Apple is a company that bucks trends, that does things its own way, that manages its business through highly tuned cycles. One thing Apple barely does at all, though, is offer any sort of special deal or sale price. Not even on Black Friday. Or Cyber Monday. Or just because.
Heck, when Apple celebrated 25 billion App Store downloads, it gave one person a US$10,000 iTunes Gift Card. At 50 billion App Store downloads, another $10,000 gift card.
That was pretty exciting and fun.
Of course, the company does offer some special deals, but frankly, they are never compelling. Sometimes you get a free app or game. Or sometimes you get a free U2 album. But something real, with aluminum in it? Not so much.
In a Black Friday post, BGR noted that Apple would be opening its Apple Retail Store doors at 8 a.m. — and then summed up the Apple Black Friday experience: “Of course, just because you’ll be able to get an early start to Black Friday shopping at your local Apple Store, that doesn’t mean you’ll get any exceptional deals for doing so. Apple has been very Scrooge-like with its Black Friday deals and last year’s ‘offer’ was the worst one yet as the company didn’t even bother discounting its products and only offered Apple Store gift cards to people who bought products on that day.” For those in the know, that’s Apple’s Black Friday reputation — and yet, somehow, I’m sure that Apple Retail Stores will be packed on Black Friday. I believe that some people expect deals while others hope to be pleasantly surprised. Some are just out shopping, and the holiday shopping season begins in earnest on Black Friday. So in they go.
Obviously Apple doesn’t have to offer its products at cut-rate prices — and maybe even having a special sale at all would topple the pricing models Apple has managed to hold onto for so long.
Apple products are often more expensive than the competition, and you pretty much never find them at jaw-dropping deals. I’m sure Apple pricing and margins are the envy of pretty much every other consumer retailer on the planet.
Thumbing Its Nose at the Faithful?
I think die-hard Apple enthusiasts know that Apple has the Black Friday imagination of a tired accountant and have resigned themselves to paying whatever price Apple asks whenever they are in the market for a new Apple device.
When you’re dropping hundreds of dollars, saving a handful of bucks is just not the primary buying decision — and Apple somehow gets its customers to make that decision with very few financial catalysts or incentives. Again, an enviable position — just disappointing for Apple fans whose budgets aren’t overflowing.
As for Apple, the company is so successful that it has hundreds of millions of dollars in cash that it’s working to get back into the hands of investors — and a truly insanely great Black Friday deal for Apple seems like some sort of big business taboo.
Wouldn’t it just be delightful if Apple were to surprise its loyal following not only with cool things they can buy at premium prices, but also with the occasional really cool and thoughtful deal? Obviously Apple doesn’t have to, but what if? I could imagine Apple fans standing up and cheering for that.
Instead, by not participating in Black Friday or other traditional sales events, Apple comes off as stiff and unappreciative of its customer base. Apple is the family member whose career is absolutely skyrocketing — who then gives socks and tighty whitey underwear as presents because socks and underwear are important things everyone needs.
This is hard to articulate — I don’t actually expect Apple to give anyone anything, and I never cared if a rich uncle gave anyone any presents at all for the holidays. I’ve never been into the holidays for the getting. Yet if I were standing atop a mountain of cash and a pinnacle of success where everything was purring, I kind of think I would be looking for some sort of cheerful way to give something back in a fan-appreciative gesture.
Maybe Apple can’t do that — even if the new head of retail, Angela Ahrendts could imagine it.
If Apple were to offer iPads at half-price, a few things might happen. First, there would be stampede that would pop all the glass walls in the Apple Retail Stores. Next, homeless people would buy them for cash on behalf of someone else who would ship them off to sell elsewhere at a profit. Third, everyone who bought an iPad yesterday would be angry about it. And fourth, third-party retail partners who are stuck with low margins to work with when selling Apple products would freak out, and fifth, other consumers might wait until Christmas Eve to find a similar deal that might never arrive.
The real question is this: In order to become the world’s most envied and successful consumer technology brand, is the price of doing business an utter inability to pass along a financial token of good cheer?
On the flip side, it’s hard to say other retailers are participating in Black Friday deals out of the goodness of their hearts. Many of them seem to be doing it out of a desperate effort to lure you into their stores to lock up as much of your holiday shopping budget as they possibly can — all the while having only a handful of specially priced HDTVs in stock. Woohoo. Thanks for the pretty picture of the great gadget, which you sold to the first 10 people who missed Thanksgiving to wait in line. It’s not like other retailers are the standard bearers for integrity and holiday joy here.
Catch-22 or a Failure of Imagination?
I really don’t know the answer to this holiday conundrum, but I do know one thing: Apple has the power to create pleasant surprises. Like five free movies with the purchase of an Apple TV — even Pixar movies — and a special Apple-shaped box of popcorn.
While it’s possible that Apple could offer something truly special, don’t count on it. If you want a new iPad, look to Best Buy, Target or Walmart. Best Buy will offer a sweet $100 discount on an iPad Air 2, while Target and Walmart are offering store gift cards in similar savings ranges.
Still, I’m hoping one day Apple actually will attempt to come up with something really good — and even if the company fails, heck, at least it tried. Gift cards don’t feel like Apple is trying. Hard to even say, “Well, it’s the thought that counts!”