Inside Apple's gigantic Apple Watch rollout

Forget the watch. Apple's most impressive rollout ever is a mind-blowing retail machine to sell it.

apple watch three faces
Credit: Apple

The Apple Watch may or may not be an impressive piece of design or technology. But one thing is certain: Apple's preparations for retail sales of the watch are amazing.

Let's take a look at the enormous effort Apple has made to prepare for its smallest product yet.

A $73 million-per-year retail chief

Most of Apple's plans and deals around how it will sell the Apple Watch are still unknown. But it's always telling to follow the money.

Apple last year brought in Angela Ahrendts, the former CEO of luxury brand Burberry Group, to run its Apple Watch retail push. We learned recently that Ahrendts' total compensation package was $73.4 million for 2014 -- long before the Apple Watch even shipped.

In comparison, CEO Tim Cook made $9.22 million.

Dedicated Apple Watch stores

Apple has 453 retails stores worldwide. But that's not enough to sell the Apple Watch, apparently.

apple watch edition blue leather strap

The watches in Apple's Edition collection feature 18-karat gold cases and start at $10,000.

Apple is building Apple Watch stores inside luxury department stores to sell its Edition line of watches, and it may even be constructing stand-alone stores that sell nothing except the watch. (The models in the Edition collection have hardened 18-karat gold cases and cost between $10,000 and $17,000.)

Material evidence for these stores is already popping up. For example, a Japanese blogger snapped photos of an Apple Watch store being built inside a luxury Tokyo department store called Isetan. That Apple Watch store will be enormous, and it will sit front and center at the entrance of the department store.

Similar stores are also reportedly under construction at Selfridges in London, Galeries Lafayette in Paris and other locations. There's also a possibility that Nordstrom will carry the Apple Watch.

Newly redesigned Apple Store processes

Apple Stores will be totally reorganized to accommodate the Apple Watch. Tables and the layout will be rearranged.

There are two reasons for that. First, selling an Apple Watch will be a far more complex process than selling computers and mobile devices. That's because, as a fashion accessory, it will be the only Apple product that has hundreds of options and that customers will want to try on.

apple watch crown Apple

Second, the watches are very expensive, high-resale-value products that are very small and therefore theoretically easier to steal. Thieves already favor Apple products generally; the Apple Watch will likely be the most desirable target for crooks by far.

One credible report estimates that 75% to 90% of each store's retail staff will be dedicated to helping shoppers with the Apple Watch. A massive training program has been developed to prepare the blue T-shirted clerks who will be selling Apple Watches.

These staffers will be corralled off into four "zones" starting April 10.

One zone will be for trying on the Sport edition and the regular stainless steel version.

A second zone will have two lines for sales: One for people who have chosen a watch to buy, and another for those undecided.

A third zone will have employees whose job is to explain and answer questions about the Apple Watch.

A fourth zone will have super experts, and their job will be to help customers interested in the gold watches in the Edition collection.

New try-on stations

According to 9to5mac.com, each Apple Store will have a special demo table for Apple Watches, surrounded by try-on stations where people who make appointments can spend 15 minutes trying on watches, to check out different sizes and bands. (The watch doesn't ship until April 24, but the try-on stations will go into operation April 10.)

Newly designed charging cable and bracelet

An FCC application has revealed that Apple designed a new kind of charging bracelet and cable, exclusively for use in its store displays. Each cable can charge 10 Apple Watches at once. Each attached bracelet holds a watch snugly but allows for easy removal. The purpose of the cables is to minimize the number of cables and visual clutter.

New security infrastructure turns every Apple Store into a jewelry store

Apple has reportedly designed custom blast-proof safes that have chargers inside for storing and charging the watches at night, so if crooks break into an Apple Store, they won't be able to nab the goods.

That same 9to5mac report says that Apple is installing highly accurate scales inside its stores, so if an Edition watch is returned, employees can weigh it to make sure no gold was shaved off.

It also stands to reason that Apple has taken all kinds of other steps to ensure the security of the watches. After all, 100 of the cheapest gold models of the Apple Watch would have a collective retail value of $1 million.

The company will have to use armored cars to move them from place to place.

Jewelry stores often have armed guards. It's possible that Apple Stores will too -- though the guards will likely be positioned in the back, observing shoppers through cameras.

Also: Apple will need to manage inventory carefully -- it will want to limit the number of watches in any one store while also making sure there's a ready supply, so anyone who wants one can buy one. That means the company will probably store Edition watches somewhere nearby, and that location will have to be very secure.

There's no question that Apple is very serious about succeeding with the Apple Watch. The retail changes alone suggest that the company is truly going big on the launch, and that it plans to be in it for the long haul.

It's going to be impressive to see all this in action starting April 10, when the try-on and pre-order processes begin, and also after April 24, when the watch will be available to the public.

This story, "Inside Apple's gigantic Apple Watch rollout" was originally published by Computerworld.

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