PHOTO ERIC RISBERG, ARCHIVES AP
The Apple Watch is [almost] here. Hooray! Another gadget for our multi-device connected lifestyles.
Whether you believe this new product will be successful or a complete failure, one thing we know is that Apple is facing some additional logistical complexity in addition to the usual challenges surrounding new product launches (adoption rates, product reviews, investors’ reactions, etc.)
A typical Apple product launch (iPhone or iPad) is usually comprised of anywhere from 10 to 20 SKUs. Even iMac models come with a limited set of configurations.
With all its different bracelet models and sizes, the Apple Watch will have 56 SKUs.
Like many other electronic devices sold around the world (think of all the possible electrical outlets a printer can have due to the various standards), inventory positioning is not as simple as Apple products are to use. We could say the same about the apparel industry, where combining sizes and colors results in quite an impressive SKU proliferation.
So why is 56 SKUs such a challenge? Basically, the financial implications are far greater with a $700 watch than with a $25 t-shirt. When such inventory sits at retail locations, a game of inter-store shipments begins to get the right model to the right consumer and minimize inventory carrying costs.
Apple's solution seems to be to simplify the ordering process, and by "simplify", I mean "limit". This simplifies things for Apple, but not necessarily for the consumer.
A potential buyer eager to put his hand or wrist on the new toy will be able to visit an Apple Store, look at the watch, hold it, and play with it, but will then have to put it back in the display case, go home (or talk with an on-site clerk) and place an order online.
He or she will then have to wait.
Sure Apple will have better control over its inventory as well as assembly and distribution planning, but in a world of instant gratification and early-adopter show-offs, this might disappoint more than a few consumers, which may shorten the length of the lineups we’re used to seeing on launch day.
Personally, I think it's the right thing to do. Apple will most likely sell gazillions of watches while minimizing the complexity and costs tied to inventory positioning. After all, isn't it worth the wait for a more personalized version of what has been touted as a luxury item?
What do you think? Should Apple consider holding some pre-configured inventory at its retail locations to satisfy those willing to trade customization for availability?