Will Apple tarnish brand with Target 'store-within-a-store' outlets?

Electronic device maker plans limited roll-out to reach areas where it won't bother to build its big, fancy stores

Will Apple's "store-within-a-store" outlets planned for about two dozen Target locations in smaller U.S. markets tarnish the company's carefully cultivated brand?

That certainly was my initial thought when I read on Apple Insider that the company "plans to begin operating Apple-branded areas within 25 larger Target stores in locations which can't support a standalone Apple Store." (This according to Apple Insider "sources familiar with Apple's plans.")

After all, we've been bombarded in recent weeks with testimonials about Steve Jobs and his relentless insistence on quality, his obsessive attention to detail, his insistence that the Apple shopping experience be different, better.

And now Apple is going to have outlets in Target?

But Apple already sells iPhones, iPads and iPods in Target. And in the past, before it began building its own chain of retail stores, Apple had partnerships with Sears and OfficeMax, among others. It also has "Apple Shops" in more than 600 Best Buy locations.

The comments under the Apple Insider post are divided. Some people argue that the deal will hurt Apple's brand because Target is a discount chain only slightly classier than Walmart, while others see it as a smart move that will expose Apple products to more potential customers.

And at least one reader invoked the question on everyone's mind: What Would Steve Do? ...

I'll bet you if Steve Jobs saw the picture attached to this article he would have nixed the deal then and there.

I can see merits to both sides of the argument. Target ain't Nordstrom, but it ain't Walmart either. And I'm pretty sure the Apple outlets in Target won't be next to the groceries.

That being said, if part of your brand value is excellence and a superior customer experience, you expose that value to risk when you give up some elements of control.

Which, I think, explains the modest roll-out. Apple wants to see how this works out before committing to more Target outlets. If it goes well, however, Apple will be looking at more than 1,700 other potential places to sell its products, or about seven times the total number of Apple retail stores (245) currently in the U.S.

Anyone have strong feelings about this either way? Feel free to weigh in below.

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