eBay scalpers scramble to cash in on Apple Watch shortage

apple watch three faces
Credit: Apple

Quick turnaround prices soar up to 7x list

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Scalpers after a big payday have taken to shilling their not-yet-in-hand Apple Watches on eBay, with some pricing the wearable at huge markups.

Apple's new practice of selling the Watch only online may have stopped customers from queuing outside its retail stores, but it didn't end profiteering.

apple watch on ebay eBay screenshot

$5,000 for an Apple Watch that's not made from 18K gold? Crazy. But that's the "Buy It Now" price of one stainless steel-case model on eBay.

Among the scores of Watches for sale on the auction site -- models from all three collections were represented -- was a stainless steel Watch for $5,000, an increase of 613% over the list price of $699. Another seller wanted $4,200 for a Watch with the space-gray link band, or 282% more than the $1,099 paid-for price.

Those two devices, and countless more, were offered as "Buy It Now," eBay's non-auction price that sidesteps bidding. Not all entries for the Watch included a Buy It Now price.

eBay prices for the stainless steel Watch, Apple's mid-tier collection, were generally grouped around $3,000, $2,000, $1,500 and $1,200.

The highest price Computerworld found on eBay for the least expensive collection, dubbed "Sport," was $1,200, a 244% markup from the $349 list.

Sellers pushed up prices to ridiculous levels because Apple quickly ran out of inventory Friday when it started taking pre-orders. Even for orders placed within minutes of the 12:01 a.m. PT kickoff, buyers were told that their Watches would not be delivered until mid-May at the earliest.

By the weekend, most models showed "June" as the anticipated shipping window.

It wasn't surprising to see sellers leverage the shortage: When a new Apple product is in tight supply, especially right after its launch, profiteers invariably emerge. Shortages of Apple's iPad 2 in 2011 and the first Retina-equipped iPad in early 2012 drove eBay prices sky-high, as did long shipping delays for the Mac Pro in 2013 and last year's iPhone 6 Plus. Scalpers pegged the smartphone as high as $6,000, more than six times the unsubsidized retail price.

Watch sellers acknowledged that they did not have the device, but promised buyers that they would re-ship the purchase as soon as they received it from Apple. While many of the for-sale Watches had been given ship dates before the now-current June, in many cases they weren't as early as those bought by people in the middle of the night.

eBay's top-priced Sport was one of the exceptions: The seller claimed that Apple had promised delivery by April 24, the first day possible. Other sales -- of a stainless steel Watch for $1,150 and an aluminum-case Sport for $1,100 -- included copies of Apple's confirmation email, which indicated delivery (to the seller) during the two-week stretch between April 24 and May 8.

It was unclear how the personalized set-up Apple has promised customers would work for second-hand buyers. Apple has said that it will conduct the one-on-one setup in its stores and via an as-yet-undisclosed online process.

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