Papers please: Apple's reservation-only Watch buying aims for enthusiastic evangelists

'Apple doesn't want people walking in and buying the wrong thing on impulse,' says analyst

apple watch debut
Credit: REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

Apple's plan to require reservations for in-store purchases of its upcoming wearable may not be sustainable indefinitely, but the process will make it more likely that the important first-wave buyers become ambassadors of the device, an analyst said today.

"The Apple Watch is unique in that it's worn on the body, so fit and feel are much more important than for any other Apple product," said Jan Dawson, chief analyst with Jackdaw Research, explaining his take on why Apple may use a reservation-only system. "It's important that the Watch feels comfortable for sizing, for weight, for the material chosen."

According to CNET, Apple confirmed that in-store purchases will require a previously-reserved online order and associated 15-min. time slot. During that quarter hour, Apple will walk the buyer through the wearable's functionality and insure that the Watch size is appropriate and that the band fits properly.

Customers considering the top-tier Apple Watch Edition, the 18-karat gold model that starts at $10,000, will be treated much differently, with longer appointments and more personalized service, as dictated by the price.

Apple did not reply to questions about the reservation system today.

Such hand-holding will be new to Apple, and reflects the differences between the Watch and the company's now mundane lines, like the iPhone, iPad and Mac. More importantly, it illustrates both that Apple believes there's a big gulf between the Watch and other products, and that it wants to carefully kick off the new category.

"Apple wants to make sure buyers have a great experience [with the Watch]," said Dawson. "They don't want people walking in and buying the wrong thing on impulse. They really want to make sure people walk out with the right Watch for them and that they're happy with it."

Stephen Baker of the NPD Group agreed. "All this is conjecture at this point, but if [the reports are accurate] it's a good idea for Apple to take advantage of their trained staff to help customers understand a very new product," Baker said.

If Apple can turn the early adopters into evangelists who wax poetic about the wearable to friends and family, they'll spread the word and show others what the device can do. Some experts, Dawson included, saw similarities between the Apple Watch and the circa-2007 iPhone, a brand new device that needed to be seen to be appreciated or even desired.

That was one reason why Dawson said, "Retail is absolutely critical" to the success of the Watch in an interview last month.

Prospective Apple Watch buyers can circumvent the in-store time entirely by ordering online and asking that the device be shipped to them rather than to a nearby retail outlet.

Another reason for the Watch's different buying experience may be to "gate" the expected tight initial supply -- a typical problem for Apple -- said Dawson, who suspects that the reservation-only system will be temporary, with the rules relaxed or restrictions lifted if the device takes off or when supply matches demand.

"Some parts of this model will carry on, I think, but others will not be required longer term," said Dawson.

Apple has dabbed with personalized shopping before, but on much more limited basis: It currently has a $99-per-year program dubbed "One to One," which includes old-to-new Mac data migration and an hour-long one-on-one training session. Apple store personnel will also assist customers in moving their data and apps to a new iPhone free of charge.

Apple will begin taking Watch pre-orders online at 12:01 a.m. PT Friday, April 10, and in its retail stores that same day. The latter requires an appointment.

This story, "Papers please: Apple's reservation-only Watch buying aims for enthusiastic evangelists" was originally published by Computerworld.

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