Live from the Apple Store, Part 2: Fast Buying, Better Stuff

Yes, there are some interesting things happening inside Apple Stores too. By now, you’ve surely seen their holiday-themed exteriors – snowmen with glowing white iPod earphones and nanos, flanked by graphics of the new aluminum shuffles and colored nanos – and the really cool Mac and iPod promotional videos that are playing on the demonstration computers. That’s all old stuff, if November news can be considered old.

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More recent is Express Shopping. An expansion of the company’s introduction last year of wireless, portable credit card swipers, designed to get people out of lines with faster checkouts, Apple’s now setting aside huge blocks of floor space near the front to get iPods and Macs into customers’ hands without any wait time.

 

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The countertops full of iPods or MacBooks aren’t quite as visually stunning as the shelving units full of nanos and shuffles we saw in Japanese Apple Stores, but the idea’s plenty convenient, especially during the frenzied last shopping days leading up to Christmas.

 

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Apple’s also selling a number of iPod-related items that can’t be found at other electronics stores, and discounting some other products. Besides Sonic Impact’s ROXY version of the i-P22 speaker system, previously noted on iLounge, the company’s portable video display Video-55 has dropped to $200 – the mass-market price point it should have shipped at. We’re not sure if this price reduction is permanent – Target has it on a temporary sale, too – but it’s interesting nonetheless, and a stronger match for the $200 Memorex iFlips we’ve recently seen on 20% discounts elsewhere, as well as the iLuv i1055/Zeon Z1055s that appear to be in pricing freefall at the moment.

 

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Also interesting: the Apple Store’s profound focus on selling speakers. Other than setting the white-ish models on top of one set of shelves and the black-ish ones on another, the ever-increasing selection of options has been laid out in rough price order, with the AudioStation Express and iPod Hi-Fi bookending shelves filled with otherwise more interesting options, some Apple-exclusive or near-exclusive. Our favorites are the clock radios: XtremeMac’s Luna is, for the moment, hard if not impossible to find anywhere else, and the iHome iH6 also appears to be limited in availability to certain chains. It’s probably not surprising that Apple isn’t reserving much floor space for new genres of products, such as wearable video displays, karaoke add-ons, or iPod toys; given all of the speakers, iPods, headphones, car accessories, and cases, it was almost weird to see the iMuffs wireless Bluetooth headset at all in the store, yet without now numerous competing options. There’s a lot of the accessory marketplace that’s not represented here, and low sales are most likely the reason.

 

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Of course, Apple does have to reserve space for its own products, especially the exclusive ones. Besides the PRODUCT (RED) iPod nanos and matching iTunes Gift Cards, there are now $100 denomination iTunes Cards, plenty of TV show-specific iTunes Cards, and all sorts of AppleCare boxes around the store. ProCare plans are also being pushed if you talk with the right salespeople, and we even saw LoJack service plans being sold at another Apple Store location a week or two ago. From what we’ve been seeing over the past few weeks at these shops, there seems to be no shortage of demand for Apple hardware, related service plans, iTunes content, or accessories this season, which means that come January, Apple’s going to have a lot to brag about. We’re anxious to hear the official numbers, but we’re pretty sure they’re going to be impressive.

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