July 30, 2003 10:07 AM PDT

Apple to sell Macs at Best Buy

Apple Computer plans to start selling its Macintosh computers at certain Best Buy locations, CNET News.com has learned.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based computer maker plans next month to launch a pilot program with Best Buy in which the retailer will carry various Mac models at "a few" locations. Best Buy has been selling Apple's iPod since September of last year.

Some Best Buy locations will also have Apple representatives inside the store, similar to a program that Apple has with CompUSA. Apple executives have praised the CompUSA program as helping to boost its retail sales results.

An Apple representative declined to say which Best Buy locations will carry Macs, but the program appears to be starting small.

"As part of a pilot program, a few Best Buy stores will begin carrying a larger selection of Apple products, and Apple sales representatives will work in some Best Buy retail locations to help enhance the customer buying experience," the company said in a statement provided to CNET News.com. "The program starts the week of August 10 and we will review its progress in the weeks ahead."

Although the program is not officially launching until next month, several Macintosh enthusiast sites have reported that Apple machines have been piling up at Best Buy locations.

The new program marks a return of Macs to Best Buy shelves. Apple sold computers through Best Buy until early 1998, when the Mac maker announced it would focus on its CompUSA effort and stop selling at Best Buy, Circuit City, Computer City, Office Max and Sears.

Since then, Apple has both resumed and again halted sales at Circuit City and Sears. The company has also sold Macs at Micro Center, Fry's Electronics, various online outlets and smaller computer resellers.

Apple began opening its own stores in May 2001 and now has more than 60 retail outlets. It plans to have 70 stores open by Thanksgiving.

To make the move pay off for Apple, Needham analyst Charles Wolf said Apple would need better results than it had the last time it sold Macs at Best Buy.

"The first time around, it was a complete bust," Wolf said.

Wolf said Apple is likely to sell at only what it thinks are the optimal Best Buy locations.

"Apple is not obviously going to employ a person in each store, because there's 700 of them," Wolf said. "I suspect it will cherry pick, assigning people to the high-volume stores."


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