What's good for hype isn't always good for customers

26 March, 2011 06:10AM · 3 minute read

Apple just launched the iPad 2 in Australia with huge lines outside major retailers but primarily the Apple Stores around¬†the country. The queues were anecdotally longer than the iPad 1 queues and showed an undeniable demand for the iPad 2. Well that’s great. The problem I have with this is that Apple knew they would have an extremely limited supply on hand - as little as a few hundred for each Apple Store and some reports have suggested retailers like JB HiFi barely had 20 in stock.

The TV camera crews were out at some Apple Store locations getting the customary footage of yet another hit Apple device being queued for and giving Apple free PR. How though is this good for the end customer? People have busy lives and generally Apple products aren’t cheap so the average person in line waiting will have a good source of income and they need to take time away from work to stand in a line all day. Oddly, potentially losing them money they could have used to buy more Apple products. (They could be retired too and spending their kids inheritance - which is fine too but then usually that makes them older people and whatever your age who wants to stand in line for hours or days to get an Apple product - seriously who looks forward to it?)

The ideal customer experience would be to order one ahead of time and know it was guaranteed for you and then come in an pick it up whenever you were ready. If you wanted to stand in a queue you could but most people wouldn’t. If Apple did that (which they did do for some other of their products but they had greater stock on hand) the queues would have been shorter and less PR is a lost opportunity.

I understand that Apple is a business and business is business but eventually (if not already) limited quantity launches and hand to mouth production to sales methodologies (you still need to book in a week in advance to get an iPhone 4 at an Apple Store and there’s a month wait at most Telstra shops for one) will drive temperamental or impatient customers to buy the oppositions tablet/phone where there are no queues, plenty of stock, and salespeople only too happy to help separate them from their money.

I’m not sure I completely buy into Apples claim that they’re making them as fast as they can though I do believe they’re selling everything they make. It’s good for warehousing (or lack thereof since it’s not really needed in that case) but other manufacturers are producing tablets from similar components so Apple appears to be simply managing their own supply chains to minimise stock on hand. Again - that’s great for business and great for hype but how is it good for the customer?