Apple Computers (Aust) - A Different Marketing Strategy

In late May, 2003 one of our clients asked us to obtain an Apple iPod for him as a birthday present for his son. Like Dell, Apple don't wholesale products to companies like ours. It is necessary to either purchase online or to go through one of the AppleCentre Stores. We elected to contact a store near to our office and found out pricing and availability so that we could confirm the order with our client. The client asked us to proceed and so we placed the order for a 15Gb iPod on Thursday, June 5th.

The AppleCentre responded the same day with an apology to say that when we had first spoken they'd had "a healthy stock level" but now they had only 3 units left and they were all spoken for. They were, however, expecting a shipment on Monday, June 9th. We rang a number of different AppleCentres at that time and discovered that none of them had iPod stock and that all were waiting for a shipment to arrive from Apple. Each AppleCentre sympathized with us and expressed frustration at having to tell customers that they didn't have stock and didn't know when they would. We had no choice but to remain on the waiting list and break the disappointing news to the client.

At that time, we contacted Apple Australia directly and asked them about their marketing strategy. After all, it seemed odd that they should be advertising these devices in the media and not have any available to sell. Compounding this was the fact that Charles Wright, an IT journalist for The Age, had given them a wonderful write up recently. Surely supply should attempt to satisfy demand? They assured us that they were bringing in sufficient quantities of the units and remarked, proudly "We're receiving 100 per week". To us (and others) this sort of quantity is ludicrously low given that there are 55 AppleCentres around the country and another 55 Authorised Apple Resellers.

Anyway, we waited patiently for Monday to arrive and bring the new stock with it. We even waited until Wednesday before pestering our reseller, to give Apple time to distribute the goods. Guess what? They didn't arrive on the Monday and Apple had no idea when to expect them.

Monday, June 16th and we are informed that Apple have confirmed that they will be receiving stock today but that the quantity will not fulfil existing orders - including ours. At this point we were reminded of the similar situation which Apple manufactured when they officially released the G4 Powerbook in Australia but forgot to actually supply sufficient quantity of them for sale.

June 19th, and according to our reseller, there is still no ETA for the iPods. Just in case there was a chance of getting one through the Apple Store, we gave them a call and tried our luck. The chap at the end of the phone said that delivery was in 5 to 10 days. We asked if that was guaranteed and he said that it wasn't.
"So, we might wait for a month for them?"
"Yes", he said, "that is possible but unlikely".
"How unlikely", we asked.
"I can't really say", he replied.

Now, interestingly, one of my clients does a lot of business with Dell. Dell, of course, carry no stock whatsoever in Australia but build each unit as it is ordered and ship it in from South-East Asia. The longest we've ever had to wait for Dell was 10 days - and that was for an order that included several workstations, a server and a bunch of notebooks. Surely the demand on Dell's resources is higher than that on Apple's? So how come we can't get our iPod? Is Australia not a big enough market for Apple to be concerned about?

I think that perhaps there is a reason that Apple doesn't have a very strong following in Australia and why businesses tend not to use them. It can't be just their prices because they're nowhere near as inflated as they used to be. It can't be merely their incompatibility with other systems and the difficulty in networking. Certainly the lack of good software, a carry-over from their closed-shop developer mentalilty might impact things but when all's said and done, I think it has a lot to do with the relationship they've developed and/or destroyed with their customers over the years. If you can't rely on your hardware supplier, would you keep going back?