Aishwarya Ramesh
Marketing

Apple launches online store in India; what does it herald for the brand’s future?

The store offers the tech giant’s full range of products and support directly to the customers across the country for the first time.

On September 23, 2020, Apple launched the Apple Store online in India. The store offers the tech giant’s full range of products and support directly to the customers across the country for the first time.

It will provide the customers with the same premium experience found in Apple stores around the world, delivered by online team members, who are ready to offer their expertise. Students can shop for a Mac or iPad with special pricing, and receive discounts on accessories and AppleCare+.

Before this, the Apple experience was limited to authorised resellers and storefronts on Amazon. On Apple India’s official blog, Deirdre O’Brien, Apple’s senior VP, retail + people, said, “We’re proud to be expanding in India, and want to do all we can to support our customers and their communities. We know our users are relying on technology to stay connected, engage in learning and tap into their creativity."

What will the strategic intent of this introduction herald for brand Apple in India? With the festive season around the corner, does Apple stand a fighting chance against OnePlus, Samsung, Oppo and other brands that offer smartphones at competitive rates?

Shubhajit Sen, Founding Partner, A Priori Consultants

Apple faces a twin challenge - How do they increase the number of users to its platform while maintaining its super-premium prices. Distribution hasn’t been its primary challenge.

It has tried to balance these challenges through various initiatives like cheaper models, consumer finance schemes and trying to push for a refurbished phone market/second-hand market. These initiatives to some extent blunt its premium imagery.

Shubhajit Sen
Shubhajit Sen

Broadly speaking it has waited for its consumers to have the financial resources to enter its franchise and has aggressively pushed for upgradation to newer, more expensive models to its current user base.

This part of the strategy is beginning to look shaky for multiple reasons. Firstly, aggressive marketing and good products, especially from One Plus have closed the aspiration gap between Apple and its premium rivals. It is cool and geeky to own an OnePlus phone today amongst the youth.

The performance gap between the iPhone and some of its rivals has narrowed even further (while the price premium remains). And the latest models of iPhones are not so much better than the previous versions that it drives a must-upgrade behaviour. Some of the earlier versions of the iPhone are extremely good phones even today.

Given that Apple India does not drive product development nor will it have much flexibility in pricing, this presents a difficult situation for Apple in India. Perhaps the one thing it can do is to aggressively build back the brand aspiration gap it had vs its rivals like it had a few years back. This is through programs, a different and sharper approach to its exclusive premium segment.

It must recognise that the difficult economic conditions will add headwind to its upgrade strategy. It may be tempted to do deep discounts during the upcoming festive season but this could further dilute its premium positioning. As it is this festive season may be muted given the economic stress and mobility disruption that India is facing today.

N. Chandramouli – CEO, TRA Research

To open a flagship store in India right now, after all this time is too little too late. It could be because India might have been viewed as a low-value market compared to China – they have many such stores there.

You also have to understand the market right now is replete with brands that compete head-to-head with Apple and the brand doesn't retain the iconic status that it used to have. it was in the limelight for its design differences for its audio and video differences and it was absolutely beyond par for the course.

N Chandramouli
N Chandramouli

You have to understand that even today if Apple opens a physical showroom, people will line up outside. But its not necessarily a sustainable model since now, there are better brands available at better prices.

Some Apple users might feel frustrated as they might buy a product because of their initial enthusiasm towards the brand, but once they are in the ecosystem, non-interoperability might be a problem because it’s only compatible with other Apple devices and you can only use other Apple accessories with them.

There have also not been any radical changes in design in the recent past. The innovations happened under Steve Jobs’ reign, but the gadgets have hardly evolved in the recent past. If you take a phone like a Galaxy S 20, or something like that, you will find that their video screens are far better, far better and more distinct than you could ever imagine. If Apple doesn’t learn to innovate again, it won't work with the consumers.

As far as the upcoming festive season is concerned, it’s an opportune time to launch. Consumer sentiment is anyway low but it would have been worse if they did not launch now (delaying it even further.)

Suman Srivastava, founder and innovation artist at Marketing Unplugged,

When you buy from an Apple store, abroad, they ensure that you have a good experience. Even the Genius experience – You have to understand that none of the employees is incentivised to sell. They’re supposed to chat with you and give you information about Apple products.

Suman Srivastava
Suman Srivastava

At the moment, I’m quite disappointed with the service in India so far, and it was bad even before the COVID situation. In other countries, the store, the ambience it gives and the whole setup is an experience in itself.

The good thing about the online store opening might be the availability of customised devices – although you need to understand that was a big deal sometime back. You don’t have that many options in India and I don’t know how far it will interest readers.

In India, Apple owns a very small market share, and more than the store, they will be focussing on their Make in India push. India is a largely Android market, but the operating system has its pitfalls. An app might not work as smoothly in an Android system as it does in an Apple system because there are so many variations of the Android system by the different phone manufacturers themselves.