Apple has the most loyal customers in the computer market, reports market-research firm Harris Interactive.

Dave Tremblay, director of technology research for Harris Interactive, said: "As the consumer PC market matures, repurchase loyalty is a key measure for PC brands.

"First time buyers account for only about one-fifth of all consumer PC purchases. While strength in that segment is a bonus, you can’t build a business relying on these buyers.

"The easiest buyers to capture should be current users. If a company cannot successfully sell to its own customers, it will likely have problems selling to its competitors’ customers."

Sample loyalty Harris Interactive's conclusions stem from a survey of over 140,000 Internet users, including 6,500 first time buyers. The research was conducted in the first three quarters of 2000. The survey looked at brand shares among first time buyers and brand loyalty among repurchasing computer buyers.

Apple held the highest loyalty among repeat buyers - just over half of Mac owners who bought a computer in the first nine months of 2000 repurchased a Mac. Gateway achieved a 45 per cent repurchase rate, while only nine per cent of repurchasing shoppers chose to repeat buy an IBM machine.

Though Gateway and Hewlett-Packard (33 per cent) scored highly among repeat buyers, Compaq (with 29 per cent of repeat buyers) was the overall favourite choice for first time buyers. These brands accounted for over 50 per cent of consumer PCs sold in the first half of 2000.