Apple expands Watch sales into Best Buy

Best Buy yesterday announced that it will begin selling the Apple Watch in 100 of its U.S. stores, about 10% of its total outlet count, starting Aug. 7.

The retailer will be the first national chain in the U.S. to sell the Apple Watch, not a surprise since it is one of Apple's largest domestic retail partners.

"We know our customers want it," said Jason Bonfig, Best Buy's senior category officer, in a statement.

Best Buy will sell 16 configurations -- about half the number Apple sells online -- of the low- and mid-range Apple Watch Sport and Apple Watch, as well as bands and other accessories.

The Apple Watch Sport starts at $349, while the Apple Watch begins at $549.

By the holiday season, said Best Buy, it will have added another 200 of its stores to the Apple Watch selling list, ending the year with just under a third of the 1,050 stores the Minneapolis, Minn.-based retail has in the U.S.

The smartwatch will also be available on the company's e-store.

In hindsight, Apple CEO Tim Cook last week dropped clues that Apple could soon expand Watch distribution. During an earnings call with Wall Street on July 21, Cook asserted that the company had pushed past the initial supply problems that restricted sales to online, with the device reaching its own retail stores only in June.

"We made huge progress with the production ramp across the quarter," Cook noted. "And in just the past few days, we've been able to catch up with demand. We're now planning to expand our channel before the holiday because we're convinced that the Watch is going to be one of the top gifts of the holiday season."

During that call, financial analysts pressed Cook for more information about Watch sales than he was willing to divulge. Previously, Cook had said that the company would not disclose sales for competitive reasons. That sent financial and industry analysts scrambling to come up with a number based on what Apple did reveal.

Jan Dawson, principal analyst at Jackdaw Research, for example, settled on between 2 million and 3 million units, while Ben Bajarin of Creative Strategies pegged sales at between 2.5 and 3 million (subscription required).

Still, the move into Best Buy was contrary to what some analysts had earlier said would be Apple's sales strategy for the new device. "Retail is absolutely critical" to the Watch, Dawson said in March, referring to the Cupertino, Calif. company's own retail stores. "Think about going to Best Buy to shop for an Apple Watch. It would be a nightmare. Salespeople there are overworked and unavailable and commission-driven. None would be a good fit for this device."

Some wags clearly held to that today. "I buy all my nice watches at Best Buy," tweeted Marco Arment, a noted Apple developer, tongue in cheek.


Gregg Keizer

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