The success of Apple's retail stores may have impressed analysts and the industry but, experts say, they put the company "on thin ice" with its resellers.
Apple US resellers have filed suit alleging Apple gives its own stores preferential access to hot products, as well as lower prices. Details of the complaints can be found at TellonApple.org, and BusinessWeek is carrying an analysis of the situation.
A BusinessWeek report says: "By alienating people like Verga and Armes, who have been the backbone of Apple's distribution network for the past 30 years, Jobs and Co. are skating on thin ice."
It continues: "Apple Stores are essential to Jobs's strategy, as they are a critical way to leverage its brand and showcase new-fangled digital wares to affluent consumers. But independent resellers still account for more than 50 per cent of Apple's domestic sales. Should they abandon the outfit in a huff, Apple could suffer.
"Apple must craft a plan to rebuild and reinvent its ties with small resellers. First, it needs to be honest and admit that Apple stores are hurting the resellers' business and that not all of them will survive.
"Second, Apple has to treat those that do hang on as integral parts of its organization and sales effort. Finally – and most crucial – Apple needs to ease the pain by coming up with programs to encourage these longtime partners to help it accomplish goals it can't achieve on its own."
Analysts agree. NPD Group analyst Steve Baker said: "Apple should say, 'We need those added profits that we can get from selling direct. We think that as a company it benefits us. But we also think it benefits us to have other distribution points, too'."
The report concludes: "Unless Apple thinks through the logical next step of its retail strategy and figures out a way to keep those small, valuable resellers in the fold, it could lose leverage in some of its most lucrative markets – and seriously damage the company's overall ecosystem."