Sour grapes over Apple sales

iStyle’s plea for customers to hold off iPad purchases sounds a tiny bit desperate

Tags: Apple IncorporatedArabian Business Machines CompanyUnited Arab Emirates
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Sour grapes over Apple sales Many retailers in the UAE are stocking iPads that they have sourced from outside the region. (Getty Images)
By  Andrew Seymour Published  May 16, 2010

Apple reseller iStyle's plea for Middle East customers to be patient and wait for the official launch of the iPad in the region looks to me like an act of desperation than a well-meant request on its part.

iStyle belongs to the same group as ABM, Apple's exclusive partner for the Middle East, so until the iPad officially arrives in the Middle East you aren't going to see it in its stores.  

I'm sure iStyle bosses must be tearing their hair out as they watch other retailers in the market cashing in on the biggest hit of the year while they're forced to sit tight until they can formally take stock of the product.

The simple fact of the matter is that Middle East customers want access to the device as quickly as any other part of the world. iStyle's apparent frustration at not being able to exploit that demand - while other retailers find ways of importing the product from alternative sources - just makes them look like the boy found crying in the corner because his lunch has been stolen by the bigger kids. 

As one UAE retailer said this week: "Everyone is more or less selling the iPad after importing through their own channel. Sales have been quite strong here."

iStyle's response to seeing customers snap up iPads from other retailers has been to warn them that it will not provide any support or technical assistance they may require. According to a statement issued by the company last week, it is unable to service any iPads sold to consumers on the grey market.

I have an issue with that reference to the ‘grey market' though, and it's this: For a grey market to even prevail suggests the existence of a legitimate channel in the first place. But that is not the case with iStyle as its stands right now because it is not even selling the iPad yet! To compound matters further, the retailer can't even tell customers the date of the official launch.  

iStyle might feel aggrieved at not having the iPad on its shelves, but you have to question whether making ultimatums to customers is really a sensible way to go about things. If it wants to pick fights with anyone then surely it should be Apple. After all, Apple controls who the product is supplied to globally, so if goods are coming into the region when they shouldn't be then something needs tightening up elsewhere.

Such shenanigans don't surprise me though. I've always found the Apple channel to be an odd one to understand here, what with the eclectic mix of independent retailers and those that share common ownership with ABM. At the same time, it's been interesting to observe that while other mainstream IT vendors have embraced the growth of the regional IT market by abandoning the single distributor model in recent years, Apple has always kept faith in the same structure.

Just to digress for a second, I approached ABM, as Apple's representative in the region, to try and get some details about its channel strategy and market development plans towards the end of last year.

After a couple of months of going backwards and forwards I was bizarrely informed by its PR agency that if an interview was to take place then management wouldn't be able to talk about anything Apple-related. Isn't that like getting five minutes with Bernie Ecclestone and being told you can't speak about Formula One?

Returning to the topic in hand, the current iStyle-iPad debacle undoubtedly illustrates the way in which market dynamics in the Middle East continue to be shaped by product flow. It also raises questions over retailer policies on warranty and support, which remain important factors in fostering customer loyalty.

iStyle, for instance, currently claims that it will only be able to assist customers with iPads purchased through its own stores, once they are available of course. If the customer doesn't have a warranty that is valid in this region I can understand that stance, but does that mean it is prepared to turn away customers that have purchased an iPad elsewhere and simply approach it for advice or non-technical guidance?

It seems we are unlikely to find out the answer to that anytime soon. In the meantime, customers must decide whether it is worth relinquishing iStyle's after-sales care (which they may or may not need) for the sake of getting their hands on a device without delay.

3232 days ago
Haitham Ghazal

how can they do this while the warranty that comes when you purchase an IPad is international. I think they simply can not do it because then either Apple or iStyle will have legal problems

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