Has Apple Become The New Dell?

Apple Computer has always had a tumultuous relationship with the channel, but its recent announcement that it is pulling out of MacWorld really seems to put it on the path of a true direct-sales vendor. Apple is becoming more Dell-like than Dell in its current sales approach 

On its Web site, Apple still does a provide a link to resellers (along with links to its retail stores and direct sales outlets), but this strikes me more as a formality than anything else. No coincidence that in its coverage of Apple's decision to slink away from Macworld, the L.A. Times notes that the company maintains direct contact with 100 million global customers through its direct marketing efforts. If that's not a recipe for colossal channel conflict I don't know what is.

No doubt, the recession will be cited as the reason for such strategic decisions, although that's a convenient canard. Every vendor's strategy to sell through its own retail stores has flopped repeatedly during the last 30 years, and even though Apple's stores are a lot cooler than its past competitors', they will flop too as consumers have less to spend during the downturn and the stores become an expensive burden. Apple may then move more online, but even successul online vendors like Dell and Gateway discovered they needed the channel to broaden their appeal to business users.

Apple's in the same boat, still not taken terribly seriously by any business markets but education and graphic design and not helping itself any with its quirky, schizophrenic approach to direct and indirect sales and to consumer and business users. Walking away from Macworld and declaring haughtily that it is "reaching more people in more ways than ever before" also seems foolish because the show is a great way for the Apple community to come together, network and create needed buzz. Now after January, Apple doesn't want to be there? Sorry, but Apple needs to re-connect with its channel partners and its user base in more traditional ways if it expects to grow its business in new directions and move into more upscale markets. Time for a reality check in Cupertino.


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