Apple announces that it has served its millionth unique customer on the Apple Store online, marking a significant milestone for the company.
It is a benchmark worth celebrating for Apple, which launched its online store just five years earlier.
Ignoring the web
Apple didn’t totally fail to see the importance of the internet during the 1990s. It had services like its “Cyberdog” OpenDoc-based suite of internet applications and, most memorably, its part-messaging service, parts news aggregator eWorld — both of which were dead by the time Steve Jobs returned to Apple.
However, it is fair to say that — like a lot of companies established pre-internet — Apple was fumbling around looking for a way to track the World Wide Web onto its existing business, and coming up blank. Things changed when Jobs returned.
The first major change was the iMac G3, a computer which explicitly advertised itself as being a machine for getting families and individuals onto the internet for the first time. This was followed by its similarly-styled iBook, a colorful clamshell laptop which helped usher in the Wi-Fi revolution with its cable-free AirPort networking card.However, Apple was still not using the internet itself as anything other than for a news page. Jobs wanted to rectify that. While he was running NeXT, Jobs had overseen the development of a web application technology called WebObjects. When NeXT was acquired by Apple, this technology was used to build an online store to sell Apple computers.
Apple — like the rest of the computing world — had seen how successful Dell had been using this strategy in the 1990s. Dell, famously, had also dissed Apple, saying that if he was running the company he would shut it down and return the money to shareholders.
Perhaps motivated partly by wanting to turn the tables on Michael Dell (we know that the comment had irked Steve Jobs), he personally oversaw the development of the Apple Store online with his typically blunt, perfectionist manner. As Jobs said during an Apple keynote, referring to Dell’s “rude” comment, “We’re coming after you, buddy!”
The move made total sense for Apple. As the opening of the physical Apple retail stores also showed, the company had long been irked by the way it was presented by third-party retailers. Apple wanted total control over the way its products were presented — and an online retail store was perfect for that.
When the service ultimately launched in November 1997, it received more than $12 million in orders during its first month.
Jump forward to 2002, and the one millionth unique customer (meaning that repeat customers were only counted once) showed that Apple’s strategy was a major success. In later years, Apple would also publicly celebrate other landmark events — particularly during the iTunes era when there was a focus on numbers, which has since been pulled back from.
“Reaching our one millionth customer is a major milestone, and is proof positive that our online shopping experience is second to none,” Tim Cook, then-Apple’s executive vice president of Worldwide Sales and Operations, said in a statement. “The Apple Store is a popular way for a growing number of consumers and businesses to buy Apple products, and with extensive build-to-order capabilities, easy 1-Click shopping and free shipping on orders, it’s never been easier to buy a Mac online.”
What was the first Apple product you ever ordered online? Leave your comments below.