Soft launch: Why the Apple Watch isn’t getting the ‘blockbuster’ debut it deserves

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It’s no secret that Apple’s launch plan for the Apple Watch hasn’t gone as well as the original iPhone and iPad launches.

Extremely limited supplies have led to long wait times for pre-orders. The lineup of choices is so complex that the company needed to give people weeks to try them on in stores before they were supposed to be available. And the confusing online-only purchase process advertised in Apple’s retail stores didn’t initially disclose that stores won’t have any units in stock on launch day. No part of the process has thrilled potential customers.

Yesterday, Apple’s SVP of Retail Angela Ahrendts sent an internal video memo to employees about the Apple Watch rollout in an attempt to help answer questions and assuage concerns about the many issues plaguing the launch, not the least of which is the lack of a “blockbuster launch” at retail outlets that customers and employees alike have come to expect from Apple. Some people took the video as an admission of guilt by Ahrendts. But although she may share responsibility for some of Apple’s missteps, she isn’t solely or even largely responsible for the issues.

Here’s where I believe things fell apart during this launch…

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1.3 GHz, built-to-order MacBooks begin preparing to ship following charges

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Apple has started to charge the credit cards of customers who ordered the highest-end 1.3GHz version of the 12-inch MacBook, according to emails from 9to5Mac readers. The customized, built-to-order MacBook went on sale earlier this month with 3-4 week shipping times for even the earliest orders, and Apple originally promised a delivery timeframe of May 8th to May 15th. As we saw with Apple Watch credit card charges earlier this week, it seems plausible that Apple already charging customers for the 1.3 GHz MacBook could indicate that shipments of the new laptop will begin occurring sooner than originally expected. However, readers have yet to report any signs of UPS or FedEx tracking numbers, or their Apple Online Store status pages moving from “Processing” to “Preparing for Shipment.”

Update: Several readers reporting that their MacBooks are now preparing to ship, several weeks early:

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Apple Retail SVP Ahrendts tackles Apple Watch/MacBook launch questions in 5-minute employee video

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The video accompanying the memo Ahrendts sent to staff last week has been published by Mac4Ever. Apple retail boss Angela Ahrendts clarified some of the details of the Apple Watch and MacBook rollouts that are starting this week. The executive confirmed that for the time being, watch orders will only be available online due to extremely limited supply.

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No Apple Watches in store until June, Ahrendts tells staff as April 24th date removed from website

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Angela Ahrendts has told Apple Store staff that the Apple Watch is unlikely to be available for in-store purchases before June – but they should expect the usual ‘blockbuster launches’ in retail stores for future products.

In a memo to retail store staff, Apple’s retail head thanked staff for making the try-ons “unforgettable,” told them customer feedback had been “overwhelmingly positive” and that the online-only ordering period was likely to continue throughout May.

Many of you have been getting questions asking if we will have the watch available in stores on April 24 for walk-in purchases. As we announced last week, due to high global interest combined with our initial supply, we are only taking orders online right now. I’ll have more updates as we get closer to in-store availability, but we expect this to continue through the month of May.

Ahrendts said that the decision to do things this way had not been an easy one …  Read more

Opinion: I’ve seen the future of Apple’s online/offline retail experience, and it’s magic

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‘Seen’ is something of an exaggeration, but ‘had a small glimpse of’ would have made for a rather lengthy headline.

Despite the fact that I’d placed my Apple Watch order online within a few minutes of pre-orders opening, I also made a same-day appointment for a try-on. This was partly because I wanted to handle the watch right away: Apple PR does not smile on a website that consistently reports upcoming product information, so we are firmly crossed-off the list of invitees to launches. But it was also partly because I was curious how the watch would be presented by store staff.

But let me begin by backing up a step or two …  Read more

Angela Ahrendts to retail staff: Encourage customers to buy Apple Watch & MacBook online

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Apple may be revamping its storefronts to promote the Apple Watch, but it won’t be encouraging you to buy one there. Retail head Angela Ahrendts has sent a memo to Apple Store staff asking them to suggest customers use the online store to order both the Apple Watch and 12-inch MacBook. The memo reportedly reflects the fact that store inventory of both products will be very limited when the MacBook goes on sale on Friday and the Apple Watch follows two weeks later.

Ahrendts’ two-paragraph memo aims to put a positive spin on the fact that many customers are likely to be disappointed when trying to purchase the new products, suggesting that pointing them to online purchase will “make their day” …  Read more

Apple launches iPhone and iPad trade-in program in China Apple Stores

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Apple today officially launched a version of its Apple Store iPhone trade-in program for China, as noted on the individual store pages for China’s Apple Retail Stores.

As is the case in the United States and several other countries with Apple Stores, the program allows a user to bring in an older iPhone model and trade in that device for gift card credit toward the purchase of a new iPhone; the program will most likely not allow a customer to trade in an iPhone toward the purchase of an Apple Watch. But as contrasted with the U.S., France, United Kingdom, Germany, Canada and Italy, the new China program is limited to iPhones and iPads, and will not support non-Apple smartphones.

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Apple Watch Edition perks: 24/7 support, private 1-hour appointments, no lines

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After hiring a new team of fashion sales and marketing experts from Yves St. Laurent, Louis Vuitton, and Burberry, Apple has developed a unique Apple Store purchasing experience just for the 18-karat gold Apple Watch Edition, according to sources briefed on the launch plans. When a customer interested in the Apple Watch Edition enters the store, he or she will be given no-wait access to a dedicated Expert, who will provide a personalized “journey” from the beginning of the appointment until the end, as much as one hour later. There will even be a new option for at-home video conferencing rather than in-store personal setup. By design, it will be more “elegant” than the budget-focused experience Apple Watch Sport customers receive…

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Tim Cook reflects on the role of running a post-Steve Jobs Apple as Fortune names him “greatest leader”

Fortune has today named Tim Cook #1 on its list of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders, publishing an extensive profile of the Apple CEO in which he reflects on the lessons he’s learned in the time he’s been running the company.

Taking over from Steve was not, he said, an easy transition, and he gained a new appreciation for the way that the co-founder had shielded him and the rest of the team from public criticism.

What I learned after Steve passed away, what I had known only at a theoretical level, an academic level maybe, was that he was an incredible heat shield for us, his executive team. None of us probably appreciated that enough […] but he really took any kind of spears that were thrown. He took the praise as well. But to be honest, the intensity was more than I would ever have expected.

Claims that Apple had lost its ability to innovate under Cook’s leadership were, he said, something he had to learn to block out …  Read more

Apple’s sales overhaul for Apple Watch will focus on building trust, offering fashion views, upselling bands

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The job of Apple Retail Store employees will begin changing in profound ways next month. In order to showcase and sell the Apple Watch, retail employees will be trained to provide personal fashion and styling advice to customers, according to employees briefed on the plans. Until now, Apple Retail has been tasked with recommending iPads, iPhones and Macs with few styling options aside from limited color options.

Apple is pushing for retail employees to initiate conversations that build trust, enabling the employee to serve as a valued fashion advisor during the purchase process, similarly to how traditional watches are sold. Apple Watch sales training programs will take place for Apple retail staff over the course of the next two weeks, teaching entirely new sales techniques to encourage iPhone upgrades, assist with gifting, and guide customers in watch and strap choices.

Below, we detail how employees will provide fashion advice to customers and Apple’s multi-part plan for selling an Apple Watch.

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Apple Store retail plan for Watch: 15 min. appointments, 10+ try-on stations, Experts for Edition

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Apple will introduce several major initiatives to ready its retail stores for the Apple Watch’s launch in April, according to sources briefed on the upcoming changes. Starting on April 10th, Apple will allocate 15 minutes per customer for in-store try-on appointments, using 10 or more try-on stations to manage what’s expected to be a steady flow of customers interested in having hands-on time with the Watch. While customers will not necessarily be required to have an appointment, they will be time-limited and guided during the hands-on experience. Additionally, they will be given the opportunity to place a reservation at the time of try-on for a particular model, and make a follow-up appointment to pick the watch up during the April 24th launch date. Stores will also have launch day stock for walk-in appointments.

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Apple Watch’s retail sales pitch revealed: 3 key features, switch to iPhone, focus on bands

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With next week’s Apple Watch event fast approaching, Apple has revealed its retail selling strategies to employees, including a focus on “three key features” and a plan to encourage Watch customers to upgrade or switch to new iPhones. According to selling guidelines provided by sources within Apple Retail, Apple believes that “many customers have already decided they want an Apple Watch,” and will use the Watch to “position the benefits” of purchasing a compatible iPhone model. Retail employees have been told to ask customers about their iPhone usage habits, their favorite feature in iOS 8, and if they use health and fitness software on their iPhone…

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