Apple online store — coming soon to India — doubt if it will improve an already excellent shopping experience

Photo by Harry Cunningham on Unsplash

The news is, Apple is working really hard to get its online store up and running before this year ends. An actual store might come in Mumbai next year or so. I am sure, if that store takes off, more stores will show up in other metros like Hyderabad, Bangalore and so on.

Huge potential customer base

While doing research for this blog post, I ran into this website that shows some simple statistics and graphs about world income. I entered my family income (me and my wife), and I ended up with this.

income distribution chart

The world bank says, my country has a population of 1.38 billion people. My family can afford apple products. The graph above says that my family is in the top 8 % of the country as far as income goes. I am assuming, all of that is true. Our family is not that wealthy. My wife and I don’t really earn that much. We both use iPhones as our daily driver (I use a XS Max and she uses a 7 Plus), and I use multiple Macs at my office. So, my logic is, we can afford apple devices comfortably, so can the remaining 8 % in the population.

Assuming that logic is correct, that’s 110 million potential customers. No matter, how you cut it, that is a lot of people. On top of that, Apple is an aspirational brand. People love apple. That shiny apple logo on my iPhone XS Max has gotten me a lot of ‘oooh’ and ‘aaah’ in all sorts of places. My wife constantly tells me that she has people, especially kids, fawning over her iPhone constantly.

Apple still has that effect on people.

Already Good Experience

It’s been 3 years since I migrated from Nokia phones to apple iPhone and from using windows devices to Mac computers. I have always had a fantastic experience buying apple devices online and offline. Back when I was in Mysore, we had two grand apple authorised stores. It looks like any other apple store photos that I have seen online, of stores based in US or UK. They look grand and are located in high end malls.

Online, it is the same, excellent story. Amazon and Flipkart, of course, sell iPhones and Macs. They are good stores. Local authorised stores also maintain pretty good online outlets of their own. The apple authorised repair centres give experiences that are similar what my fellow apple users in US and UK are already enjoying.

It’s already great. The local authorised sellers and service providers have been trained by the Apple India people very well.

What could possibly get better?

One thing that has changed recently is that Apple has started complying with Indian rules for local manufacturing and assembly. The iPhone has many variants. At amazon, look at the price difference for these two models.

Apple iPhone XR (64GB) — 48,000/-

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max — 1,07,000/-

I admit, XR is an older, budget model. Of course, this is Apple after all. It is still more expensive than India’s №1 Premium Smartphone Brand 2019, OnePlus 7 Pro’s higher end phone, which retails at 43,000/-.

One reason for that huge difference is the XR model is assembled locally. That allows it to get exempted from the high import duties that apply to almost any tech gadget that is imported to India.

So, the big question is, will Apple shift assembly of its higher end models? With the online store on the way?

I would say, based on my own experience with other high brands like Surface Pro, Dell, HP (all of which I have used and purchased and read about), the answer is no. Assembling any product requires a substantial investment. One reason why apple might have decided to assemble the XR model locally is because, the sales volume can justify it.

Even amongst the 8 % that I discussed, how many will be happy to shell out 1,07,000/- for that sweet new high end model? Very few, I assume. I have seen like 2 other people in my travels using a XS Max. However, many will happily shell out 48,000/- for a XR and that suave apple logo.

Macs will continue to be expensive and no customisation options

The online store, will not have any impact on iMacs and MacBooks. Last year, when I was upgrading from my old MacBook Air to the newer MacBook Air, I must have shlepped myself to at least half a dozen apple authorised stores in five different malls in two different cities. I asked them if they could give me a specific model in a specific RAM configuration.

They all said no. At first, I was upset. I even emailed the apple developer support (I have the apple developer subscription so I can email the apple developer folks to help me out when I get stuck), and the answer was no. Eventually, I realised something.

It’s simply not possible to provide custom SKU’s (Stock Keeping Units) in India. A similar problem plagues the Dell India Online store as well. Way back, when Dell India announced that they will be opening their online store, I got excited. I pictured opening their website, customising a laptop of my choice, and get it delivered.

None of that came true. When I bought the excellent but flawed Dell Inspiron 5370, I learnt something. Nothing has changed in years. I could customise nothing. I had to buy what they had on offer. Of course, for decades, users in US have been able to customise and get exactly what they want from Dell and other providers, including Apple.

Further, I also don’t imagine a situation where the computers will ever be assembled locally (which is the only way to avoid import duties). The sales volume of Macs are just too low to justify such a scenario.

Final Note

All said and done, once the online store comes up, and the physical stores comes up, it will not change much. It might give the shoppers a slightly better feeling. ‘Hey, I just bought this directly from apple’, sort of feeling. There might be slightly lesser prices but that’s hard to imagine. Apple has worked with distributor for decades in India. Even after opening the online shop and the one or two physical stores, it will continue to rely on its suppliers for the bulk of sales.

That means, whatever savings that Apple wants to pass on to customers, it might simply not do that. Apple will simply not be in a position to go against the local distribution network. If all of them should bail, that will be the end of its expansion plans.

For power users such as myself, the situation change will be minimal. For regular users, a minor bump in an already excellent shopping experience is on the table.

I will wait for the online store to come up, and also the stores. Probably post a review of both when they arrive.

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