Today in Apple history: Apple Store celebrates millionth online customer

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The Apple Store proves that tech fans like buying things online!
Turns out that tech fans like buying things online!
Photo: Ste Smith/Maxime Raphael/Flickr CC

December 5: Today in Apple history: Apple Store celebrates millionth online sale December 5, 2002: Apple says it served its millionth unique customer in the Apple Store online, marking a significant milestone for the company.

It is a benchmark worth celebrating for Apple, which launched its online store just five years earlier.

“Reaching our 1 millionth customer is a major milestone, and is proof positive that our online shopping experience is second to none,” Tim Cook, Apple’s executive vice president of worldwide sales and operations at the time, said in a statement. “The Apple Store is a popular way for a growing number of consumers and businesses to buy Apple products, and with extensive build-to-order capabilities, easy 1-Click shopping and free shipping on orders, it’s never been easier to buy a Mac online.”

Apple’s history of ignoring the web

Apple didn’t totally fail to see the importance of the internet during the 1990s. It ran services like Cyberdog, an OpenDoc-based suite of internet applications. It also operated eWorld, which was part messaging service, part news aggregator. (Both died by the time Steve Jobs returned to Apple.)

However, it is fair to say that — like a lot of companies established pre-internet — Apple was fumbling around looking for a way to tack the World Wide Web onto its existing business, and coming up blank.

Things changed rapidly when Jobs returned.

First came the iMac G3, a computer explicitly advertised as a machine for getting families and individuals onto the internet for the first time. Apple followed that with the similarly styled iBook, a colorful clamshell laptop that helped usher in the Wi-Fi revolution with its cable-free AirPort networking card.

However, Apple still lagged when it came to using the internet as anything other than a news page. Jobs wanted to rectify that. While running NeXT, he oversaw the development of a web application technology called WebObjects. When Apple acquired NeXT, Cupertino used this technology to build an online store to sell Macs.

See you in Dell

Apple — like the rest of the computing world — witnessed Dell’s success using this strategy in the 1990s. Michael Dell famously dissed Apple, saying that if he was running the company, he would shut it down and return the money to shareholders.

Perhaps motivated partly by wanting to turn the tables on Michael Dell (we know that comment irked Jobs), the Apple CEO personally oversaw the development of the Apple Store online with his typically blunt, perfectionist manner. As Jobs said during an Apple keynote, referring to Dell’s “rude” comment, “We’re coming after you, buddy!”

The move made total sense for Apple. As physical Apple retail stores showed, the company long had been irked by the way third-party retailers presented its goods. Apple wanted total control over the way its products got showcased. An online retail store proved perfect for that.

Apple Store online: Success from the start

When the online Apple Store launched in November 1997, it racked up more than $12 million during its first month.

Jump forward to 2002. The 1 millionth unique Apple Store customer showed that Apple’s strategy succeeded in a major way.

In later years, Apple would celebrate other landmark events, particularly during the iTunes era, with its heavy focus on numbers. (Apple has since pulled back from such transparency).

What was the first Apple product you ever ordered online? Leave your comments below.

  • bIg hIlL

    Yes the internet in the 90s was a different battlefield to the present day one. Back then it was only on dial-up connections – at least in the UK – and T1 connections were rare. The internet itself was good at that speed for nothing more than email and the availability of wares was made by Mr Blobby, Playdoh, Gold, Total and others with their disks, CD-ROMs that you would buy for between £20-£30 each, once you had a connection to a disk dealer. Then, perhaps you may become a source to the smaller fish, selling wares on diskettes in the free classified papers that circulated in your area. Sweet memories…