SAN JOSE, Calif. » Don’t expect to walk into an Apple Store and walk out with an Apple Watch anytime soon.
Apple expects to sell the timepiece exclusively online through May, according to an internal memo from retail chief Angela Ahrendts that was obtained by French Apple news site iGen.fr.
Apple began showcasing the watch in stores April 10, inviting customers to come in for one-on-one demos — a new sales strategy for the tech giant. But shipping times quickly slipped back to June for many models, amounting to quite a wait for customers.
Apple had initially framed April 24 as the official launch date for the watch. Although some customers who were quick to place pre-orders will receive the gadget April 24, Apple has removed the date from its website, advising simply: “The Watch is coming.” An Apple spokesman declined to comment.
Supply constraints have most likely prevented Apple from stocking the watch in stores sooner, said analyst Colin Gillis of BGC Partners. But he does not think the wait will deter Apple’s most loyal customers, who are expected to carry the tech giant for the first few months of watch sales.
“The average user hasn’t necessarily decided to get one or not,” Gillis said. “This is the enthusiast round.”
The Apple Watch’s soft launch has made for a striking contrast with Apple’s typical product debuts, which inspire customers around the globe to brave massive lines — or even camp out — to get the iDevice of the moment first. At a mall in San Jose, only a few dozen customers were waiting outside when the Apple Store opened its doors, and most of them had arrived just a few minutes before. Similar scenes played out around the country, based on observations from retail analysts.
“At stores we’ve checked this weekend, reaction to the displayed watches has been more curious than crazed, and compared to iPhone 6 last September, has been relatively tepid,” Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, wrote in an email.
Some have wondered whether the watch’s debut signals a new role for the Apple Store as more of a showroom than a trading post. But Ahrendts’ memo suggests that die-hard Apple fans have not slept outside the Apple Store for the last time.
“Are we going to launch every product this way from now on? No,” she wrote. “We all love those blockbuster Apple product launch days — and there will be many more to come. They’re the moments where you, our teams, shine. And our customers love them as well!”
The Apple Watch is unlike anything Apple has sold before, allowing for a great degree of customization — it comes in two sizes and three collections, with an array of interchangeable bands. That called for a different retail approach, Ahrendts wrote.
“Given the high interest and initial supply at launch, we will be able to get customers the model they want earlier and faster by taking orders online,” she wrote.