier report, however, this is fairly consistent with trends in the broader PMP market, which is reportedly fairly saturated when it comes to the US teen demographic. Still, analysts like Reitzes were modeling for a more modest decline in iPod sales to the tune of about a 6 percent falloff for the first quarter.

"However, we continue to believe iPod sales will get support from new shuffle sell-in (launched in March) and stronger international sales that aren’t reflected in NPD data," said Reitzes, who notes that while NPD tracks iPod sales at US-based retail stores including Apple stores, it doesn't factor in online sales through the Cupertino-based company's high-trafficed online store.

In another sign that bodes well for marginal boosts to iPod growth in the immediate future, Apple has reportedly yet to complete its initial channel fill of the new shuffles to big-box retailers. For instance, Reitzes notes that while Wal-Mart.com reflects availability of the tiny clip-on players, a sample of 106 brick-and-mortar stores found that only 25 of them had stock for in-store purchases.

Meanwhile, Amazon.com's list of top-selling digital media players includes nine iPod models and one SanDisk model, with the most popular player being the 8GB iPod touch. It's followed closely by the 16GB iPod touch.