In the last month, a number of posts to a few mailing lists I belong to have focused on the lack of Apple in supplying the new iMac to its intended buyers. And a lot of the people posting these messages seem to think this is causing Apple lost sales. One poster even went so far as to suggest a potential customer might have gone to a retailer store to buy one of the new iMacs, only to walk away with a new Dell because the iMac was not available. (Let’s forget that you can’t buy Dell retail.)
Is this happening? There are two trains of thought here, both valid. I will wait to give you my opinion, and the reasons behind it.
The first is that Apple is indeed loosing a lot of sales to the PC market because the iMac cannot be taken home with them right away. The rationale of this thought is that computer buyers are impulse buyers. They can’t have the new iMac, so they will settle for the Gateway instead. But does this make any real sense? I don’t think so.
Computer buyers, for the most part, decide well in advance what computer they want to get, especially if they already own one. A new computer buyer may fall into an impulse purchase more so, not being as well versed in both the terminology and technology of computers. But less so a technology savvy buyer. These people know what they want before they go to the retail outlet to make their purchase. In fact, I would argue most veteran computer buyers don’t bother with retail at all, but do their shopping online, especially if they are Macintosh shopping. “Dude, you should have got a Dell” indeed.
The second thought is that Apple is indeed losing sales of the iMac, but that these buyers are instead purchasing a PowerMac G4, TiBook, or iBook. While this is a valid point of view, and I agree this is probably more so the case than a missed sale becoming a PC sale, I think this is also not as likely.
What are the main reasons people want the new iMac? And is the unavailability of the machine costing Apple a great deal of harm, outside the stock market?
Form factor is probably the biggest reason someone has decided to buy the new iMac. They just look really cool. They WANT one. Would they have wanted one if they had never seen the machine, but rather just read the technical specifications of the new machine? G4, DVD burning, flat panel, etc? Probably not, as all those things can already be had by buying a PowerMac G4 and a flat panel monitor. (Albeit at a much higher cost.)
How about the cost? True, the iMac, even the top of the line $1,799.00 model, is a great price for what you get. The top of the line model includes everything most buyers want in a computer today, from CD-RW, fast networking, DVD-R, flat panel, small form factor, etc… Take away the DVD-R, no pro-speakers, 20GB less hard drive space, 100MHz less speed, and half the RAM, and the $1,299.00 model is still a good buy. But is cost the main selling point, the main reason if you will, that people are climbing the walls to get their hands on one of these machines? While the cost is nice on the wallet, I don’t think it is the main reason.
People who want the iMac may or may not already be a Macintosh user. But for those people who want an iMac, it is the complete package of all the above being why they want it.
If they can’t have it right now, are they willing to wait a little while to get one? That is the crux, is it not? If you want something bad enough, so the saying goes, you will be patient. If not, and you spend your money on something else, then you must not have been patient enough, or did not want it as badly as you said you did.
So which camp is potential iMac buyers falling into? From my own very informal and unscientific study (sending email to people who I know want an iMac) it appears people are waiting. They want the iMac. If they can’t have one, are they then rushing out and buying a Dell? No way. Are they deciding they would rather a new iBook than a month wait? Some, but not many. If they do decide on a new iBook, chances are they already wanted one, and made a difficult choice to buy the iMac, and are only changing their mind due to unavailability of the unit. But even then, they still WANT the iMac, and are for the most part taking a wait-and-see attitude.
So the question remains: is Apple losing sales due to the iMac production problems?
I don’t really think so. The number of lost iMac sales falling to the PC platform would seem to me to be very, very small. And missed sales going to another Macintosh is not a lost sale at all for Apple. In fact, I would counter that a comparable PowerMac G4 sale with a flat panel actually nets Apple much more money than the iMac sale does.
Apple, all evidence shows, has a huge hit with the new iMac. People who want the new machine will be waiting for it to hit the retail market to purchase one. The only thing Apple will lose here is goodwill. People made to wait are not the most pleasant people to be around. (Except for maybe those people already in line for the next StarWars films.) People get mad when made to wait too long, something Apple knows very well. (Remember when the first iBook was released?)
Apple also knows people have short memories. Once those waiting iMac buyers get the machine in their sweaty hands, all will be forgiven. They will gleefully show off their new purchase, and do their best to convince other computer users to get one of the machines as well. Only Apple, it seems, can have that sort of loyalty over its users.