Not long ago Apple opened up pre-ordering for its iPad tabletty thingywhatsit in Australia. To be precise, pre-ordering opened on May 10, which was a Monday. I mention this so that the historical import and gravity of the occasion may be noted.
As it happens, on the Sunday night previous, I was sitting at my desk getting some work done. It had not been my intent to "camp" at the Apple Store online waiting for my very first opportunity to pre-order an iPad, as if ordering first would in some bizarre way afford me some measure of status. Seriously, the thing's been out in the US for months.
However, I did happen to have my Twitter client open on the desktop at the time, and shortly before midnight the clarion call went out: "The Apple Store Is Down".
Being both a quidnunc and a flibbertigibbet I took it upon myself to spread the word. "The Apple Store is down," I wrote, "Gentlemen, start your credit cards." In very short order my remark had been "retweeted" numerous times and I found myself involved in spirited discussion on Twitter about what the downing of the Store might mean, and how long it might last.
Remember that I was at my desk to get work done, so this was not an entirely welcome diversion approaching midnight on a Sunday. Serves me bloody right.
Generally, the Apple Store going down presages the introduction of a new product. It always happens when Steve Jobs is making a presentation. And it always generates enormous chatter on Twitter as well as the world's numerous Apple-dedicated forums. The downing of the Hindenburg was less talked-about.
(Not the fairest of comparisons, as Twitter was not widely adopted in 1937, but you see my point.)
It got me wondering. Apple was not exactly a pioneer in e-commerce. Its build-to-order model immodestly apes that of Dell, and its 1-Click ordering system is adopted - indeed licensed - from Amazon.com. Both Dell and Amazon update their inventory all the time, and I don't think I have ever heard of either site being deliberately taken offline for the purpose.
Maybe it's the circles in which I move. Perhaps there is a global community of Dell "fanboys" who murmur excitedly when a product update is imminent. I have merely never met one. Not sure what I would say to one if I ever did.
Here's the thing: while the Apple Store is down, it's not selling stuff. I don't happen to have statistics readily to hand pertaining to the hourly volume of sales conducted through the online Apple Stores, but I don't imagine it is insignificant. On the night before non-US iPad pre-orders opened, the Store was down from before midnight until after 3am. That's quite a lot of opportunity cost.
It has to be deliberate. If Amazon can update inventory without taking its store offline surely Apple can too. The upside for Apple of the lost selling time is the hours of incessant global chatter about what treasures may be in Store when it comes back.
Can it be that Apple has worked out that the secret to massive sales is ... not selling anything?
If you ever meet a Dell fanboy, please let Matthew JC. Powell know on firstname.lastname@example.org