The introduction of Apple’s third version of the iPhone on June 19th will once again test the retail stores’ ability to efficiently handle crowds of customers and the complex process of cellular phone registration. Apple has posted instructions for buying an iPhone on-line, saying customers can simply walk in to the nearest Apple store, but recommending that instead they register on-line before making a visit. Apple’s Web page says iPhones will go on sale at 8 a.m., and AT&T says it will start selling when their stores open in the morning. The first iPhone debuted in summer 2007 and was efficiently sold like candy–customers handed over their money, received their boxed iPhone, and then went home to register with AT&T via iTunes. However, AT&T change the registration process with the introduction of the iPhone 3G in summer 2008, hoping to reduce iPhones taken out of the country and never registered. The change required buyers to select a voice and data plan when they arrived to buy an iPhone, and to complete on-line registration within the store. The in-store registration process, long customer lines and AT&T computer glitches slowed the purchase process to a crawlon the first day–some buyers took 20 to 30 minutes to complete their purchase.
Both previous iPhone introductions were held on a Friday. For the first model, the Apple stores closed at 4 p.m. to prepare, and then re-opening at 6 p.m. to begin selling. For the iPhone 3G, sales typically began at 8 a.m. Apple has typically scheduled evening events to generate waiting lines, all-day buzz and press coverage. It’s not clear yet if long waiting lines will appear for this iPhone introduction.
Information from AT&T is that their 2,200 retail stores will open at 7 a.m. on June 19th, but only to hand out iPhones to those who have previously signed up, registered and paid. Other customers must wait until the stores’ regular business hours to buy their iPhone.
Apple is attempting to head off slow processing of in-store purchases by gathering buyer information on-line for both on-line and in-store purchases. Also, a section of each retail store’s home page has a prominent link to the registration page.
The special registration Web page not only gathers buyer information, but determines if the buyer is eligibile to purchase at the $199 and $299 rates.
First, the Web page asks if the buyer is a new or existing customer, and if they are buying one or more iPhones. The page then gathers appropriate customer information, depending upon the answer to the previous question: existing account numbers or complete name, address, etc.
Next, existing customers are told if they’re eligible for the lower prices (generally original iPhone users), and then select a text plan and confirm their voice plan. New customers go through a similar process of selecting voice and text plans.
At the end of the process, the buyer is asked if they want to purchase their iPhone on-line (with delivery on June 19th), or make a reservation to finish the transaction at an Apple store.