When it comes to sales of Apple products, the much-publicized Apple Stores are like a cruise ship captain: lots of glitz and glamour, but having little connection to the mostly-hidden work which keeps the boat steaming along. That’s the view of new research finding Apple’s retail partners sold more iPhones than Apple’s physical stores…

Apple sold just 21 percent of iPhones purchased between December 2011 and August 2012, according to a study by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP). Indeed, AT&T outlets sold 28 percent and Verizon sold 26 percent of iPhones.

Sprint recently said it sold more iPhones than Apple Stores.

As for iPads, Best Buy and Amazon combined sold nearly as many as Apple’s 250 US stores.

Mac sales was the only segment Apple Stores dominate, selling 47 percent of computers during the period, according to CIRP figures. Retail giant Best Buy was the next closest, selling 27 percent.

It’s easy to forget Apple has relatively few retail stores. Apple Stores had $4.1 billion in sales last quarter, producing more profit per square foot than even high-toned Tiffany.

However, the research tells a different story.

“You can’t sell 40 million plus iPhones in a year through just 250 stores,” CIRP co-founder Josh Lowitz told AllThingsD.

Look at the numbers.

Apple has 372 stores worldwide – 250 just in the US.

By comparison, the company’s US carrier partners – AT&T, Verizon and Sprint – have 5,000 combined.

Best Buy has 1,300 domestic retail locations.

This leaves Apple “reliant on the carriers and Best Buy, not to mention Walmart, Target and others, for the vast majority of their retail sales,” said CIRP partner Mike Levin.

In other words, while publicly it appears as if retailers will jump through any hoop in order to land Apple, it actually could be the other way around. If retailers are selling most of Apple’s wares, how hard can the Cupertino, California company make its demands?

For instance, if AT&T and Verizon combined sell more than half of all US iPhones, how is Apple able to demand that the carriers don’t clutter up the smartphone’s desktop with non-Apple applications, as is common practice with other handsets?

Are retailers receiving incentives other than Apple’s well-known ‘halo’ effect that increases sales of other products?

This is an interesting side story to follow.

Where did you purchase your last iPhone?

  • Kurt

    no need for a survey to state the obvious. of course carriers are the ones who sell the most

  • Research: Study shows Apple gets paid either way.

    • I have to agree. Sure I always buy my iPhone from AT&T but it’s just because it’s more convenient. If I could only buy direct from Apple I’d still buy, I’d just either order online or go the extra hike to get to the Apple store.

  • It makes sense, there are more wireless retail stores then apple stores… I have 5 apple stores in my area and probably more than 100 Verizon stores.

  • think about it there isnt a apple store in every city

  • Most people I know order from the Carrier. I actually talk with a lot of people that don’t even realize you can BUY an iPhone from the Apple store. They just assume the carriers are the only ones carrying them.

  • I preordered my iPhone 5 from the Apple Store app on my phone it was pretty easy. However, I got my iPhone 4 from Best Buy, and my iPhone 3G from AT&T. I guess I’m contributing to all sources. So far, best buy was the worst, they never carry more than 15 on any given day and even if you call ahead, they usually don’t have them. We will see if my iPhone 5 is delivered on the date they say it will.

  • Zac7

    Makes sense that carriers sell more, but your point about apples demands and the carriers having more leverage makes no sense. Apple decides who can sell the phone. If sprint wanted to put something on it then apple could say sorry your out. Dumb post.

  • Vijay Singh

    I was lucky, I preorder my iphone 5 on Thursday at Walmart and it was available on Friday. Customer service was no where near to apple but it was very short line.

  • Milad Khahil

    I ordered my iphone 5 with App Store on my iPhone 4S and got it as they said on Friday the first week it came out …

  • of course!

  • I bought my last iPhone from an Apple store, but only because I wanted an unlocked. I think the majority of phones sold from Apple store directly would be unlocked if you ask me

  • I drive 25 miles to the Apple store instead of going 2 miles to ATT.