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MacWorld Tokyo 2003: RIP. What about Apple in Japan?

By Matthew Sparby, December 13, 2002

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If you had plans to attend Macworld Expo Tokyo in late March, you should prepare for some disappointment. MacUser UK reports that expo organizer IDG has cancelled the Tokyo event due to a lack of key exhibitors including Adobe, Macromedia and Microsoft, who presumably chose to skip the show when the headliner, Apple, decided not to participate.

For several days after the MacUser UK story, IDG Japan’’s Web site listed links and sponsors for Macworld Expo Tokyo. Since the original writing of this article, those pages and links have been updated.

This decision by Apple echoes the news from October when it was announced that it may not be participating in the 2004 Macworld Expo in Boston after IDG made plans to move the conference away from New York. IDG insisted that the show would go on with or without Apple’s attendance and even suggested that it may not allow Apple to participate in the larger Macworld Expo San Francisco in retaliation. IDG eventually decided to leave the issue of future Expos open and allow Apple to choose its events a la carte.

According to official numbers from IDG, the Tokyo expo drew 173,000 attendees in 2002. That adds up to twice the attendance of the San Francisco event that drew 87,000 people last January and three times as many as the New York show that attracted only 58,000 visitors last July. While the Tokyo numbers may seem impressive from this perspective, adjusting for repeat visitors brings the number down to 157,000, which is quite short of the pre-show estimates of 180,000 attendees.

Missing attendance projections is probably not the biggest factor in Apple’s decision to skip the expos. A generally slow economy has all companies rethinking their spending, and marketing dollars are often the first to be reallocated. In Apple’s case, there is a new channel for its efforts. With 51 locations currently open in 24 states and more on the way, the Apple retails stores have been a big hit with existing Mac users. Perhaps of even more importance, the stores have also been popular with the Windows users that Apple has been courting with its “Switch” campaign. An estimated 40 percent of Apple Store visitors are Windows users who aren’t as likely to attend a Macworld Expo. For the Thanksgiving holiday week, Apple reported 365,000 visitors to its retail stores. This dwarfs the combined attendance of all three Macworld Expos this year.

All existing retail locations are within the United States; however, rumors about international locations abound. In July, Cnet reported that Apple was planning a store in the Netherlands and a job opening posted on Apple’s Web site in August and reported by MacNN sought an “Apple Store Sales Operations Manager” in Tokyo. Additionally, it is expected that Apple will be opening retail outlets in Canada and Australia. If such broad expansion plans do materialize, it could help to explain Apple’s motives for abandoning Macworld Expo Tokyo.

Unlike an expo, where money typically flows one way without any tangible return on investment occurring in the future, a retail store presence provides instant gratification. Special events at an Apple retail store such as the Jaguar release event in August or the day-after-Thanksgiving event can produce lines of thousands of people waiting to get into the stores ready to spend money as well as an impressive amount of press coverage. If Apple can continue this kind of success in the future and can effectively implement the strategy in Tokyo, it could prove to be a much wiser and more cost-effective marketing scheme than a trade show booth.

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