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Why Apple opening its online store in India this month is a big deal

Apple is opening its online store on 23 September, just ahead of the festive season that usually sees electronic sales pick up. This is what you should expect. 

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New Delhi: After 20 years in India, Apple users can expect customer support to be as good as it is in other countries. The Silicon Valley giant announced it is opening its online store in the country on 23 September.

CEO Tim Cook posted the announcement on Twitter to say: “We can’t wait to connect with our customers and expand support in India with the Apple Store online on September 23.”

Apple emphasised it is looking to bring its own products and customer support “directly” to Indian consumers, something that had been lacking in this part of the world. So far, India customers have relied on authorised, and even unauthorised, franchises to get their Apple issues sorted. In many other cases, people relied on friends and family travelling from abroad to be able to buy Apple products at a cheaper price.

The store will make available Apple’s full range of products and support just in time for Diwali in November, a season during which electronics sell well.

Apple is among the first few foreign firms to enjoy the benefit of opening an online store in India before a brick-and-mortar one. The government had relaxed foreign direct investment (FDI) norms in 2019 so single-brand retailers like Apple could open online stores before offline ones.

Apple’s first store is reportedly expected to open in Mumbai next year.

So, is Apple’s e-store opening really a big deal?

ThePrint looks at what this means for customers and Apple’s business.

Also read: iPhone makers to be among winners of Modi govt’s $6.6 billion ‘Make in India’ stimulus plan

Why go online

There are several reasons why online stores make sense in India.

“Over 40 per cent of phones sold in India are sold online. By percentage of volume, India sells more phones online than any other country. Besides, the typical Apple consumer is used to doing things online and comfortable with browsing, buying and receiving customer support online,” said Navkendar Singh, research director with tech market analyst firm IDC in India.

Services and products Apple has to offer can be provided to its niche customer base through online stores. Just like the company would through its offline stores popular with people for its glass walls, product showcasing, ambience, and knowledgeable customer service executives.

“It’s just a website, but if there ever was a way to recreate the very best of the physical Apple Store in the digital world, this is it,” writes a US-based tech columnist, comparing Apple’s online and offline stores.

There’s also a cost efficiency element when it comes to e-stores.

“It’s relatively cheaper to open an online store than an offline store. Apple so far has sold in India through e-commerce platforms like Flipkart and Amazon which will retain their own commission of the Apple devices sold while authorised third-party sellers in the offline world will take their own cut as well — that will include expenses like distribution and delivery costs,” Singh said.

Also read: Apple debuts subscription bundles, its twist on Amazon Prime

Apple is all about customer experience

More than anything, Apple now directly controls customer experience in India without relying on middlemen resellers and service providers. India is a key market, and one of the few in the world with a headroom for more growth in the next 10 years than current large markets like the Americas and Europe, and China, according to Singh.

“I don’t want somebody else to run the brand for us,” CEO Cook reportedly said on Apple opening its first offline store in India. For a company that has prided itself on design aesthetics and interface with consumers, this would seem like a natural next step in a significant market.

Apple has long treated customer experience as its foundation. Co-founder and tech pioneer Steve Jobs once said, “You have got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.”

Surveys from American Customer Satisfaction Index have ranked Apple higher than other brands in 2019. In 2020, the scoring for iPhone models was just marginally lower than Samsung ones.

In India though, customer experience has not been stellar.

A 2019 BuzzFeed News report highlighted the pains Apple users faced with customer support. “Even having an in-warranty product doesn’t guarantee a smooth experience with authorised service centres in India, according to customers,” it said.

The report included a private Twitter message a customer with a dead iPhone had received from Apple support: “…we work with independent service companies called Apple Authorized Service Providers…they are free to set their own policies about pricing and service costs and availability. These are not in any way determined by Apple.”

Messages on Twitter indicate the kind of issues Apple users have been facing with third-party dealers.

“While it’s good to see Apple’s online store in India, what I really wish is they bring their support here. Their third-party support in India is almost insulting after what you pay for the devices, and that breaks the ‘experience’ Apple claims to sell,” posted @Praval, a verified Twitter handle.

“Have major trouble getting an appt with the Apple Service Center on their website. If I’m not able to get my airpods fixed under warranty due to a manufacturing defect, who’s liable?(sic),” posted another, @radzk5.

Also read: What Covid? Apple is confident of selling 75 million 5G iPhones later this year

What to expect

It’s these problems and more Apple is hoping to address with its online store. By “offering our customers the very best of Apple”, as Deirdre O’Brien, Apple’s senior vice president of Retail + People put it.

Indian users can expect Apple’s “free delivery within 24 to 72 hours from date of purchase” across approximately 13,000 pin codes via Apple’s tie-up with logistics provider Blue Dart, Indian Express reported.

The online store will have customer advice directly from Apple, both in English and Hindi. There will also be ‘Apple Specialists’ to help set up new devices.

The online store will also provide financing and device trade-in options, special prices for students and free tutorials on photography and music — benefits other countries with Apple store have enjoyed. Given that the store’s launch will be just in time for the festive season, Apple will be offering signature gift wrapping and personalised engraving as well, the company announcement said.

Also read: It’s not next quarter but the next decade that is playing on Apple investors’ screen


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