Selling Watch Sales Data

There is no reliable information on Apple Watch sales. None of the analysts which follow Apple or the phone, computer or watch markets have any insight into this. The only source of information is Apple itself and they have made it clear that they don’t intend to provide watch sales data for competitive reasons. I did not and do not expect any information from Apple on watch sales. They have placed the product within the “Other” category specifically to make unit data hard to discern and have explained why they do so.

The only estimate we have heard of is from a company that has no track record in market research and relies entirely on sampling of email receipts. I urge extreme caution when dealing with this type of data. We don’t know how representative these receipts are and how they are sourced or sampled. The methodology is not only unclear but it’s one not practiced by any other analyst. You would think that receipt sampling would be a phenomenal source of information about a lot of other products and yet we hear nothing about how predictive it is for anything except this particular new product as claimed by a company which never made any such prior claims.

It’s also a sampling of (presumably) US-only customers at a time when the product is undergoing a gradual roll-out through multiple countries and multiple channels. Consider that if sales were constrained internationally then buyers would be trying to arbitrage through the US market, meaning there would be many e.g. Chinese buyers/brokers booking sales through US online stores inflating that channel’s initial volumes. Furthermore as physical retail stores begin to receive stock, online sales (which are what is sampled) should decline as buyers opt for the instant gratification (and the option to see the product in real life.) To see US-only online purchases drop after a period of pent-up demand and as store inventory becomes available is not interesting and says almost nothing about the product’s performance.

The only way to be thoughtful about this new category is to understand the broad transitions underway in mobile computing. We are witnessing a pivot in human-computer interaction as significant as the initial iPhone launch.

[As a rule, be very careful with the premise of data salesmanship. All data is false, some is useful. Data you have to pay for is less useful than data that has been peer reviewed.]

  • juanm105

    Great points, Horace. It is too bad main stream media either is too lazy or not smart enough to come to the same conclusions you did … or at least quote your thoughts as part of balanced reporting. I just watch a CNBC discussion of Apple’s 92% share of smartphone profits and one analyst noted, as a supporting point that Apple can’t keep doing well, since the Apple Watch’s sales have not been good. Too bad they can’t think instead just regurgitate bad information. Thanks for your article

    • BMc

      It is some order of:
      – clickbait
      – belief that being negative on Apple is better for business
      – belief that a perception of objectivity is required, so always mention what might a negative to counter any good news
      – intellectual laziness
      – anti-apple bias

  • dgrayson98

    iPhone 6 launch was 10M units in three days = 3.33M/day. FY15 Q1 iPhone sales was 74.5M units in 91 days = 0.82M/day. So 75% decline, definitely a “flop”. Also most profitable quarter in corporate history. So all businesses must be flops.

  • Walt French

    “The only way to be thoughtful about this new category is to understand the broad transitions underway in mobile computing.”

    All the more so that we’re less than 90 days into actual shipments of the Watch; attempting to discern trends—even if the sampling methodology were better understood in its long-term effects—would be fraught.

    My own take is that the Watch is “early” the same way the original iPhone—which I didn’t buy—was early. By WatchOS version 3, perhaps it’ll be obvious how useful, how enjoyable the Apple Watch is, but also by this time, the early app developers will have established their paradigms as the dominant ones.

    • Sacto_Joe

      The one big difference is that this time Apple is not disclosing the sales figures. That leaves the door wide open to the prophets of doom. – and they’re taking full advantage.
      If I had to guess, I’d say Apple is nervous about their ability to ramp up production, and would rather take hits from the peanut gallery than show a weakness like that. And if I had to guess where the weakness lies, I’d say it was in its ability to produce quality sapphire.
      Yes, the GTAT fiasco raises its ugly head once again.
      I own an SS watch with a sapphire crystal, btw, and it’s quite impressive. I’m really rough on things I wear, and while my SS link bracelet is showing many scuff marks, the sapphire is comletely flawless.

      • Apple does not wish to reveal the Watch ASP as, unlike its other product lines, the mix of watch models is a delicate balancing act of production forecasting. Competitors could benefit greatly by knowing how many of each watch type is popular and develop a cloning strategy with minimum risk.

      • Ian Ollmann

        Apple’s competitors are not one bit afraid of shotgun product portfolio development. It is a way of life for most.

      • Mel Gross

        That’s true. Right after it was rumored that Apple would be coming out with a watch, Samsung came out with theirs. But not only that, they’ve now come out with five different models; everything from a cheap, basic, do little model, to a monster smartphone on the wrist.

        None have sold in more than small numbers.

      • Yes, but why make it easier/cheaper?

      • Sacto_Joe

        You’re right, of course, that it would make good business sense to mask the mix. And yet – call it a hunch, but all the sapphire screen 42 mm SS still have a 3-5 business day shipping time on them. That suggests that demand is still outstripping supply. And since these are the more expensive watches, it’s logical to assume demand is less for them than for the lower priced (non-sapphire) item. Of course, it may be that the production tieup is related to machining SS. But it could as likely be related to sapphire production.

    • Tatil_S

      Any comparison to iPhone is bound to make Watch look like a failure. Almost everybody already had a phone when iPhone was first released, so making a much better phone is a relatively easy sales proposition. Many people don’t wear a watch, so the inertia against adoption is greater. I think for a subset of iPhone users it is already quite valuable, but many people will keep shrugging their shoulders even by WatchOS 3. It could still be a big success story, as long as you don’t use iPhone as the yardstick for revenue or unit volume.

  • N

    You didn’t link to the MacRumors article. They’re not data scientists (to my knowledge) but Slice discussed their methodology through that article. MR is an amazing online media success story started by a doctor. They deserve a link.

    At the end of your article you intimate that Apple Watch augers a new computing paradigm. I love my Apple Watch but isn’t your conjecture just that — conjecture?

    This is purely anecdotal but I live and work in Manhattan and this being summer I’m indoors as little as possible. Only three people in seven weeks have mentioned my Apple Watch to me. Far more people approached me in the summer of 2007 when I was among the few to have the original iPhone. Maybe it’s because a lot more people have an Apple Watch in Manhattan than had an iPhone in 2007. Speaking of which, I’ve seen only 2 in the wild.

    • Slurpy2k11

      Macrumors is a trashy site, not deserving of a link. They’re a dishonest troll magnet under the guise of an Apple rumors site. Almost everything they post is spun with negativity and dishonesty to get the most clicks possible by haters. It’s anything but “amazing” – it simply regurgitates reports and rumors, and retags them as fact.

      • El Aura

        Generally, Macrumors is reporting ‘news/rumors’ first published by others. They are kind of a keeper of records of Apple rumors (and news). Appleinsider does the same but then adds too many fluffy stories about how great Apple is.

      • N

        I respectfully disagree. MacRumors is the definitive source for all rumors and most news concerning Apple. And it breaks stories sometimes as it did yesterday concerning Slice’s methodology. As for the trolls, it’s easy enough not to read the comments. The comments are definitely not of the same caliber as Asymco!

      • Mel Gross

        That’s not true at all. It’s also the biggest Apple oriented site in the world.

  • El Aura

    What I don’t understand is why this method is said to only include online sales. Whenever I buy an Apple product in an Apple Store, they ask me for my AppleID and send me a receipt via email to it.

    • Slice Intelligence is a subsidiary of Slice which is an app that helps you manage your online shopping and purchases.

      • El Aura

        But what stops them from including email receipts from retail purchases in their analysis?

      • Perhaps nothing but how do they know how many people who purchased at retail opted to receive a receipt in their inbox? There are other “cash-register” tracking services (e.g. NPD in the US and GfK globally). There are limitations and work-arounds for them as well but they have years of experience and calibration for the data. Incidentally, NPD data would not be useful for the Watch because Apple does not participate.

  • Sacto_Joe

    Horace, I’ve referenced your fine article in the comment section of PED’s latest Watch article:
    (And now I’ve completed the circuit!)

  • neutrino23

    I found it amazing that Nightly Business Report and some woman’s tech radio show reported the Slice report as fact almost as if it had been reported by Apple. It makes me realize that the rest of their so-called reporting may be BS as well.