Right after Apple decided to no longer report unit sales going forward last Friday, investors and analysts have pummeled AAPL by downgrading and selling off the stock. So is this reporting change innocuous or is it sign of troubling times ahead? In the words of one analyst, this reporting change at least creates the appearance that Apple is hiding something. In turn, this has prompted a couple of banks to downgrade Apple. On the surface, the criticism seems to have merit.
Yet viewed through a different lens this reporting change has been in the making for quite awhile given what Apple’s brand stands for.
And that is the point – everything depends on the substance of Apple’s brand. The reflexive downgrading may in fact miss the deeper signal and significance that Apple is, in fact, becoming an emerging and disruptive luxury brand.
Luxury brands are different in a few crucial ways from the typical Nasdaq tech stock. A key difference is measuring success. Traditional luxury brands like Hermes, Chanel or Van Cleef do not regularly report units sold of signature products like Birkin bags, little black dresses or Alhambra necklaces. Instead, for external purposes, they tend to report consolidated revenue sales and growth (with a view into contribution by region). Internally, they also track more granular metrics such as units sales, revenues per store and by channel.
This lack of external transparency might seem troubling or perplexing to most investors but it’s not. Although unit sales can provide additional information to investors, they ultimately do not determine a luxury brand’s health relative to its financial results and customer appeal.
What is more salient to the long-term health of a luxury brand is premium pricing power and superior margins. Apple’s margins are holding steady and the average selling price (ASP) for multiple products has been going up in the last few quarters. To this observer, the impetus to downgrade AAPL rests more on an untested fear – a set of conditional probabilities more precisely – that defy the company’s results to date.
If you want to know why I think Apple is one of the few truly new luxury brands of the 21st century, take another look at last week’s webcast of their product announcements at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
In particular, listen to Angela Ahrendt’s review of their retail strategy. Although the details of the current retail program called Today at Apple are interesting, more important are the intent and credibility relative to the ambition. Apple is intent on owning “retail’s greatest platform for enriching lives”. Very few brands in the world have the credibility (let alone capacity) to match this ambition. But Apple is certainly one of them.
For the luxury sector going forward, the most salient measure of success is owning a platform (or several of them) with the ability to shape customer experiences through product, locale and/or craft. That is the future battleground for luxury brands, whether they are traditional luxury houses like Hermes or emerging ones like Apple.