BlackBerry Q10: has it really sold out?

29 Apr 2013

BlackBerry had a cheerful Monday morning, with its BlackBerry Q10 reportedly selling out in the UK and causing queues at Selfridges, which had the device exclusively for the launch weekend. The posh department store claimed the Q10 was the fastest selling consumer electronics device in its history, selling out within two hours; now, stock is being delivered hourly to "keep up with demand", the breathless press release stated.

Tales of "selling out" are entirely meaningless unless you know how many were stocked in the first place  -- which BlackBerry or Selfridges have yet to tell us.

So we decided to go undercover to find the truth. Disguised as a Selfridges shopper -- I'm wearing silly shoes and I'm female -- I went in, dodging the dangers of Oxford Street (tourists, chuggers, buses) to bring back this exclusive investigative report.

According to my sources (Selfridges' signage), the technology department is buried on the lower ground floor, past the Cath Kidston concession, near the expensive stationary. Next to the escalators is a slick-looking pop-up stand promoting the Q10, with handsets to try out.

While I surreptitiously took photos -- pretending I was sending a text message at an awkward angle so as not to alert the security guards -- a few shoppers fiddled with the demo handsets. However, the stand had no sales staff -- at first glance, it appeared BlackBerry was making the same mistake as Microsoft with the Surface RT, and failing to supply a good retail experience; it wasn't clear how to buy one of the devices, and there was nobody around  to answer questions.

A local informant (the cashier) informed me the real BlackBerry experts were further down, in the "Carphone Warehouse bit". There, the same pop-up stand was repeated, with Q10 and Z10 handsets galore, and staff to assist the dozen or so customers milling about.

Has the Q10 sold out? Using my disguise to pose as a young woman shopping for a gift for her (imaginary, but wealthy and attractive, with a good sense of humour) boyfriend, I subtly interrogated the sales staff. He'd only just come on shift, so had to check if any Q10 handsets were in stock; he returned to reveal the Carphone Warehouse in Selfridges had 1,000 in stock -- but did expect them to sell quickly.

On Saturday, he informed me, the Q10 had sold out in under an hour -- though he wasn't sure how many units Selfridges had in the first place. However, 100 of the handsets had just this morning been bought by one man with a large suitcase -- backing up The Guardian's suggestion that resellers were coming in and buying the Q10 in bulk for overseas sales (the handset is so far only available in the UK).

The device was so popular, that to avoid disappointing my (imaginary) boyfriend, my contact advised me to buy immediately; his pushy sales tactics almost blew my cover ("um, I've got to, um, do some stuff, uh, first" -- PC Pro sadly doesn't have a budget for gifts for my made-up relationships), but I managed to escape with no worse than a few odd looks.

Our investigation can therefore reveal that the Q10 is indeed selling briskly, but remains readily available. However, Selfridges may be acting as little more than wholesalers to overseas resellers, pandering to those who can make a quick buck by selling the Q10 at a even greater premium in foreign markets.

At least BlackBerry appears to have learned from the mistakes of others (hello, Microsoft), and has trained staff to explain the merits of the Q10 -- I got a fully detailed explanation of the BlackBerry 10, specifically the Hub message system, how the gestures work, and the new camera tools. With consumers increasingly looking for smartphone alternatives, that attention to retail detail may be worth much more in the end to BlackBerry's ailing bottom line than headlines that the Q10 has sold out.

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