What Can We Learn From the iPhone Launch Fiasco?

First, read about Travis’s odyssey to get an iPhone on Friday. He was tenacious, and it took most of the day, but (despite Rogers’ best efforts) he took one home. Travis cites ten problems with the iPhone launch in Canada:

So yeah, basically, from the biggest, most important factors, to the smallest details, they were simply unprepared—which is bad enough—but they were also dumb about process and shoddy and careless.

Next, read Seth’s post about scarcity and how to handle high demand and low supply:

Imagine what the Apple and AT&T stores would have been like this weekend if they were filled with happy customers who had pre-paid, pre-registered and were just dropping in for three minutes to pick up their (very coveted) phones, walking up the VIP line, past all the others just waiting for a chance to buy one…

Both posts have lots of lessons about how Apple, Rogers, Fido et al could have better managed their iPhone campaign. There’s enough material in the last six months for an MBA thesis.

You know the story–they really dropped the ball from day one. They pretty much made every error possible, from exorbitant initial pricing to promising breakfast to the early birds. Travis reports (at one of Rogers’ six national flagship stores) that “The only food was granola bars at about 10 or 11 a.m., but only enough for about one bar for every three people.” Now that’s some sweet customer service.

Come Back on Monday or Tuesday

As both Travis and Seth more or less point out, why didn’t Rogers just hand out tickets to those in line, like wristbands for a concert? They could easily have predicted excessive demand, and they knew how many phones each store was getting. I can guess why: nobody who works at a Rogers store wants to get up early to go meet and greet the alpha fans that have queued up half the night.

I went into a Fido store in Victoria yesterday, and asked about the ratio of supply to demand. They said they had 26 iPhones, and easily had 100 enquiries on the first day. Then I asked how I could buy one, and they told me to “come back on Monday or Tuesday”. No waiting list, no deposit, no nothing. They genuinely didn’t want to take my money.

If I was Bell Canada or another mobility provider, I’d be offering killer deals over the next few weeks, to try to entice iPhone enthusiasts away. You wouldn’t get the hardcore fanboys, but there would probably be some low-hanging fruit ripe for the picking.


  1. The Fido store where we got ours (Park Royal) was handing numbers to people as they lined up. As soon as they ran out they put up a sold out sign.

    We got numbers 30 and 31 (out of 35) and where told to come back around 1:30 to pick them up. The staff at this store had a good plan to keep people happy and not waiting all day at the store.

    Unfortunately, Apple’s activation system crashed for a while and the Rogers/Fido system also crashed or was really slow throughout the day. So when we came back 4.5 hours later they were only processing #8! They told us to come back after 4.

    So we went back around 4:30. Processing #20, but people were not actually there so instead of making us wait they let us skip ahead. It still took quite a while to get the phones and we were the last 2 phones they sold that day. They told everyone else to fill a form with details and come back the next day.

  2. Ianiv: Interesting. You certainly had a better experience than Travis. I could insert a snobby comment about West Vancouverites being accustomed to a higher level of service…oh, hang on, I just did.

    In any case, it’s too bad every store didn’t provide that option.

    It is interesting, though, that you got to skip ahead at the end of the day. If I had, like, #23 and you folks bought the last 16 GB phone that I wanted, I wouldn’t be a happy camper. Not your fault, obviously, but slightly inconsistent from the store.

  3. I didn’t manage to pick one up myself (thought I’d wait until the craze died down), but I’ve also heard from several friends that the Fido stores handled things much better.

    I popped into the local Fido store in the Royal Centre at Burrard and Dunsmuir in Van, and although they had sold out earlier in the morning, they took my name and number and will be calling me when they get more stock.

  4. One thing to keep in mind that there are very few actual Rogers or Fido stores….most that you come across are independent dealers with giant branding/signage from the carrier so it can be hard to tell them apart from real ‘corporate’ stores.

    Each store would have their set of policies since they are all independent…although some malls have a franchise dealer store (Cellcom, Wireless Wave, etc).

    The store I went to handled things quite well….until the activation process at least which was a system issue. Everyone in line got let into the store in a 1:1 ratio with staff on hand. 8 staff meant the first 8 in line got in. They each had their own allotment of iPhones as well (presumably for commission purposes). Once you told them what you wanted, they drew up the paperwork, found out that the system was down and wrapped the paperwork around your unopened iPhone and placed it aside telling us that they would try again in a few minutes and had a lineup of phones in order of arrival to be processed.

    They managed to get through the entire lineup of around 20-30 people in less than 30 minutes…although nobody had a working iPhone after that period of time due to system issues, at least things were handled accordingly.

  5. We were in a mall in Laval, Quebec were they have Fido, Rogers and and actual Apple Store. Fido did have their act together, they gave out numbers, actually inquired about the type of activation, and check peoples account for eligibility… wait a minute what do you mean when you say eligibility was my question.

    It turns out that if you were less than mid way in a current contract you could not sign up to the new plan.

    It turns out that out of the first 30 alpha geeks that lined up round 7AM, 5 were not eligible and unfortunately that included myself. (so 1 out of every 6 were flatly denied the iphone) my gripe with Fido is that I called them the previous day and had them confirm twice that I could simply just add a 30$ 6GB 3 year data plan and get my iphone the CSR’s I spoke to both enthusiastically said yes.

    Last I heard Fido will be taking a decision on this issue on the 24th of Jul. So I wonder if they will make sure they can make their existing clientèle happy or will I be looking for new contracts and maybe some gPhones at then end of my relationship with the not so faithful Fido.

    To wrap up the story there were about 6 people at the Rogers store and when the head honchos from the Apple store came by to see how the event was going they were quickly sent packing by customers customers who could could not activate their iBrick 3g or were not entitled to the Joy of getting one due to contractual restrictions.

    Fact is an nonscientific poll I did showed that ALL off the alpha geeks would have paid full price for the phones anyways…

  6. I’m happy with the iPod Touch I got last November. No contract, no activation, and, uh, it’s thinner too. I’m typing on it now.

  7. Derek – I know what you mean about the touch. It’s 90% iPhone, with none of the bitter Rogers aftertaste.

  8. Derek: Incidentally, one reason I’m getting an iPhone (though this would apply to any number of new phones) is so I can retire my iPod and have one fewer devices to carry around.

  9. I called… in the afternoon… and will have my new i-phone in 3-5 business days (supposedly), but the customer service was unusually great (Rogers).

  10. Saturday, one of the fellows I recognized as someone whp works at the Rogers store on Douglas and Yates Street came into a comic store I was at during his break, and started venting to his friend about the previous day. He clearly did not like the iPhone, did not know a lot about it, and didn’t like the training provided for the event. He complained about the lack of preparedness from all companies involved and, what I understood, it put him in a very bad position. He was clearly very upset about the whole thing.

  11. “You know the story–they really dropped the ball from day one…” Incredible. We have a very untypically Canadian consumer backlash (The Rogers iPhone Consumer Revolt)with tens of thousands of people (presumably die-hard yet feeling-rejected iPhone fans) signing petitions against getting gouged – and we’ve still got hundreds of people across Canada lining up for bad service and granola bars (if they’re lucky). What a country. Hope it was worth it, people. I’m going to wait a little bit.

  12. Jonathon: People were protesting the high cost of the plans. Rogers aboutface on the data plans pretty much fixed most people’s issues with them. Not everyone wants to pay $30/month for data but it’s the same price as the US pays and we get more of it…albeit it’s an option for ‘a limited time’.

    Of course there was still the activation issues, the long lines, the pathetic attempt at a launch breakfast and the obtuse rules around upgrade eligibility…but that’s normal.

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