Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts is trying to usher in a new way for her company to handle product launches. She wants to encourage customers to avoid their local Apple Store when the Apple Watch goes on sale and instead order online, according to instructions she sent to store staff members obtained by Business Insider.
"This is a significant change in mindset, and we need your help to make it happen," the memo says. The memo is interesting because it suggests that the publicity Apple's stores normally enjoy on product launch days—when customers line up for hours or days ahead of a new iPhone launch—isn't entirely welcome this time.
After the launch of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, supply of the new product was so constrained that even weeks later, in December, up to half of the demand for the new phones was going unfilled. Customers walking into stores hoping to buy the new phones were often disappointed. It is a poorly kept secret among employees at Apple Stores that the best way to obtain newly launched products is to order online and avoid the stores.
For observers, shortages of Apple products have appeared to be a PR advantage. When Apple ran out of the gold iPhone 5S shortly after launch, it generated yet more publicity for the product. Some people have even thought these shortages are part of Apple's marketing strategy—to make them seem more desired and scarce than they actually are.
The Ahrendts memo, however, is an indicator that Apple does not like being unable to meet demand or leaving customers frustrated. Directing customers online partly solves that problem. Customers will still have to wait if there isn't enough product, but at least they know the product is on its way—and they're not wasting their time showing up at Apple's stores.
The only way to get an Apple Watch at launch in the UK will be to order online and then have the device shipped to your home, even if you're in the store. After customers arrive in the store, employees will order the watch for them through "Kiosk," Apple's internal version of the online Apple Store. (That way, the local store gets credit for the sale even though the sale was conducted through the website.)
Crucially, "there will be no store pickup" for Apple Watch in the UK, according to the source who leaked us the memo. Watches will only be shipped to their homes after they have chosen their model and strap. The U.S. system will do something similar, but customers will still be able to pick up their watch at the store. Otherwise, customers will be encouraged to order online and choose to have the product delivered to their home.
"Store inventory will be limited," our source says. Apple did not respond to a request for comment. (Mark Gurman at 9to5Mac has more detail on just how limited some of that inventory will be, particularly for the gold Apple Watch Edition.)
Here is the text of the Ahrendts memo. You can see that there is a huge emphasis on training Apple customers to go online rather than show up at a physical location for both Apple Watch and the new MacBook. "The days of waiting in line ... are over," Ahrendts says:
The days of waiting in line and crossing fingers for a product are over for our customers. The Apple Store app and our online store make it much easier to purchase Apple Watch and the new MacBook. Customers will know exactly when and where their product arrives.
This is a significant change in mindset, and we need your help to make it happen. Tell your customers we have more availability online, and show them how easy it is to order. You'll make their day.
Here is the actual memo:
Note that the memo covers both Apple Watch and MacBook.
Customers who walk into an Apple Store simply hoping to see or play with an Apple Watch may also be disappointed. This image leaked to Business Insider (below) was designed to help employees understand the new Apple Watch store setup. It shows Apple's display apparatus for the Apple Watch. Note that the watches will be displayed under glass embedded in the table. The products will NOT be on little stands or attached to security chains (as iPhones are). Customers without an appointment, which are made online, will not be able to pick them up and try them on.
This is the case in part because the back of the watches contains sensors for detecting your pulse and for transmitting your heartbeat as a series of vibrations to another watch wearer. Those sensors can't sit on any display or stand.
Here is a look at how the new displays are being previewed internally to staff members:
While the new policies will not end shortages, they may end one major embarrassment for Apple: fights outside stores on launch days and long lines of Chinese immigrants paid to be there to buy phones for the Asian black market, which marred the iPhone 6 launch.