Stuttering start for iPhone


Sales of the iPhone for its launch weekend (November 9-11) are thought to be considerably less than 50,000, rather than the 100,000 widely reported last week and described by O2 itself as “over-exagerated”.

O2 UK chief executive Peter Erskine said O2 had sold “tens of thousands” iPhones following launch, outstripping sales of the device at multiple chain Carphone Warehouse. Most sales had gone to brand new O2 customers, lured away from rivals by the iPhone, O2’s “fastest-selling device ever”. Footfall to its own stores jumped threefold compared with the equivalent weekend last year, said Erskine.

Unsubstantiated reports appeared on several websites claiming 8,000 iPhones had been activated on iTunes by the end of Friday, November 9, and T-Mobile, Apple’s German launch partner, claimed to have sold 10,000 by the afternoon of its launch day.

But retail staff sounded deflated by the reality. One O2 retail assistant in Hampstead said: "At the start of the weekend, we thought we would have very little in stock by now. Friday evening was manic and we saw all the Apple fanatics and technology-minded people snapping them up. But all the hype has disappeared now, and the excitement looks to have drained past the weekend."

Meanwhile Carphone, which is understood to have informed sales staff it expected to double weekly sales in just two days, is thought to have missed targets by some margin. Carphone chief executive Charles Dunstone handled the first sale (pictured) and the retailer set itself internal sales targets of 20,000 over launch weekend, according to store staff. One staffer claimed his store processed 160 iPhone sales over the weekend, the best-performance across its London retail estate.

But the Monday after, most Carphone staff also sounded deflated by the weekend’s sales performance.

“The interest on Friday evening was incredible – I think we sold 160 iPhones that evening, more than any other Carphone store in London. There was still some interest on Saturday, but it was very dead on Sunday and has been very quiet today (Monday), which we’ve found very strange,” said a Chelsea branch employee.

“We were extremely busy on Friday evening and most of Saturday, but it has died down dramatically since then. People have stopped by, but all they are doing is looking at the iPhone and not buying it,” said a retail assistant at Carphone’s Marylebone Road branch.

“The interest from Friday night has cooled now. We won’t see that level of activity again,” said a staffer at Carphone Hammersmith.

Problems arose at many Carphone stores as shoppers were unable to buy the iPhone during the first hour of the launch because Carphone’s chip and PIN payment system crashed. Many stores began to accept cash payments for the handset, which is not a method normally accepted by Apple.

Carphone said the problems were a minor glitch in a successful launch. spokesperson said: “The payment problem was only a minor issue and was due to the high volume of transactions. But the situation was resolved quickly and caused minimal problems.”

Even the queues outside the stores on launch day failed to live up to the hype: around 100 Apple diehards queued for more than six hours for the handset, but their number appeared larger only because of the media throng that attended. But for a couple of sites, O2 and Carphone stores meanwhile had a handful of enthusiasts queuing, and no more.

Said one London observer: “You could have waited in the warm, in the pub, until 6pm, and just walked across the road when the stores opened, straight in and picked up an iPhone without queuing. If you wanted one.”

O2 installed an extra 1,427 customer service and retail staff across the UK to ensure a smooth service experience for iPhone customers through Christmas. Around 450 from head office also joined its ranks for the Friday afternoon store shift.

Carphone chief executive Charles Dunstone was on hand at Carphone’s flaghsip store on Oxford Street to complete the first sale there.