How Apple Watch is changing the way Apple Stores do business

A small, wearable device tethered to a desk isn't ideal. Instead, look for Apple Watch displays under glass and the gentle nudge of an online purchase.
Written by Kevin Tofel, Contributor

When I attended the hands-on part of Apple's "Spring Forward" Event last month, I was surprised to see all of the Apple Watches under glass. Typically, Apple places their new products in easy reach for the press to inspect closely. Those glass-top tables, however, are very likely how the Apple Watch will be displayed, providing a very different experience for customers in Apple Stores.

Apple Watch displays at the launch event

Indeed, Business Insider appears to have an internal memo from Apple's head of retail, Angela Ahrendts, suggesting to Apple Store employees that they steer customers to order their Apple Watch online.

Here's the text of the memo that Business Insider published on Tuesday:

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.

I agree with the second paragraph: This is, or will be, a significant change in mindset for purchases in the Apple Store.

Last month, Apple CEO Tim Cook noted that 120 million people visited an Apple Store in the final quarter of 2014. That's a huge number of opportunities for customers to walk out with an Apple product. It's also a large number of potential disappointments when the product customers wanted but couldn't walk out with it.

It seems as though Apple is going to make a concerted effort to manage expectations to avoid such disappointment, although I still think many people will expect to walk into an Apple Store and leave with an Apple Watch. It's not likely going to happen.

Earlier reports from 9to5 Mac indicate that customers can try on an Apple Watch but will have to make reservations to purchase any in-store inventory, which will likely be limited. Having already tried on the watch at Apple's event, I'll be ordering on-line -- pre-orders begin April 10 at 3am ET -- and having the device shipped to my home.

Apple Watch Sport under glass

This anticipated change is partly due to the product itself. A wearable device is unlike iPhones, iPads, Macs and the like; it's far more personal and inventory could be more limited. Apple would find it challenging to have watches tethered to desks, which would also take away from the experience of wearing the watch.

So instead, it will display the various models and band combinations under glass; a very un-Apple like thing to do, but an approach consistent with the watch industry. By using an appointment method, Apple brings the personal nature to both the product and the buying experience, even if the store employee shifts the transaction from a Store purchase to one that's online.

For the first time that I can think of, customers may be leaving Apple Stores happy even though they're not walking out with a product. It's going to take time for some to get used to that.

Editorial standards