Orange UK Fumbles On Its iPad Sales Strategy

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Too much celebrating over the holidays? If you need a tablet to take away the pain, perhaps UK operator Orange can help out — it has plenty, apparently. The company had expected to sell tens of thousands of iPads over the holidays, at a reduced price of £199 ($308) when the buyer took out a 24-month contract on the device. But according to industry sources, it has gotten off to a slow start: selling only 1,000 in its first week of sales.

Orange, T-Mobile and Three all launched subsidised iPad offerings in December to capitalise on the holiday tablet rush, tying in customers to two-year data plans in the process.

Orange, for one, had big ambitions, according to a report in The Times: it had expected to sell “tens of thousands” of devices over the holidays.

The 1,000 sales figure has not been confirmed by Orange. Nor is it clear how many subsidised iPads were sold by T-Mobile, which merged with Orange in the UK last year to create Everything Everywhere; or Three.

The Times report notes that “customers were not tempted to subscribe to a long-term £25-a-month deal on top of monthly broadband and mobile phone contracts,” which, if true, would imply that the other two operators would have seen similarly dismal numbers. An Orange UK spokesperson had noted in the article that sales were growing significantly.

If the figures are correct and are an indication of poor sales overall, this represents a pretty significant mis-step by the operators, since in the UK the 3G version of the device was already proving very popular.

According to a report from the market research firm Context, in November, 80 percent of all the iPads sold in the UK were the 3G-enabled version. In that period, sales volumes had gone up by 6.7 percent.

In other words, the iPad opportunity could have been theirs for the taking.

Orange last year merged with T-Mobile in the UK last year to form the group Everything Everywhere, to better compete against Vodafone (NYSE: VOD) and O2.

But although it created the country’s largest operator, with 28 million subscribers, it has so far struggled to grow the combined business: in its first quarterly results, last September, it reported a 4.8 percent decline in revenues to £1.7 billion ($2.6 billion).

The company last month confirmed to the FT that it would retain both the T-Mobile and Orange brands for the near term as a way of keeping a hold on current customers.

We have contacted Everything Everywhere to confirm the report on sales figures and to get some sales figures for T-Mobile, and will update this post when and if we hear more.

Update: an Orange spokesperson emailed us the following statement: “As expected, our iPad sales have grown significantly week-on-week in the run up to Christmas as awareness that we were ranging the product increased, and it remains one of the key devices in our portfolio for the seasonal period.”

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