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December 21st, 1999

[Editorial] The Problems With Being A Mac User In Canada
by Oliver Dueck

In the past week or so, several Mac sites (including this one) have run stories on Apple Canada's current situation. This story broke when Computer Buyer Warehouse Direct filed suit against Apple Canada, which resulted in many Canadian Mac users venting their frustrations to anyone who would listen.

To put it bluntly, Apple Canada sucks. The most apparent problems lie in their distribution methods. Apple dealers are few and far between. Here in the city of Fredericton, there are two places to buy Apple products: a downtown retailer called Interactive Computer Systems, and the University of New Brunswick/Saint Thomas University bookstore. Since only students and staff can purchase from the university bookstore, that leaves only Interactive Computer Systems for most people.

Having one Apple dealer serving a market area of over 100,000 people is not necessarily bad, but only if that one dealer is good. Unfortunately, that is not the case with Interactive Computer Systems. When I went to the store in November, I requested a quote for an iMac DV. The first problem was, the saleswoman did not know what an iMac DV was, but she didn't reveal that to me. She just left to get a manager. When I repeated my request to him, he thought I was looking for a DVD drive for an iMac, so I had to explain the iMac lineup to him. "There's the base iMac, then the iMac DV..." Shouldn't he have been the one explaining this to me?

The next problem was the price. The price they gave me was fully 15% higher than what Mac Warehouse Canada was charging for the same product. (Some of the blame for this can be placed on Apple, as the wholesale prices for VARs are often very close to the prices Mac Warehouse charges its customers.) To make matters worse, ICS doesn't actually have any Macs on display, and offer very little in terms of Mac hardware and software. They'll be very happy to sell you a Mac at a premium price, but they seem to draw the line at actually showing them off or stocking accessories.

If you are a student or professor, you're in luck, because the campus bookstore keeps a decent stock of Macs, along with relevant hardware and software. Furthermore, their prices are competitive with Mac Warehouse. The Mac OS has a relatively strong presence on the UNB campus, and Apple does put work into promoting the Mac OS to students and staff.

Unfortunately, a good campus bookstore doesn't help the rest of the city. What incentive is there for people to buy a Mac if they can't even buy software locally? Sure, loyal users will order their products from Mac Warehouse or even a US company, but what are the chances that a new computer buyer will do the same? Apple has to ensure that every market, especially those with just one dealer, is being served properly.

When discussing Apple Canada, many price comparisons to Mac Warehouse crop up. Why? Because Mac Warehouse has a monopoly on the Mac mail order market in Canada. This is not to criticize Mac Warehouse; they have good prices and good service, at least in my experience. But why shouldn't we have some alternatives?

One good prospect would be Future Shop; the company has a chain of stores all over Canada that sell computers, CDs, electronics, appliances, etc. As far as I know, every Future Shop store sells Apple hardware. But a quick trip to www.futureshop.com confirmed my suspicions that the company's online store does not offer any Apple hardware whatsoever. If Apple would allow it, I'm sure Future Shop would be happy to sell Macs online.

Canada is a big country with a tiny population. This means that it is understandable if people in remote areas don't have an Apple dealer nearby. This makes a strong mail order market all the more important. One catalog reseller does not a strong market make.

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that there is no Apple Store for Canada, and we can't order from the American one, either. Sure, we can order our Macs from Mac Warehouse. But that's not the point; the beauty of the Apple Store is the "build your own" aspect. As far as I know, Canada is the only major market in the world that lacks an online Apple Store, and hence lacks the build to order service.

All this brings us back to Computer Buyer Warehouse Direct. This company has tried to persuade Apple to let them sell via mail order over two years, with no success. After putting a lot of effort into putting out a superb catalog, Apple rewards them by taking away CBWD's authorized reseller status.

Does anyone fail to see how ridiculous this situation is? CBWD was helping Apple with its catalog, not hurting them. Apparently, Apple places a very high value on its cozy relationship with Mac Warehouse and will stop at nothing to protect it. Unfortunately, this hurts its customers severely.

Apple Canada, I hope you're listening. Apple seems to be making great strides in many of its markets around the world, with Canada being the glaring exception. Here's my Christmas wish list, I hope it can be fulfilled soon:

1) An Apple Store for Canada - we want our BTO Macs!
2) More catalog and internet resellers - authorize CBWD and Future Shop ASAP!
3) Make sure all of your resellers are doing a good job. A bad reseller probably hurts more than no reseller at all.

I welcome reader feedback on this issue; feel free to drop me a line at oliver@macobserver.com. And let's hear some good Apple Canada experiences while we're at it to cheer me up!

Oliver is a computer science student a the University of New Brunswick, in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. He has been using Macs since 1986 when his father would bring home a Mac Plus on the weekends. He was one of the original writers for Webintosh, and before that was a contributor to the now-defunct MacSense CD magazine.

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