How simple it would have been for Sprint to take online pre-orders (so to speak) for the Pre the first weekend (as the iPhone just did) and allow people to pick up the devices a day or two later in stores. But that’s not what happened.
In what can only be described as a naive and bone-headed PR move, the company wanted to claim a “sellout” on Monday and so rationed supplies. It “sold out” (100K units) to be sure but the device would’ve sold more had more inventory simply been available.
In addition, the company played games with the price advertising $199 but only after a $100 mail-in rebate (which Best Buy and Radio Shack waived). In most cases consumers fail to redeem rebates, which is why OEMs use them. The OEM gets to legally advertise a lower price and the consumer most-often pays a higher price, failing to mail in the rebate. I went to Best Buy to get a Pre because I didn’t want to deal with the rebate. (The local Sprint store I contacted opening weekend didn’t have any Pre phones at all.) But the Best Buy I went to told me they were only “getting 4 or 5 units at a time.” I became number 40 on a waiting list.
Sprint also miscalculated about the fact that when the iPhone 3Gs was announced the following Monday (June 8th) after the Pre launch that all the attention would shift back to Apple. In fact that’s what has happened — although it was largely predictable. The iPhone 3GS sold 1 million units apparently, which now make the Pre’s 100K (or fewer) unit sales seem quite weak by comparison — “sellout” PR value gone.
It’s now been almost three weeks since I put my name on the list at Best Buy (I’ve checked back a few times since then) and still no Pre. You still can’t buy it online, although that’s apparently coming “soon.”
Yesterday I got a call from Best Buy asking me to come in and put a deposit down to continue to hold my place in line. I said “can’t I just give you a credit card and buy it for later pick up.” No, I was told.
I asked the woman who called me roughly how many people were on the list, she said about 80 originally at that store, although the staff had eliminated more than half of them buy being unable to reach them or because the prospective buyer was no longer interested. What this says to me is that there was a great deal of unfulfilled interest that has now waned on the part of many customers.
How many more Pre phones might Sprint have sold if they had simply made them available online or given stores more units: 30% more, 50% more? I would certainly have bought one immediately and it would now be in my hand and I could be providing good WOM for Sprint. Instead I’m thrashing them and discussing what a blown opportunity the Pre launch was.
If I were the CMO at Sprint I would have wanted to get as many phones into as many people’s hands as fast as I could before the new iPhone hit. More phones in the market means more developer interest and more apps. Fewer phones mean fewer apps and a smaller developer ecosystem. One of the areas in which the Pre is regularly critiqued is the paucity of apps. Their short-sighted launch strategy may in fact have ensured that will continue. We can assume that once Verizon gets the phone in 2010 that might change. But we won’t know until then.
In the meantime I’ll be waiting for Best Buy’s call to tell me they’ve received their allotment of 5 phones and my name has come up on the list. “How long do you think it’ll be?” I asked the woman on the phone. “Another couple of weeks probably,” she replied.
Thanks Sprint. You blew it in a big way.