Tight supplies push up prices of 13-in. MacBook Air

eBay sellers price the popular notebook as much as $335 above list

With supplies tight for the larger-sized MacBook Air, Apple appears to be favoring its own retail and online stores, leaving some distributors unable to meet demand.

Although Apple's own online store shows the recently-revamped 13-in. MacBook Air shipping within 24 hours from the time of ordering, several e-stores that typically deal in Apple products are out of stock of the popular notebook.

In some cases, sellers have posted prices well above Apple's list.

Amazon.com, for example, is selling the smaller 11-in. MacBook Air itself, but has no 13-in. models available. Instead, the Amazon listing leads to an affiliate, Tromo Electronics, which sells the Air with a 128GB flash drive for $1,549 and the pricier model with a 256GB drive for $1,849.

Tromo's prices are $250 higher than Apple's list price for the two 13-in. laptops.

Other online outlets that sell Apple hardware have no Airs in hand. J&R, a New York-based Apple authorized reseller, has the more expensive of the two 11-in. MacBook Airs available, but not the lowest-priced model or either of the two 13-in. notebooks.

Highlighting the constricted supply, most entries on the eBay auction website show prices higher than Apple's retail.

Only two of eBay's 10 13-in. MacBook Airs with a 128GB drive and a 1.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor were priced under Apple's $1,299. The average price of the remaining eight was $1,485, or $186 higher than Apple's.

The "Buy It Now" prices ranged from $1,312.60 to $1,556.87, with that highest price $258 above list.

The eBay markup was even greater for the brawnier 13-in. Air with a 256GB drive. All nine listings showed a "Buy It Now" price higher than Apple's $1,599, and averaged $1,762, or $203 above list.

The spread on those nine systems started at $1635 and topped out at $1,934, a whopping $335 surcharge.

The low inventories aren't a surprise to one authorized Apple reseller.

"Seeing resellers out of stock on a popular Apple product is nothing new," said Erick Laabs, vice president of The Mac Store, a nine-store chain with outlets in Oregon and Washington. "Many times, purchasing teams do not think that a product will be popular so they do not order enough from initial allocation. Then, when it takes off they are left without enough stock."

Laabs said the shortage of some MacBook Air models is similar to those that he's seen numerous times. "People tend to underestimate Apple's designs and then are caught without product," said Laabs in an email reply to questions today.

The Mac Store has the $1,299 13-in. MacBook Air in stock, but is out of the $1,599 model company-wide, a representative from one of the chain's stores said today.

Spot shortages of the MacBook Air have been reported since earlier this month, when analysts, including Brian White of Ticonderoga Securities, said checks of Apple's own retail stores showed that some models were unavailable.

At the time, White said that the Air was "another big hit for Apple," and credited the ultra-light laptop as one of the drivers for increases in Mac sales this year over 2010.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more articles by Gregg Keizer.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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