Top Two Electronics Store Retail Chains Selling Macs Again
Apple Hopes to Reach More Consumers with New Partnerships

by Joe Leo, Columnist December 3, 2006

NEWS: (12.03.06)-- Apple's computers--not just iPods anymore--are back at Best Buy and Circuit City after a "here today, gone tomorrow" relationship since the turn of the century. Whether this current partnership will last this time is unknown, but its timing comes only days after reports [see related article] that Macs (and iPods) are selling at an alarming rate, with sales and shares of Apple approaching all-time record highs.

In a move that seems to signal the "second coming" of the Mac-maker, Apple is once again selling its computer products at the nation's top two major electronics retail chains to increase its presence with and availability to consumers. A closer look today at both Best Buy's and Circuit City's sales ads for this week show the iMac, MacBook, and MacBook Pro, as being available in-store (and online) and only online, respectively.

Earlier this year, Apple and Best Buy test-piloted a program in July to sell Mac hardware in-store at select locations across the nation. In October, after deeming the partnership successful, the "deal" was made official, and will remain in the original pilot stores, as well as further expand to others across the nation. (Just before the test-pilot program, Best Buy had begun to offer Apple's products "nationally" via their online store, which were only available for delivery).

Circuit City on the other hand, quietly announced the availability of Apple's products on the home page of back in September, and advertised it as only being available online. Apparently a few stores in the East Coast were given a similar pilot program as Best Buy's, but no word yet if that program has been successful and whether it will lead to official national availability at all its stores nationwide.

The big national debut was reported as having scheduled to take place over the Thanksgiving weekend, but seems to have been held off until this week--for reasons currently unknown--with weekly ads for Best Buy and Circuit City only reflecting that debut today with a full page dedicated to prominently showcasing the Mac hardware.

This new team-up with the nation's top two electronics chains is nothing new since Apple previously teamed up with them in the past, along with other major retailers such as Sears and CompUSA (almost choosing Target and Kmart at one point in time).

Before the retail Apple Store made its debut in May of 2001, the only place where a complete line of Macs could be found at retail was via CompUSA stores. Before that, it was through authorized resellers--such as MacMall and ClubMac--via catalog or online. (An interesting note here is when those catalog resellers moved to the web in the late 90s, Apple decided to open their own store online in 1997, the "original Apple Store," now known as the Apple Store Online).

In 1998, Apple ended its partnerships with the major retail chains, save one-- their relationship with CompUSA. According to published reports, the main factor that led to the failure of those partnerships was that the Apple products were not displayed as well as the competition's, with employees of the stores having no knowledge of the hardware.

(That is one of the mistakes Apple intends not to make again, with current Best Buy employees taking special training in order to be pseudo-Mac experts who will be able to give customers solid information behind the Mac products).

Apple's decision to focus its products solely in one retail chain, and to create a mini-shop within the store, was the solution that made their partnership with CompUSA a success. With Mac hardware no longer being brushed aside, and having a dedicated place in the store staffed by an Apple employee who knew about the products, this gave them the edge they didn't have before.

Apple used that successful formula and tried to resurrect the idea of partnering with other retail outlets, even with its own stores in operation. In 2003, Apple did a similar pilot program with Best Buy which offered Mac hardware in-store, with the entire aluminum PowerBook G4 line available, in addition to the iMac G4, the eMac, and the PowerMac G5. Inventory problems were attributed to the failure of that program which ended a year later.

After only two years of ending its team-up with Circuit City in 1998, Apple computers--G3 iMacs and iBooks--were back at those stores, however, lasting only two years until 2002 when they pulled out once again. On the other hand, since 1998, CompUSA has continued to be a major reseller of Apple's products and Mac-related accessories, and continues to do so today, even with Apple's own retail stores across the nation.

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