Last fall, in the lead-up to the iPhone 6 release, Apple introduced digital queuing to make it easier for Apple fans to get their hands on the new phones (camping was still required, however).
Now, in anticipation of the Apple Watch's April 24 release, according to a leaked memo from Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts, the company is directing store staff to push customers to order online instead of trying their luck at physical locations.
The obvious benefit of pre-ordering an Apple Watch online is not having to camp out overnight.
"In the memo, under the heading 'Get in line online,' Ahrendts advises retail staff to tell customers that the Apple Store app and web-based storefront are the best way to ensure guaranteed delivery of Apple Watch and new MacBook, and the push to drive them to those outlets is called 'a significant change in mindset' by the retail executive," reported TechCrunch's Darrell Etherington today.
From a consumer standpoint, I think the main benefit of this initiative is not having to camp out overnight outside of a store. Customers can shop from the comfort of their homes and either have their product delivered to them or pick it up at a time and location that is convenient to them. It simply saves a lot of time when you don’t have to wait in line for three days.
From Apple's perspective, Ahrendts came from Burberry, so she knows a thing or two about luxury branding. "While (lengthy lines for hours, if not days) generated a nice camaraderie for the brand, (they) certainly (don't) leave an impression of Apple as a high-end, classy fashion company," wrote The Verge's Jacob Kastrenakes.
I’ve always found it a little mind boggling to see people waiting in line for hours or even days to purchase a new product, but I’ve never thought poorly of the brand as a result. I’ve always felt as though the people waiting in that line were so incredibly excited for that new thing that it mostly demonstrated a passion for the brand. However, there are also frustrations around having waited in line for days only to reach the front of the queue and discover that the person in front of you just bought the last product. That in itself is a negative experience.
(This initiative) seems to be transforming Apple Stores from actual stores into showrooms.Jacob Kastrenakes, The Verge
Pushing people towards online purchasing would reduce this disappointment and I think ultimately increase their excitement as they will have already purchased the product and now they just have to wait for it to be delivered. There’s no need to have to keep running back and forth to different stores to check if they have received more stock yet.
Overall, I think this is a good initiative. As Kastrenakes wrote, "(It) seems to be transforming Apple Stores from actual stores into showrooms," which is the way a lot of retailers are looking at stores nowadays: as conduits for future online purchases (see: Parker, Warby).
That said, despite how far we’ve come with technology, I think there are still a lot of people who aren’t familiar or aren’t comfortable with the online purchasing experience. Their first point of contact with a brand isn’t always online. I’m amazed at the number of people I talk to who have been disappointed because they couldn’t find a product in-store somewhere and who seem surprised when I ask them why they don’t check online to see if they can find it. It’s not always the first thought for people. I think there is still a need to introduce this concept to people and to show them how simple and easy it can be. As long as the online experience is good, there should be no problem.