Leaked Memo Says Apple Will Push Retail Store Shoppers Online

Apple might be implementing retail changes that discourage the kind of hype-building launch day lines that get headlines with each new device that goes on sale, according to a new memo reportedly from Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts shared with retail store employees and obtained by Business Insider. At least for Apple Watch and the new MacBook, Ahrendts is directing store staff to push customers to order online, rather than try their luck at physical locations.

In the memo, under the heading “Get in line online,” Ahrendts advises retail staff to tell customers that the Apple Store app and web-based storefront are the best way to ensure guaranteed delivery of Apple Watch and new MacBook, and the push to drive them to those outlets is called “a significant change in mindset” by the retail executive.

Get in line online

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.

The BI report reiterates what we’ve already heard: Apple Watch retail inventory will be supply constrained at launch, meaning accommodating walk-ins could be difficult. The new MacBook also has an ambitious and many brand new components that could very easily limit initial availability, which might be another reason to encourage shoppers to head online.

But in either case, unless Apple is anticipating an imbalance much more drastic than the usual conflict of demand vs. availability at product launch (iPhone demand always far outstrips hardware availability, for instance, leading to long lines at Apple Stores months into new model debuts), this represents a big change in overall philosophy.

Apple’s splashy launches have almost always featured long retail lines, especially at flagship stores in NYC, London, San Francisco and other world capitals. Apple employees have not, to my knowledge, previously been encouraged to try to temper these crowds by directing eager shoppers to either the retail app or the online store. There’s good reason for that: crowds attract headlines, which help with Apple’s overall narrative of being highly in demand.

It’s possible that this launch is being treated in a unique manner because it’s a unique type of product for Apple, one whose goals the Apple-faithful ritual of waiting in line overnight, or for days on end, doesn’t serve. But it’s also possible that Apple’s new head of retail thinks the company will be better served by optimizing for successful product delivery, and fewer frustrated customer expectations, than by the spectacle of huge queues.

The retail experience shift that will accompany the introduction of the Apple Watch is probably our first chance to witness Ahrendts’ influence in action, so this coming launch will doubtless be one to watch for those interested in the future direction of Apple’s brick-and-mortar stores.