Long lines at Apple may just fade away

One of Apple’s problems has been explaining to people why they might need a smartwatch.
One of Apple’s problems has been explaining to people why they might need a smartwatch.

SAN FRANCISCO — When it comes to buying the Apple Watch, it is time to think different.

Angela Ahrendts, Apple Inc.’s sales chief, wants to scrap the company’s tradition of having customers wait in line, sometimes for days, to get their hands on the latest gadget. Apple has instructed its sales force to prod shoppers on the company’s website to purchase the new smartwatch, which can be pre-ordered Friday.

“The days of waiting in line and crossing fingers for a product are over for our customers,” according to a memo to Apple sales staff. “This is a significant change in mindset.”


The approach is the first indication of how Ahrendts views the Apple buying experience since joined the company a year ago from British luxury retailer Burberry Group. The Apple watch starts as low as $349, but its top-end $17,000 gold version puts Apple into a lofty new realm.

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“This is not simply a consumer-electronics good — it’s a luxury good,” said J.P. Gownder, an analyst at Forrester Research. “There are a lot of good reasons to [change] but there is that danger that it may be a little bit, literally, buzz killing.”

Apple will begin taking pre-orders online Friday after 3:01 a.m. New York time. Shoppers will also be able to try on the device starting Friday, by appointment. Apple has not begun accepting appointments yet. The watch officially goes on sale April 24.

Encouraging Apple Watch shoppers to make appointments could help the company explain the complicated pricing and options and sell customers on why they would really want it, Gownder said. The watch is offered in two sizes and three styles with different options for bands.

The watch — intended to provide new ways to communicate, track fitness goals, and give directions, among other things — is the first new gadget from Apple in five years.


It could help focus attention on wearable devices, including offerings from Samsung Electronics Co. The global market for smartwatches could rise from 4.6 million to 28.1 million units this year, according to Strategy Analytics.

“Part of the problem that Samsung and others have had in the market has so far been: ‘What is making me want to have this device? Essentially I feel like my phone can do what it can do, why do I need this?’” Gownder said. “Being able to articulate a vision of why this is different is very important.”