Friday, 20 February 2015

Rotten Apple

Today the Apple online store refused to sell me a laptop.

I was more than a little surprised when this happened because I'm clearly not from North Korea, and as a regular Apple customer I really didn't foresee any problems with my purchase. My mistake when I tried to telephone in my order was in telling Apple that we, a business, were going to resell the laptop to a customer. Apparently Apple doesn't allow this, though whether they can legally refuse to sell me a laptop on this basis is an altogether different question.

As a business we regularly act as resellers of hardware. We are for example Dell Partners, and we buy Dell hardware in our own name which we sell on to customers, often at cost if it's a bespoke order, charging only for the time it takes us to specify and procure the hardware. This model works extremely well for some of the larger orders that our customers want to place, particularly ones involving servers, because our customers don't have to worry that we are over specifying the hardware in order to increase our margins. It's a model that is quite unusual because most companies see large hardware orders as extremely attractive business; we on the other hand would rather concentrate on the service we are offering, and we are also avoiding the temptation of simply becoming box shifters. If you have visited one of our service centres you'll also see that we keep Dell computers in stock, and you're buying one of these you'll find that our price is generally less or equal to Dell's consumer price, because Dell allow us sufficient profit margins to justify holding stock.

If a customer comes to us and wants to buy an Apple computer we advise them to buy directly from Apple. We have explored the benefits are becoming an Apple reseller, but the margins that Apple allow resellers are ludicrously small, and certainly don't compensate us for the responsibilities we take on as a retailer under the Sale Of Goods Act. It therefore makes sense for us to advise customers to purchase directly; at the end of the day we are a service company and it's our expertise in preparing computers and migrating data and software that customers pay as for. We do the same for other brands that are aimed at consumers, and therefore are sold at extremely tight margins; our favourite budget laptop at the moment is the Lenovo B50-70 which offers a solid specification at a very reasonable price.

There are however some customers who are reluctant to either shop online, even when we’re standing next to them telling them which buttons to press, or who don't want, or are unable to visit a physical store, and in this case we offer them the option of ordering through us because that's what a good value added service provider should do.

As a business, Apple retail stores will generally allow us a discount of around 5% on new computers, and we explain to our customers that we will take this discount to cover our expenses in making the purchase, as well as the responsibilities we undertake as retailer (if there are any problems, we, not Apple are legally their first port of call). At the end of the day the customer is happy because they are still only paying the price that Apple would have charged them had they bought directly, and we’re happy because our customers are happy. As for the onus of being the first port of call when things go wrong, we're quite happy with this and in most cases would rather our customers called us before calling the manufacturer, as we're probably going to provide a better level of service.

In the end I'm happy to report that everything worked out nicely; I phoned the nice people at my local Apple store in White city, and they were more than happy to let me place an order. I'm not going to make any comments about organisational dysfunction, but isn't it nice to know that you can't beat your local retailer

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