Dec. 14, 2012 at 4:19 PM ET
Update 7:25 p.m. ET: A spokeswoman for Wal-Mart said Friday that the company inadvertantly said that the fourth-generation iPad would be available for $399. In fact, it is an older model iPad that is available for that price.
Wal-Mart said Friday that it had would offer discounts on favorite Apple products, including two models of iPhones and an iPad.
The sales, which spokeswoman Sarah Spencer said would run through the holiday season, could be a deal for gadget-loving consumers and may be a way for Wal-Mart to get a last-minute holiday sales boost.
But the move also left some retail analysts questioning whether such bargain-basement deals could put a dent in Apple’s premium reputation.
The big-box discounter said it would offer a 16 GB, older model third generation iPad with WiFi for $399, plus a $30 iTunes gift card. The newer, fourth-generation model iPad selling for a $499 list price on Apple’s website. The spokeswoman, speaking on behalf of Wal-Mart, said the retailer had been selling the older model for $499 as well.
The 16 GB iPhone 5 is selling at Wal-Mart for $127, compared to $199 on the Apple website.
The 16 GB iPhone 4S is selling for $47 at Wal-Mart, compared with $99 on the corporate site.
The discounts are all starting immediately, and the gift card will be available starting Monday.
One key part of Apple’s successful formula has been to sell its own products in branded retail stores, part of an overall strategy of creating an Apple-centric universe of products, apps and the like.
Microsoft has even gone so far as to copy the move, creating its own retail stores to sell Windows 8 products including the Surface.
Brian Sozzi, a retail industry analyst and editor of Decoding Wall St., said Apple’s branding effort could be undermined if customers figure out that they can get a better deal elsewhere.
“You start to worry about, well, mixed messages,” Sozzi said. “You now have consumer discounts (at) Wal-Mart stores, and then a full-price experience at a mall-based store.”
Other retailers also appear to be offering consumers a better deal than Apple itself. Best Buy’s website on Friday listed the comparable iPhone 5 for $149, while a similar 4S was selling for $49.99. The same model iPad was selling on Best Buy’s website for $499.99.
Spencer, the Wal-Mart spokeswoman, said the retailer has offered sales like this in the past and that it always works with Apple when coming up with such deals. She declined to comment on how the pricing would affect the company’s bottom line.
“We’re striking a balance between being competitive and giving our customers the products they want,” she said.
Sozzi saw the sale as a last-minute effort to boost sales in the all-important retail season, and he noted that it is a good deal for customers looking to save some money on a premium product.
But he said seeing such a good deal, especially on a slightly more dated model like the iPhone 4S, could cause some consumers to rethink the general mentality of paying top dollar for Apple’s most recent gadget as soon as it comes out.
He noted that it’s especially hard to keep up now that Apple has so many products coming out so quickly. He said it may make some customers think that they “might as well just wait it out.”