Apple confirms online-only Watch orders, warns of shortages

Unprecedented moves, both

apple watch calls time on apple retail
Credit: Apple

Apple today confirmed that Watch sales will be online only and warned customers that supplies will be very tight, firsts for the company.

"We will be taking orders for Apple Watch exclusively online during the initial launch period," said Angela Ahrendts, the head of Apple's retail and online sales, in a statement Thursday.

Ahrendts cited "best experience and selection" for "as many customers as we can" as her reasons for the no-in-store-sales.

Reports earlier this week spelled out the unprecedented practice, which will also involve one-on-one appointments for those who pick up their pre-ordered Watch at an Apple store.

Although Apple traditionally sells its new products both online and at retail from the start, analysts rationalized the change by pointing out that Apple wanted to control the buying experience, and would use the in-store appointments to insure that the wearable fits properly and customers understand how to use it.

Apple will also offer a personalized setup session to those who buy a Watch online and have it shipped directly to them, rather than picking it up at retail. Those sessions will be conducted online.

The goal of the one-on-ones: Turn early customers into uber-enthusiastic evangelists, and perhaps also "gate" sales during an initial shortage of devices.

On the latter, Ahrendts said as much today in her statement. "We expect that strong customer demand will exceed our supply at launch," she said, ticking off metrics including the number of customers who have already pinned one or more Apple Watch models as "favorites" on the online outlet or via their iOS Apple Store apps.

That admission was also a first for Apple, which has never announced in a press release before a product launch that supplies would fall short, even though demand has often outstripped initial supply, especially of new iPhones. Ahrendts' comment strongly hints, then, that Watch inventories will be historically tight.

Pre-orders will open tomorrow at 12:01 a.m. PT (3:01 a.m. ET) online or through the iOS app. Customers who go into an Apple store from Friday morning on will be able to browse the Watch's three collections, and access what the Cupertino, Calif. company dubbed "Apple Watch Demo" -- perhaps a simulation -- to edit watch faces and learn more about other features of the device. There was no clue whether walk-ins would be able to actually try on a Watch, however.

"Customers who want to try on an Apple Watch are encouraged to make an appointment by going to www.apple.com," Apple said.

Apple will begin delivering pre-orders and start selling the Watch in its stores on Friday, April 24.

Apple Watch favorites

Prospective buyers of the Apple Watch are able to pin one or more models as "favorites" for faster online ordering on Friday morning during the first-wave rush.

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