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Premium-priced MacBook Pros top sales at Apple retail stores

Despite repeated calls from industry watchers for Apple to cut prices on its computer line, a new study reveals that sales of the company's premium-priced MacBook Pros are topping all other Macs at the majority of U.S.-based Apple stores.

An independent survey of the brick-and-mortar shops conducted by The Channel Checkers this past week found that 73%, or nearly three-fourths of the stores polled, reported that their best selling Mac this month was the MacBook Pro, which ranges in price from $2000 to $2800.

Only four of the fifteen stores questioned identified a system other than the MacBook Pro as their top seller, namely one in Houston that cited the aluminum 13-inch MacBook and another in New York City that pointed to the 2.66GHz iMac.

Two other stores, one in Jacksonville and the other in Sherman Oaks, said the MacBook Air and Mac Pro were their top sellers this month, respectively, but those same stores were the only two who said they were offering customers Mac discounts, and likely on those particular products.

Asked whether Mac sales were up during the month of February, 33% of stores said yes while the others said no. However, with 87% of stores doing nothing price-wise to compel consumers into buy a new Mac, Channel Checkers concluded that demand for Macs remains strong enough to support Apple's premium pricing model.

"Apple products are selling more slowly in February," the firm said. "However, despite the slower sales, demand remains strong enough that Apple does not need to discount products on a wide scale basis."

These findings arrive in the face of incessant concerns from Wall Street analysts and other industry watchers over the price of Macs, including Calyon Securities analyst Shebly Seyrafi, who on Tuesday downgraded shares of Apple to underperform (sell) from outperform (buy) on the belief that the company's "premium-pricing model is vulnerable in today's recessionary environment."

The analyst's report came just hours after the aforementioned survey provided evidence that sales at Apple's retail stores are shifting to the company's most profitable products. Outside the Mac Pro, Apple's MacBook Pros generate the heftiest of Mac profit margins, suggesting the Cupertino-based company could make up in revenues some of what it loses in unit sales during the traditionally subdued March quarter.

Meanwhile, many of the company's largest resellers continue to take advantage of the MacBook Pro's higher margins by slashing the prices of the high-end notebooks by up to $270, as can be seen in our Mac Pricing Guide. This pushes additional units at no added expense to the Mac maker.

Apple doesn't seem to mind the friendly competition, either, with chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer recently saying he was pleased with the performance of the company's retail chain over the recent holiday quarter despite increased discounting and bundling from third-party Apple resellers.

While the shift towards MacBook Pro sales doesn't ring true for all of Apple's sales channels, independent checks by AppleInsider found that the 2.4GHz MacBook Pro is handily outselling the 2.4GHz MacBook this quarter as a close second to the top-selling 2.0GHz aluminum MacBook.

Piper Jaffray, a firm that analyzes monthly retail sales data from market research group NPD, recently crunched figures for the month of January and estimated that Apple would sell 2 to 2.2 million systems during the three-month period ending March, representing a mere 6 percent decline from the year-ago quarter.

"We believe this data will be perceived as a neutral or a slight positive given the uncertainty surrounding the [March] quarter," he said.