It seems that whenever Apple intros a new version of the iPhone or the iPad customers are prepared to camp out overnight just to be one of the first to own such a product. While I drove past the Palo Alto store yesterday and studied the line I couldn’t help but think that these lines were a marketing opportunity for someone. I could easily see an app vendor creating some stunt that gave the first 100 people in each line a free copy of their app, so that their app instantly became a hit just as the new platform comes out. I could see consumer brands such as Dr Scholls (the people who make foot care products) creating ‘Apple Line Waiting’ gift bags. I could see Starbucks offering a ‘mobile (get it?) latte service’ for the people stuck in line. Right now the only people benefiting from the lines is Apple. With lines formed in major cities across the world, surely there’s an opportunity for someone to capitalize? Come on all you creative consumer marketers, get your thinking caps on.
Welcome to the era of what I’d like to call ‘Thinventory.’ This is an era where retailers are so scared that the economy is going to leave them with unsold products on their hands that they would rather carry too little stock than too much. It is also the era where even hot products like the iPhone are deliberately understocked. It is of course the smart way to run a retail business – match inventory to demand. For the shopper it is frustrating when they are using traditional retail outlets but almost invisible when they are shopping online. The smart retail operations are the ones that can blend this online shopping with the traditional environment and have the product you want shipped to your home overnight. This problem is particularly troublesome for sellers of say shoes and clothes, where the same product comes in multiple sizes. Carrying enough of every size is expensive and risky but if they can provide a thin level of inventory in each store and then hold a further amount at a central store to either replenish store stocks or service customers online they will likely do better than having every store hold all the stock.