The queue had been forming for days in George Street, Sydney.

It was a crowd with the shared passion of long suffering Magpies or Rabbitohs fans hoping to score finals tickets. But this crowd probably had better teeth, tatts and piercings. The faithful queued with sleeping bag and a thermos outside a large and stunning glass box awaiting last night’s opening of Australia’s first Apple store.

At MacTalk, a forum for Australian Mac users, the gaffer guy declared zealously:

I HAVE THE BEST GIRLFRIEND IN THE WORLD. I could not get the extra day off from work, they think I am crazy, so she had flown to Sydney this morning and STARTED the line outside the Apple Store.

What is it about Apple? It is described as one of the world’s strongest brands, but has moved beyond brand to become a community. Members exhibit missionary zeal and engage in Macgasms.

They seem to enjoy the compromises of less bang-for-buck computers and the notoriously unreliable iPod. They aspire to ownership of the Mac Air, the world’s thinnest notebook computer, willing to forgo a DVD drive, performance and battery life. They must decide whether the single USB port will be used for a mouse, drive or external keyboard.

Australians have been buying Apple products through resellers for decades, and this opening will not be celebrated by those merchants. They have endured the low margin hell of consumer electronics, a notoriously low margin, commoditised sector where most customers just ask “What is your best price for…”

All that, only to see the Jobzers come in and say “thanks, we’ll take it from here”, writes Captain at Sci Fi.  “And how high is Australia on the Apple priority list? This is Apple Store number 215. So look out Nepal, you’re next, woohoo!”

So why the clamour?

There are five retail economies. Let’s use coffee as an example.

Coffee trades as a commodity at around $3 a kilo; about 3 cents a cup. Roast, grind and package it to become goods and a cup rises to around 40 cents. As a service it costs about $2 a cup. Surround the cup with the ambience of Cafe Florian in St Marks Square Venice a cafe and the sqwoooshshing noise of the espresso machine, 3 cents worth of coffee becomes a $25 experience, and the tourists love it.

The Apple Store also moves beyond commodity, beyond being goods, even beyond service, to offer an experience. The faithful will come to play. They will be able to touch everything and get free lessons from geeks — sorry, I meant to say the Apple Genius Bar.

They will come for the experience and leave with the goods, helping to make Apple the world’s leading sales per square metre retailer. Price will only rarely be discussed; it would be poor taste.

Those zealots waited in hope. To be the first? A free Mac or iPod? No, they get a free t-shirt – and probably love it because they have communed with iGod.

The fifth economy? It is transformations – where the purchase changes the buyer. I know how that works in health care and education – but can an iPod really make you feel like a different person?

Obviously Australians have been purchasing their Macs from resellers for the past thirty odd years, but it’s only now that the Apple corporation has deigned fit to sell direct to the locals. Apparently, Mac resellers aren’t that thrilled, having built up a brand name and a business for decades.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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