Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

Apple's iPhone 5 as loss leader

December 19, 2012: 8:03 AM ET

Big chains are selling the hot phone at steep discounts. Good luck trying to find one.

Overstock Auction ad

Overstock Auction ad

FORTUNE -- If you follow Apple (AAPL) news half as obsessively as I do, you've no doubt heard that Walmart (WMT) and now Fry's Electronics are selling the iPhone 5 at steep discounts -- $127 and $126, respectively. I've seen a lot of headlines, and even some commentary to the effect that the discounting shows that the "niche premium magic" of the "once uber-cool gizmo" is gone, not to mention Apple's enviable profit margins.

The thing is, I've haven't heard of anyone who managed to buy a dscounted iPhone 5 at Walmart or Fry's. I'm sure the big chain stores must have had at least a few in stock. Unlike outfits such as Overstock Auction (see promo at right), they're not entirely bait-and-switch shops. But I'm pretty sure they're selling them at a loss, and I suspect that whatever limited supplies Apple consigned to them ran out quickly.

AllThingsD's Tricia Duryee spent a couple hours Friday calling Walmart Supercenters in the Bay Area trying to locate a $127 iPhone 5, with no success.

She had better luck than I did. I couldn't get any of the Walmart electronics departments in the New York City metro area to answer the phone. 

If you've managed to buy an iPhone 5 at Fry's or Walmarts, tell us about it in the comment stream.

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Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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