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Best Buy sells nearly as many iPhones as Apple does directly

While most iPhone buyers make their purchase from their wireless carrier, Best Buy plays nearly as important a role in iPhone sales as Apple's own direct sales, according to a new survey.

Consumer Intelligence Research Partners surveyed American iPhone buyers from December 2011 to February 2012 to find out where they purchased their handset. It found that Apple's retail stores accounted for 11 percent of all U.S. iPhone sales, while the online store represented another 4 percent, according to All Things D.

Combined, Apple accounted for 15 percent of domestic iPhone sales, which was only two points better than Best Buy. The survey found that 13 percent of customers bought their iPhone from Best Buy.

Sales direct from carriers remain the most popular choice for customers, as AT&T represented 32 percent of sales and Verizon took 30 percent. Sprint, a smaller U.S. carrier that just began selling the iPhone last year, accounted for 7 percent of domestic iPhone sales.

The survey also found that customers prefer to buy their iPhone in person rather than online, with 76 percent of iPhone sales at retail stores and 24 percent on the Web. Online sales were slightly higher at 33 percent for the launch of the iPhone 4S last October,a number skewed because of preorders.

"Apple Stores and the Apple Web site are tremendously productive, but they are limited by their relatively small footprint," CIRP partner and co-founder Josh Lowitz said to AllThingsD. "There are four times as many best buy stores and probably 20 times as many AT&T, Verizon and Sprint stores, so aggressive distribution through all these channels is critical to Apple's U.S. strategy."

The survey also reveals that Apple's other retail partners do not play as significant a role in iPhone sales, as they collectively accounted for just 3 percent of sales among those surveyed. Apple's iPhone retail partners include Walmart, the largest chain in the U.S., as well as Target, Radio Shack, and Sam's Club.