iPhone: The Retail Test Is Coming

June 5, 2007

Apple’s announcement of a June 29th debut for the iPhone signals the retail chain’s biggest challenge since the first two stores opened in 2001. Consumer expectations are high for the phone’s features and capabilities, while investor revenue expectations are off the charts. But there’s also a group of skeptics who feel the iPhone won’t attract a substantial number of buyers, leaving the company with a costly dud. For the retail team, the debut will test every aspect of the organization: training, marketing, sales and support.

While details aren’t clear, tipsters say the stores are now being wired with cellular repeaters to insure perfect reception for demo iPhones, so potential customers will have a perfect experience. It’s also rumored that sales transactions will involve some measure of innovation, perhaps involving customer interaction with the Internet, intended to speed up and streamline the traditionally long purchase and registration process.

The iPhone will use iTunes to manage various settings and content of the device: address book, calendar, music/video, photos and e-mail. Then, it would be easy to believe that iTunes will also manage the phone registration and account management tasks, including the initial sign-up tasks. If that’s true, the purchase of an iPhone would be a simple grab-and-go process at the stores.

As for demand, Steve Jobs has said he expects huge crowds at Apple’s own stores. But AT&T contacts warn their stores will be receiving a very limited number of iPhones to sell, perhaps fewer than 40 units.

Lastly, Apple has been hiring an iPhone telephone support team based in Sacramento (Calif.), but the Genius Bars will bear the brunt of providing in-person technical support and instructional help for iPhone users. It may be at the Genius Bar where success or failure will be measured.

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