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Monday, November 26, 2007, 06:00 am PT (09:00 am ET)

Apple stores having 'gravitational pull' on mall shoppers - report

Analysts for investment bank Piper Jaffray spent six hours this past weekend monitoring traffic at mall-based Apple retail stores and found that the shops exerted a gravitational pull on shoppers who came within 25 feet of the entranceways.

Specifically, analyst Gene Munster and his team found that 27 percent of people walking within 25-feet of an Apple store entrance wound up entering the store. Once in the stores, however, only a fraction of those shoppers actually purchased anything. But Munster in a note to clients early Monday morning said he believes the draw may be indicative of consumers' future purchase decisions.

"The important point is this gravitational pull highlights that consumers' future buying intentions could be shifting to Apple from PCs," he explained. "If materialized, this shift should benefit Apple in 2008 and 2009."

On average, 462 people entered Apple stores each hour on Friday when the company was holding its 24-hour Black Friday sale, the analyst said. By Saturday evening, however, that number had fallen to about 241 people per hour.

During these times, Munster and his team observed the stores selling an average 5.3 Macs and 1 iPhone each hour, compared to 4.3 Macs and 1.3 iPhones during a similar round of checks back in August.

Meanwhile, the stores sold an average of 13 iPods per hour. While the analyst did not have comparative data from his August checks, he said the sales mix appeared to be favoring the higher priced models.

Of the iPods sold as Munster and his team observed, 46 percent were iPod nanos, 19 percent were iPod classics, 19 percent were iPod shuffles and 16 percent were iPod touches.

"Bottom line is the iPod mix for December appears to be favoring higher average selling price (ASP) iPods compared to our model," the analyst advised clients, noting that he had previously been forecasting for as much as 38 percent of the holiday iPod mix to be comprised of the low-cost iPod shuffles.

Munster, whose checks focused primarily on Apple stores in the Midwest and East Coast, maintained his Buy rating and $250 price target on shares of the Cupertino-based electronics maker.