August 15, 2008, 10:15 AM — Apple's channel strategy has always been, well, pretty nonexistent. There is a network of Apple VARs, but the company has never been known for being channel-friendly. The iPhone sales strategy has followed the same philosophy, and until recently, you could only buy an iPhone at an Apple store or an AT&T outlet.
Starting next month, you will also be able to buy the iPhone at Best Buy. It's a big deal for Best Buy, but why has Apple always placed such limitations on where people can buy its products? Of course, it's to create an illusion of the products being elite. They want customers to feel as though they're part of a special group because they bought a Mac or an iPhone. Not that I'm knocking it, it's a valid strategy that a lot of other companies have worked, but the marketing strategy of elite product categories tends to work better when the economy is going well, which it is not, thank you very much, Mr. President. That's why Wal-Mart this week posted better-than-expected profits, and the more elite Macy's posted a decline in second-quarter sales. Sure, everybody loves to knock Wal-Mart, but when there's not much money left after paying the mortgage and car payment, we still slink over there when nobody's looking to save a few bucks. Same deal with Microsoft-based PCs.
Apple is on the right track by going into Best Buy, but to succeed in the coming recession, it's going to have to do better than that.