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Apple among top 5 brick-and-mortar, online electronics stores

Apple ranked in the top five electronics retailers in all of 2009, with both its brick-and-mortar retail stores and commercial Web site among the top revenue earners.

According to new data released by the NPD Group Wednesday, Apple came in fifth place among both physical store locations and for its online presence in total revenue in the U.S. Apple's retail stores ranked behind major stores Best Buy, Walmart, Staples and Target, respectively.

Online, Apple was again only behind some of the biggest names in sales. The top overall Web seller was Dell, followed by Amazon, Best Buy and HP, with Apple coming in fifth.

NPD based the rankings on tracked consumer technology revenue in 2009. Those products include IT, imaging, audio, video, and consumables. They exclude video game hardware and software, PC software and mobile phones.

In 2008, NPD found that Apple was the No. 5 brick-and-mortar retailer, and the No. 4 online retailer.

At the end of 2009, Apple had 283 stores in 10 countries. Last quarter alone, the average revenue per store was $7.1 million, with a record 50.9 million total visitors in the three-month holiday period.

In addition to being a booming business for Apple, the Cupertino, Calif., company's retail stores play an important role in attracting new users to the Mac platform. Apple's retail locations accounted for 689,000 Mac sales in the last quarter, and about half of those were to customers who had never owned a Mac before.

While Apple's retail business has been solid, NPD said the overall U.S. market fell almost 5 percent in 2009 to $106 billion. The lower revenue has been attributed to lower prices, rather than fewer purchases.

Sales also improved as the year progressed, dropping just 1.5 percent year over year in the fourth quarter. That was a big improvement from 2008, when sales dropped 7 percent over a year prior, NPD said.

"The industry lost ground this year but in light of the overall economic conditions it was a performance that could have been much worse," said Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis with NPD. "By retailers and manufacturers being aggressive on consumer electronics pricing that kept the consumer engaged and shopping, an important success story to remember in such a dismal year."

"Categories like computers and flat-panel TVs, despite very high selling prices, were able to see significant increases in unit volume through this tactic. The up-tick in fourth quarter results, while partly the result of a weak year-over-year comparison was also due to strong results from these categories, results that point to increased momentum as we head into 2010."

Future Apple brick-and-mortar stores could sport a new look, as the company is currently planning a "prototype" store to be built in Palo Alto, Calif. The new design calls for a store covered mostly by glass that would employ natural lighting and allow trees to grow inside.