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Changing strategy, Apple promotes its new watch as a luxury item

Apple Watch smartwatches sit on display inside the Apple store in Berlin earlier this month as pre-orders began. Apple has scrapped its usual routine for releasing products with the Apple Watch. The company is instead taking a page from the playbook of another industry: luxury-goods makers.
Apple Watch smartwatches sit on display inside the Apple store in Berlin earlier this month as pre-orders began. Apple has scrapped its usual routine for releasing products with the Apple Watch. The company is instead taking a page from the playbook of another industry: luxury-goods makers. BLOOMBERG NEWS

Apple has scrapped its usual routine for releasing products with its new device, the Apple Watch. The company is instead taking a page from the playbook of another industry: luxury-goods makers.

Gone are the long lines in front of Apple stores that would accompany a typical iPhone release. Gone is the flooding of a vast, worldwide distribution network where Apple would make a new iPhone available. The company is selling the Apple Watch, which goes on sale on Friday, in just nine countries, and exclusively through its own channels, not through third-party retailers like Best Buy.

In contrast, Apple unveiled new iPhones in September in more than 30 countries and in numerous retail outlets.

For the first time, Apple is also bringing personal attention and tailoring into the mix through a try-on process for the watch. While consumers typically could not touch a new Apple device until it was publicly available, the company this month began inviting customers into its stores to see, wear and feel the watch.

Evan Weissbrot, a 33-year-old watch collector, experienced the sneak preview firsthand. After he arrived at an Apple Store in New York on April 11, an Apple employee took Weissbrot to a try-on station and unlocked a drawer containing a variety of the watches. In between small talk, the employee showed Weissbrot different straps and cases – and even let him check out the gold watch, which costs more than $10,000 and typically requires a separate appointment to try on.

The amount of personal attention and the allure of the try-on process “was a rip directly from a high-end watch store,” Weissbrot said.

All of this echoes the tactics of luxury-goods makers like Burberry. Giving consumers an early peek before they buy things is a familiar strategy in the fashion industry. When Burberry shows new lines of clothing and handbags on the runway, the company lets customers order select items immediately after the show for delivery even before the apparel arrives in stores.

The strategy is a deliberate move by Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple, and Angela Ahrendts, the company’s retail chief and a former chief executive of Burberry, to lay the groundwork for a successful introduction of the watch. The watch is the first entirely new device Apple has introduced under the leadership of Cook, who took the helm in 2011, and brings the company into the fashion market, as well as the luxury market with the 18-karat gold version of the watch.

An Apple spokeswoman, Amy Bessette, said Ahrendts was not available to comment on the retail strategy for the watch.

The watch’s success remains far from assured. Cook said on Apple’s financial earnings call in October that the company would report sales of the watch in a group with other products, rather than breaking it out into a separate category.

“I’m not very anxious in reporting a lot of numbers on Apple Watch and giving a lot of detail on it because our competitors are looking for it,” Cook said.

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