Rare iPad Discounts Result in a Scramble For Shoppers

The ghost of Steve Jobs never materialized this year to tell holiday shoppers, in the style of famed electronics retailer Crazy Eddie, “These prices are INSANE.”

That would have been perfectly appropriate, however.

No one is discounting the popularity of Apple’s iconic iPad tablets and rival products this holiday season. Walmart reported 1.4 million tablet sales for Thursday. Rather it’s the discounting of the actual products that is rare.

A funny thing happened this year: Virtually all major retailers that carry Apple products let loose with amazing deals during over Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

Walmart and Best Buy offered an iPad 2 for $299, or $100 off.

Gift-card add-ons were one popular gimmick, with Target and Apple’s stores adding these — in denominations of up to $100 — on qualifying purchases of Apple mobile-device devices. Apple also used $150 gift cards as a lure for Macintosh computer shoppers.

Such a broad and substantial array of Apple-gear discounts is highly unusual, said analyst Stephen Baker of NPD Group, a Port Washington, N.Y.-based market research firm.

“Almost every major Apple retail partner was offering considerable savings on a range of Apple devices, in a way that we have infrequently seen, and Apple has rarely permitted,” Baker said.

Twin Cities shoppers braving the cold to grab one of the deals or trying to snag one online, though, often experienced frustration. Sell-outs were common here and around the country as bargain hunters seizes on these opportunities.

This happened with Target and Best Buy earlier this week, for instance. Online stampedes for deep discounts resulted in empty-handed visitors at brick-and-mortar stores, in certain cases, as limited quantities of on-sale products were quickly depleted.

Retailers rushed to replenish supplies and craft new offers, but consumers had to persist in order to find the deals they wanted. Some such Apple offers were available on the Web, but not in stores. In other cases, it was the opposite, but finding a properly stocked store could take a while.

Baker saw much of this first-hand.

“The iPads were out of stock (at Walmart stores) pretty fast” on Thanksgiving, Baker said.

He added: “The biggest surprise was Target, which, despite having a later starting time (or maybe because of it), had a killer line, both outside the door waiting to come in, and inside, queued up for an iPad deal. My colleague, Paul Gagnon, saw a lot of the same on the West Coast.”

Both merchants opened doors on Thanksgiving night, Walmart at 6 p.m., Target at 8 p.m.

Sarah McGee of St. Paul experienced this at a Target locale in Davenport, Iowa, Thursday.

“Line on Thursday night was obscene,” she said in tweet. “By Friday morning (it) only had iPad mini (in high-resolution Retina format) left.”

She added, “Best Buy had Retina minis on Thursday night, but no sale or gift cards.”

Twin Cities television-news anchor Jason DeRusha and his relatives had mixed success in their Thanksgiving-week search for iPads.

He said his mother-in-law tried a Target at about 9 p.m. Thursday, but found a lengthy line, and the iPad Air model she wanted no longer in stock.

Seeing gift-card deals getting snapped up on the Best Buy site, DeRusha feared the worst. His wife found an iPad mini at a Best Buy in Maple Grove late Wednesday night, however.

“Excellent deal,” he noted on Twitter.

It’s no accident that iPads and other Apple products, such as iPhones and Mac computers, are seeing steep discounts as the year winds down, Baker, the retail analyst, said.

In fact, this phenomenon began well prior to holiday-shopping madness, with big discounts on Apple’s new iPhone 5c and, to an extent, its premium iPhone 5s. Deals on the new iPad Air haven’t been a holiday-only phenomenon, either.

“When you are engaged in that level of discounting across that many products with almost every one of its partners participating, the only reasonable conclusion: Apple is looking for market share,” Baker said. “It’s trying to drive volume … and to win the day with consumer mindshare.

“With Apple’s products and its dominant U.S. shares under attack, this was the right day, with the right products (the iPad Air, the iPad mini and the iPad 2), to counter the growing push from other brands and products into Apple’s space,” he said.

Baker blogs about Apple and Black Friday at npdgroupblog.com.

Saint Paul Pioneer Press (MN)

(c)2013 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)

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