Apple launches build-to-order site

Apple has launched a build-to-order program where customers can order Macintosh computers made to their individual specifications over the Internet.

The site, which was launched in conjunction with the recent Macworld conference in New York, provides around 40,000 different configuration combinations for consumers who wish to buy customised systems online.

Apple's Australian channel manager, Kevin McElduff, believes the retail channel will accept the site, because it will help create consumer awareness.

"I don't think the channel feels threatened by it," McElduff said. "We are convinced it can help sales, because it will raise Apple's profile. Customers can do the research on the Web, but they want to come into the stores and touch and feel the product."

Apple joins an increasing number of direct sales sites, as vendors rush to embrace online commerce.

McElduff said the transition to e-commerce is more about creating market awareness than channel cannibalism, citing anecdotal evidence of customers walking into a retail store with a computer printout of a machine they created from the Web site.

"The sensible reseller recognises that the company has to go with e-commerce or there will be no Apple at some stage," he said. "We have to be there."

In the style of many of Apple's products, the site boasts an intuitive interface that makes it easy for customers to see what they are buying.

"It is a good marketing tool for us," McElduff said.

Meanwhile, Apple's retail presence remains strong with the company reporting its eleventh consecutive profitable quarter.

Apple sold just over 1 million computers worldwide during the quarter, including more than 350,000 Power Mac G4 systems and nearly 450,000 iMac systems. An estimated 3.7 million iMacs have sold since the computers began shipping in August of 1998, and Apple enjoyed a strong quarter for its professional products such as the PowerBook, according to the company.

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