In a year when people are scared of the gift card—the retailer could go out of business!—this one, like everything Apple, is defying retail trends.
Fortune: Kaufman Bros. analyst Shaw Wu has been checking with his contacts in Apple’s (AAPL) supply and distribution channels and reports that demand for the iPhone is “fairly healthy” in the U.S., Europe and, with the exception of Japan, most of Asia Pacific. He’s anticipating sales of 6 million units for the December quarter (Apple’s fiscal 2009 Q1), down from 6.9 million in Q4 but in line with the Street’s expectations of between 5 and 7 million.
But that significantly understates actual demand for the iPhone, Wu says, because it doesn’t include the wild card in this holiday season’s iPhone sales: the iPhone gift card.
“We think there is strong reception of AAPL’s new iPhone 3G Gift Card program,” Wu wrote in a report to clients Wednesday, “where the process of giving the iPhone as a gift is greatly simplified without the need for activation and personal information. … We estimate several hundred thousand to one million units could be impacted.”
The good news about these gift cards is that Apple gets to collect the revenue up front, which improves cash flow. The bad news for Apple’s Q1 earnings is that it can’t recognise the sale of an iPhone until the customer activates it. “The risk here is that the customer will likely activate post-Christmas,” writes Wu. “Therefore revenue and units won’t likely be recognised until the March quarter.”