The Orange View (on hiatus) Because Apple is great but it isn't perfect

5Mar/11Off

Apple’s customer unfriendly iPad2 sales plan

"Nobody heard what you said. They just saw the pictures."

One funny fact emerged from Apple's iPad2 announcement last week. Even though the iPads were ready to ship in seven days, Apple and its partners were not going to take any pre-orders. It's a very odd decision and counter to Apple's usual practice. It means that all the demand and excitement built up for the second generation iPad will be squeezed into a single day of buying pressure instead of being spread out over a week.

And, more importantly, the only way to get an iPad on March 11 will be to go to a physical store and wait until 5 pm -- no online pre-orders for Fedex delivery. And the end result is pretty obvious -- there are going to be frenzied lines all over the country of people eager to buy the next great Apple product.

Two quick points.

First, this is an anti-customer move. With ample rumors that supplies are tight and 18¹ (!) different models that must be stocked, there is a legitimate fear that if you want an iPad2 any time in the next few weeks, you better try to get one ASAP.

You might be able to get the one you want online or you might not, if they run out of that white-bordered, AT&T 3G radio-carrying 32 GB memory model you had your eye on before your browser gets through. Apple has basically created the unnecessary incentive to go and wait in a line all day at an Apple store.

Second, why did Apple do this? They almost always offer online pre-orders. DaringFireball's John Gruber said he asked some Apple pr people at the iPad2 event why there were no pre-orders and they just smiled and didn't answer. But I think the answer is pretty obvious and it goes back to the quote above, which comes from a story CBS New correspondent Leslie Stahl tells about the Reagan White House.

During the 1984 elections, Stahl did a lengthy piece on the evening news about Reagan's alleged hypocrisy because the president often stood in front of the cameras before scenes that contradicted his actions. Reagan, who cut money from programs for the handicapped, appearing at the Special Olympics. Reagan, who cut money for national parks, appearing at national parks.

The day after Stahl's piece appeared she spoke with Michael Deaver, Reagan's communications direction. She expected Deaver would be livid. But he was thrilled. Stahl had just re-aired all the gorgeous images of Reagan on the national news, he explained.

"Nobody heard what you said. They just saw the pictures."

And that's what Apple wants. In the midst of increasing competition on several fronts and the apparent sales underperformance of the Verizon iPhone, Apple wants some great pictures to tell its story, customers be damned. Or as I scored it on Twitter this week, Apple PR 1, Apple loyal customers 0.

(And for what its worth, please don't try to argue that the pre-order ban is because supplies are tight. Making people pre-order would flush out the demand and give Apple a much better handle on how to parcel out limited supplies. If, in two days of pre-orders, customers bought out the entire run available for the next month, Apple could plan accordingly, delay shipments, etc. If, in two hours on sale, stores run out of iPads, that's going to be a lot of really angry people who waited in line all day.)

Footnotes:

¹There are three wifi models in white, three wifi models in black, three AT&T 3G models in white, three AT&T 3G models in black, three Verizon 3G models in white and, wait for it, three Verizon 3G models in black.

Posted by Aaron Pressman

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Comments (17) Trackbacks (3)
  1. “18 (!) different models that must be stocked”. How did you get 18??

    By the way, this may be an “anti-customer” move as you said, but this is business, and in that domain, Apple is the absolute kind. I’m not even sure this is an “anti-customer” move; people love to wait and have it the first day. Nobody NEEDS it the first day.
    Explain me why we are waiting 2-3h for a 2min rollercoaster? We (Human) just like that. Same for the iPad, no matter how long we wait, it’s what we get at the end that matters. And people never regret waiting 1day for a new Apple product. (BTW, I never waited for a new product, but I can imagine/understand it !)

    • That’s three models in two colors wifi only = 6
      Three models in two colors wifi and 3G AT&T = 6
      and finally three models in two colors for Verizon = 6

      I had never looked at it that way, but that is a LOT of SKUs

    • “this is business”

      That’s an oft-parroted cliché. What do you actually mean?

      That being anti-customer “is business?” Not so much.

      That the savvy use of PR “is business?” Not really, or Apple wouldn’t stand out so much for being savvy at PR!

      No one has denied “this is business.” But saying that means nothing, in and of itself. American business is extremely diverse, and business practices are diverse, too, even within Apple’s corner of the tech sector.

    • 18 models: 3 wifi black, 3 wifi white. 3 AT&T 3G white, 3 AT&T 3G black. 3 Verizon 3G white, 3 Verizon 3G black. 6 x 3 = 18.

  2. “Nobody heard what you said. They just the pictures.”

    typo – “saw the pictures”

  3. Pre-orders are inherently customer-unfriendly: they favour credit-card wielding lazy surfers over those willing (or needing) to wait for the product to actually arrive. Whatever Apple’s usual policy in this regard, not having iPad 2 pre-orders is *fairer*.

    • Are you for real? It’s customer-unfriendly to make people wait for hours on end in a physical line, on some footpath, in whatever weather. Preorders mean you can order quickly and conveniently from the comfort of your own home.

      Your argument is basically “if you aren’t willing to spend hours waiting in line to buy a consumer product, you don’t deserve it”… nobody *needs* an iPad 2 for goodness sake. It’s a want, pure and simple.

      Also if you want “fair”, how is it fair to be at the mercy of Apple’s stocking whim? Which stores in which cities in which countries get more stock? Is it fair for the person who gets to the head of the line and can’t buy the model they want, so they have to fork out more money or go home with something they didn’t really want?

      Slow down on the koolaid there.

  4. The lack of lines during the “successful” Verizon iPhone launch – with Verizon having to say that they sold well online is the reason there will be on iPad pre-orders. Apple gets free press for days as long s there is lines.
    I do believe the Verizon iPhone is successful, virtually all the people I know on Verizon have bought or ordered iPhones. But people expect lines for Apple hit products and Apple work now work to make sure that happens.
    This is not anti-customer or pro-customer it is great marketing!

  5. For me, this is a non-issue as I’ve learned never to buy an Apple product until at least two weeks after its launch. Usually there’s some type of bug or hardware issue that needs to be addressed.

  6. First, with the iPhone 5 presumably coming out in the summer, the first Verizon iPhone, one can only presume, happened when the AT&T contract came to an end. In 4 months, the iPhone 4 will be discounted and old. So the first Verizon phone is zilch. I think it sold well, but there were constraints on it, obviously. Enough so that it wasn’t as big a deal as, say, the iPhone 4, which did allow pre-order, and which I got the day before it was officially available, via FedEx. But it sold millions, and there were lines, though not as big as iPhone 1 or iPad 1.

    The iPad 2 will have hefty lines, too. Why aren’t the pre-orders up? Don’t know. Neither do you. Might the pre-orders begin next week? Don’t know.

    But the minute attention to this issue, and the certain denunciation of Apple for “evil” motives, is a funny contrast with the competition. To read the tech press, you’d think there were dozens of other tablets. There aren’t. That many have been announced, yes. Until they ship, and in volume, they’re not really competition at all. How many will be delayed mysteriously again, and then cancelled.

    Then there’s the Xoom: announced with Flash support! Yippee! Ships without it. Taking them at their word, let’s say in a month or two the Flash plugin does ship. Why did they ship so early? Why, can you say, to establish a ghostly, half-finished presence in people’s minds, even if they weren’t ready?

  7. I’m not sure I see as detailed a conspiracy here. We already had heard reports about production issues, and I’d guess that Apple made this move to more smoothly ramp up supply quantities without delaying the launch and getting in the way of Apple’s PR and product launch schedules.

    Apple always gets the “great photos” from the stores at a major product launch – you can bet that news media will probably air clips of an Apple Store line with both Robert Scoble and Steve Wozniak in line, and Leo Laporte will probably have a liveblog going on as well.

  8. Waiting in lines is customer unfriendly? Wow! I can tell you’ve never been to a Black Friday sale. You’ve never been to a going out of business sale either. The lines at an Apple Store ‘next big thing’ sale are almost as magical as the devices themselves.

    Just get off your lazy butt and join the happy crowds.

  9. And for what its worth, please don’t try to argue that the pre-order ban is because supplies are tight.
    Oh its not about supplies actually being tight but about Apple wanting customers to think supplies are tight therefore making them bumrush the stores where they will be sold. This will pretty much make sellouts in stores all over the place a certainty thus allowing Apple to point at (you guessed it) pictures and reports talking about how quickly it sold out and declaring victory.

  10. I love the comment by 8-bit J.

    Two colors three white three black. We get the famous 6 6 6 scenario. Lovely who wants to buy something that relates to 666? LOL…battlestar Galactica I think we’re here….roflmao!!!

  11. The footage should be particularly memorable if there’s a bottleneck when the doors open and a few people suffocate in the hysterical, greedy stampede.

  12. Hey, I love Apple and give them the benefit of the doubt 3x each time they screw up. But this is DUM(B). This smacks of some wacked Jobsian notion of fairness combined with a marketing stunt (there will be loads of TV news images of lines at the Apple Stores, and rapturous customers (the ones who get the model of their choice). And that will drive even more interest (from free TV reportage), even though the iPads will remain in short supply. Kind of sadly mainstream-corporate for Apple to do this (like the Powerbooks shortages of the mid-Nineties: DOA? return to Apple, not to store!). Apple has SO much cash, no debt, high profits & sales (even if iPhone Verizon isn’t a bang: who thought it would be? No new product, and the “new” service is just the damn thing working as fast and in places it should have always, anyway [*&@# AT&T!], so not much to be excited about really, unless you are a frustrated iPhoner with an AT&T contract about to expire.

    Oh, y’know I’ve been plugged into one device/service or another since early 1992, and am pretty impulsive, pico-impatient, and over-stimulated, but sometimes I gotta step back and take a hard look at this: it isn’t a new cancer drug, or a $99 ticket to ride the Space Shuttle! It’s another iThing. There was one last year, and there’ll be another next year. And you can use that ancient iPad 1.0 another month or so, instead of taking a “sick” day from work? Lordy, if next year’s sunspot peak knocks out 3/4G service for a month or two! Might be revolution (against what? a star?), or maybe mass catatonia and fatal drooling. . .