Slowly, we're coming to appreciate how Apple is going to create the purchase experience for the Apple Watch. Because of the unique nature of this product, combined with supply constraints, Apple will probably have several, tweaked rollout stages.
What got me started on this was an article by Dave Smith at Business Insider. "The Biggest Concern With The Apple Watch Has Nothing To Do With The Actual Watch." The issue was that this new purchase process was presented as an unknown, perhaps something that could trip Apple up.
I really doubted that. Apple always thinks through the buying experience, and so I found myself wishing that the author had laid out the issues in a more Apple oriented fashion. Buy, hey, every author his thing.
Supply, Demand and First Impressions
If I were involved in the process at Apple, I think one of the first goals would be the appearance of success. That means opening the floodgates, letting lines form, and making a big splash so that the media has lots of good photo ops. Apple will want the people in the malls, including any Microsoft store employees, leaning out into the concourse and asking, "What's THAT all about!?"
Behind the scenes, however, that has to be balanced against the known supply on hand. I've read that Apple expects to have several million on hand at launch. Very roughly, if the 265 U.S. stores sell 100 per day, that's about a three month supply. And so I would expect that Apple will very carefully monitor the demand vs. supply for it's second round order. Also, one would probably want to have an expected sales curve vs. time developed.
Early adopters will drive an initial exponential rise, but that will likely taper off after a time. Then, once the stories start to circulate—including about how to do cool things and use Apple Pay, there should be another rise thanks to public perception. Forecasting the sales curve will dictate the design of the retail store experience and how it evolves.
Image credit: Apple
The Store Experience
I have been wondering lately whether the Apple Watch is an opportunity for SVP Angela Ahrendts to tweak the store design in order to match the atmosphere with this new fashion and luxury product. I've read that Apple is consulting with experts in watch sales. Those people would, I suspect, develop training programs for the store's sales staff—not working the floor themselves.
In other words, I don't expect to walk into an Apple store in April and see a squinty eyed German male in steel glasses and a three piece suit standing behind a plexiglass case. However, I do expect to see a more dedicated station, much like the stores have for iPhones at Christmas. This is also likely Ms. Ahrendts' first opportunity to put her vision for a makeover of the Apple stores into place.
A recent 9to5 Mac article adds a lot of color about the actual buying process. "Apple Stores to act more like jewelry stores for upcoming gold Apple Watch." It may well be that the gold models will be kept locked up (in new, special safes) until what seems to be a qualifying customer wants a close look.
A low end model at US$349 is a lot less expensive that a good iPad mini 3, but it's easier to smuggle out of the store, so there will likely be keen situational awareness by the salesperson developed from training. Matching that salesperson's attentions with long lines will be a learning process.
I expect there will be a lot of looky-loos wandering in to see what the fuss is all about, anf they'll be a drag on the sales staff because they'll have all kinds of questions. (If only they read Mac Observer first. ) Accordingly, Apple has a big task ahead to education customers so they're properly up to speed before a buying decision. This could take the form of one or all of the following early releases.
- TV ads that (gasp) actually show the product in action.
- Video tutorials on Apple's Apple Watch page.
- An iPhone simulator app for the iPad/iPhone that shows how the Apple Watch will function and link to the iPhone.
- An healthy text list of FAQs.
Customers with an Apple ID will perhaps get an email inviting them to explore these resources ahead of time. But there will still be plenty of wiseguys who want to be pampered in the stores. You just know it. Also, based on Apple's judgment, this may be an opportunity to offer a pre-order opportunity. (You can still select your wristband of choice at pickup.) This will help gauge demand.
Apple will probably not make the Apple Watch for sale online initially. I think the goal is to drive potential customers into the stores in a highly visible way. (Yet still not disrupt sales of other products.) Jonny Evans over at Computerworld thinks that The Apple Watch be U.S. first. "Warning: #AppleWatch in April likely to arrive in U.S. first."
If demand is overwhelming, Apple could meter the demand just a tad by requiring an in-store appointment. If it looks like sales are tapering off, Apple could turn on sales in the Apple on-line store and/or divert and quickly enter European markets that look promising. I think that means we'll see a tuning of the purchase experience to maximize sales. As we know Apple doesn't plan to disclose unit sales initially, but if there's something to brag about, Tim Cook will surely crow about it at an autumn earnings report.
Wrapping It Up
I'm betting that you'll be able to walk into an U.S. Apple store the week of the product launch, try one on with a nice band, and pay (with Apple Pay Apple hopes) and be one your way. But I wouldn't wait too long. I expect the initial demand, as it always is with a new Apple product, to be explosive and Apple will react accordngly.