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Macs to Return to Circuit City this Summer

Various AppleInsider sources are reporting a deal to return Macintosh to Circuit City shelves is all but complete. The agreement would reportedly bring back consumer iMacs and iBooks to over 600 national locations which haven't seen Macintosh Performa's since 1998.

Except for Sears and some regional outlets, Apple has not been able to get Macs back into either of the two major U.S. electronics retailers, Best Buy and Circuit City. What appeared to be an agreement with Best Buy in early 1999, fizzled out with both companies unable to agree on pricing or stock levels. Best Buy refused to handle all five of the iMacs colors, while Apple refused to budge on the issue. After months of haggling, the deal fell through. Apple insiders say CEO Steve Jobs and Senior Vice President of Worldwide Sales Mitch Mandich were never crazy about the Best Buy relationship and always thought the "consumer experience" at Best Buy was less than stellar.

That is a continuing concern for Apple at Circuit City as well and a main reason why Apple is trying to convince the electronics retailer to have sales help more attuned and focused to Mac products. While Circuit City argues that it can't afford fulltime sales people just to sell Mac, Apple is trying to come up with a way to at least get Circuit to devote its sales staff to pushing Macs more than they have in the past. From more in-depth training to having more regular on-site promotions using "PowerReps" used in a similar way at CompUSA, Apple is hoping this time around the relationship is a little more balanced.

What you won't be seeing is a "store-within-a-store" concept used at CompUSA. Never really a winner for Apple because the area is not fully staffed as is the Windows-based PC department, Apple can't expect such an environment at Circuit City mainly because there simply isn't the space. But what could and will probably happen is Apple getting more prominent display space in Circuit City PC departments. Sources report Apple will get center stage at the end of at least one isle in the department (known in the industry as an "endcap") and will display more third-party USB peripherals.

Issues yet to be decided in the relationship include:

- A rollout date. As is Steve Jobs' modus operandi, timing is everything. This could be part of a new iMac rollout in the next couple of months, or could be something Apple waits to announce at Expo in August to have adequate stock, promotions and planning in place. It is not uncommon for Jobs to make all parties involved scramble at the last minute to put together a Circuit City rollout, so don't be surprised to see this announcement made sooner than you think. Sources say it would make the most sense to rollout a Circuit City announcement as new iMacs are announced...whenever that could be.

- Circuit City Express. With some 45 Circuit City Express mall stores, sources say they aren't sure Mac products will be sold in these locations well. Chances are they will not, as most Express locations don't sell Windows-based PCs now and space is limited.

- Training. Who will handle training and promotions? Chances are that will be MarketSource Corp. Apple appears to happy with the MarketSource partnership, which it has been involved with for the past three years. Indications are MarketSource will win another contract with Apple on this project as well and handle training and weekend promotional events.

All that's left now is to get Macs back into Best Buy. But is that really necessary? Could it be just a waste of time and money? An important point...when Apple couldn't come to an agreement with Best Buy last year, sources say Apple execs were not that upset. "We can get back into Best Buy anytime we want," one source said. "We want it to be on our terms and our timeline."