Lots of criticism going around regarding Apple’s handling of the Watch launch in the Apple Retail stores. Seems many people are unhappy that Apple is forcing everyone to order online, rather than having stock of the watches in the physical stores for day one. “People who brave the lines and come to the Apple store in person should get first priority,” the thinking goes.
I completely understand this criticism. If there’s one thing I can’t stand about modern retail, it’s the tendency to not stock many of the items found on the web site. The whole point of coming into a store instead of just ordering online is to see the products and then walk out of the store with them. I get angry when I go into a store to see what an item looks like in person, only to be told that they don’t keep that particular item in stock at all.
Apple is, at least, stocking display versions of every model of Apple Watch in stores (including the gold Edition collection in some locations). So you can at least see what they look like and feel them in your hands before ordering online. But it’s still a drag to not be able to just buy the thing right there and walk out with it. It’s un-Apple like, to be sure.
Here’s the issue, though: Apple doesn’t have enough Watches. And it probably won’t until late summer. From all indications, there have been millions of preorders already, and the shipping times for most models slipped past the April 24th launch day in minutes. That means there will likely be less than millions of watches ready for the 24th. Maybe even less than hundreds of thousands. Given that there are hundreds of Apple stores to stock (even just counting the initial launch countries) how does Apple keep enough stock in each store to satisfy what would have been crazy long lines, all while not knowing which models they would need in each store?
When it comes to iPhones or iPads, Apple has past data to figure out which stores need each individual model. How many Space Grey, how many Silver, how many Gold, etc. With Apple Watch, there are many more models to track, and zero data to inform which models should ship where.
As bad as it is to tell people who come into the store now that they will have to order online, the notion of having long lines on day one and sending most of those folks home with no Watch after hours of waiting is far worse.
One thing I learned from my time at Apple Retail is that it’s always better to set expectations early, rather than disappoint later down the line. If there is only going to be enough stock to give each store a couple dozen of each model (I suspect less than that for some models, given how fast many were pushed back to May), it’s better not to sell Apple Watch in the stores at all at this point. Don’t send the majority of people who are going to wait for hours in that line home with nothing.
Angela Ahrendts seems to have made a very tough call here. She was handed a dilemma, and she chose the less painful of two terrible choices. In an ideal world, I’m sure she would have been happier to launch Apple Watch the way the stores always launch new Apple products. But given the situation, I can’t say I would have handled it differently.
The only other option would have been to wait to ship the Watch to anyone until Apple had enough stock to handle both online orders and in-person pickups. For all we know, Ahrendts argued for this, but can you imagine the press backlash if Apple started shipping in July instead of April?
By late summer or fall, I’m certain Apple will be selling the Watch in all Apple stores just like all of Apple’s products. Make no mistake; Apple hasn’t lost its mind here, experimenting with evolving the retail division into some sort of Gateway model. It’s simply dealing with a temporary bad situation in the most fair way possible.
When the Watch was announced, and people were still in speculation mode about how the Watch would be sold at retail, I had two strong opinions. First, that Apple would let us try the Watches on some time before launch day. And second, that Apple would sell all the models, including the Edition, in Apple Retail stores. They may sell the Edition at other fine jewelers as well, but there was no way they’d give up an opportunity to cut out the middle man and send customers to another store to buy a gold Watch. (Apple loves profit margins even more than it loves its customers.)
For this reason, I’m very confident that Apple will get Watches into the Apple stores to sell directly in person as soon as that’s feasible.
I ordered my Watch with link bracelet at 3:01 am Eastern time, as soon as the iPhone app allowed me to. My order ships mid-May. I’m pretty certain no one will be getting a link bracelet on April 24th. ↩
I most definitely would have been one of the crazy people in line on day one, and I would have been sent home after hours of waiting when I found out that my Watch of choice (the link bracelet stainless steel) wasn’t going to be ready for day one. Personally, I prefer knowing that my Watch is coming sometime in mid-May. Saved me a long night of waiting for nothing. ↩
As it is, people are already mocking Tim Cook for shipping in April, when he said that Apple Watch would ship “early in 2015”. Personally, I’m dumbfounded by this criticism, since April is, of course, early in the year. What else could April be? It’s not late 2015. It’s not mid–2015. It’s early 2015. If I say “middle of the year”, any reasonable person thinks June, July—maybe May. The term “early” was classic Apple vagueness. Those of us who have been following Apple for years know to always set your expectation to the latest possible interpretation of any Apple announcement for launch times. But I digress. ↩
One thing I’m certain of, given my recent experiences with waiting in lines on day one for Apple launches: Online ordering will help guarantee that most of the few Watches Apple has on hand day one actually get into the hands of people who will want to use them, rather than into the hands of smugglers who will illegally ship them overseas. This is a continuing problem for the Apple Retail experience, especially in bigger cities, and I hope Angela Ahrendts has some plan to address it. ↩