October 20, 2010, 11:32 AM

Apple picks Wal-Mart for iPad

Apple, you’ve done it again.

Here at Internet Retailer, editors are assigned a few retailers to monitor as the holiday season approaches. One of my duties is checking out the Facebook page for Wal-Mart each week. Along with learning all about Choc-o-Lantern Pop-Tarts and how I could dress my kitty up as a pirate for Halloween, I found out via a Facebook post on Wal-Mart’s fan page that the iPad would soon be available at select Wal-Mart stores and online.

My editor’s theory is that Apple is trying to get lots of iPads into consumers’ hands before all the Android tablets show up in the next month or two. They’ve seen what happened with smartphones. After corresponding with some other editors, I quickly found Verizon is also now selling the iPad, though not the 3G version that would connect to Verizon’s cellular network. (Another colleague theorizes this is a precursor to Verizon getting the rights to sell the iPhone—and to provide it with cellular service—once Apple’s exclusive deal with AT&T expires soon.)

Indeed, Apple is surely worried about the Android tablet as well as all the BlackBerry Playbooks that will soon be hitting store shelves in the next couple months.

I also fully realize Wal-Mart isn’t the first store chain selling the iPad. Best Buy and Target both sell it, with Best Buy also carrying Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader and Sony Electronics’ Reader.

But I have an issue with Apple selling at Wal-Mart. There’s something wrong with the pair. I harken back to a blog post I wrote a few weeks ago that prompted an interesting comment from a reader who attempted to explain how Apple is different.

“It seems to me that Apple makes their money on selling specialties, on selling to people that WANT the next cool thing,” the reader, a developer, wrote. “They understand the importance of innovation because once a specialty is discovered by the commoditizers it begins to lose its value. Innovation drives their ability to come up with the next thing that puts them back at the beginning of the curve with another new specialty that people want and snap up at a high rate.”

I couldn’t help but think: What is Wal-Mart known for selling? Commodities—at rolled back prices to boot. Wal-Mart seems to me to be the exact opposite type of retailer Apple, with its hipster-with-money and grown-up-and-now-wealthy-nerd fan base, would want selling its newest gadget. To me, Apple is, by its own hand, helping turn its newest product into a commodity by selling it at one of the biggest discount chains in the world.

Yes, I know that Wal-Mart already sells iPhones, iPods and iPod Touches. And I’m fully prepared for readers to lash back and note that its choice to do so didn’t signal the demise for those Apple devices. But to me, it’s a practice that will slowly erode Apple’s brand image over time. I wonder when the conflict between the brand image Apple strives to portray and its desire for more sales will catch up with it

So can Apple keeps its discerning, loyal customers who are willing to pay premium prices for the latest and greatest if it keeps stocking Wal-Mart’s shelves? To me it’s a little like selling Dom Pérignon at Denny’s. I’m not a marketing major, but Apple, I wouldn’t keep doing it.

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