Why doesn't Amazon sell iPhones?

Amazon sells virtually everything, but it has never offered the newest iPhones on its site, a testament to the complicated relationship it has with Apple.

Donna Tam Staff Writer / News
Donna Tam covers Amazon and other fun stuff for CNET News. She is a San Francisco native who enjoys feasting, merrymaking, checking her Gmail and reading her Kindle.
Donna Tam
3 min read

Apple is selling its new iPhones through every major retail site except one -- the biggest one. Josh Miller/CNET

As consumers scramble all over the web to get their hands on Apple's latest creations, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, there's one place no one is looking: Amazon.com.

It seems strange that of all the sellers of consumer electronics, the world's most popular online retail site doesn't feature Apple's iPhone. The device-maker has deals set for all the other top retailer: Best Buy, Walmart, Target. Even retailers that are seen as struggling, such as Staples and Radio Shack, get the chance to hawk the phones.

The unusual exclusion underscores the complicated, and often disjointed, relationship between consumer electronic companies and Amazon, which itself has gotten into the hardware business with e-readers, tablets, and now smartphones. The issue could go back to 2007, when Apple introduced the original iPhone and Amazon decided to get into the hardware business with the first Kindle e-reader.

"Apple views them as a competitor, with the Kindle products, and they would rather not support a competitor," said NPD Group Analyst Stephen Baker, adding that keeping the iPhone off of Amazon is likely a move by Apple to keep the retailer at a disadvantage.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has made an effort to distance his company from Amazon.

"Amazon -- we don't work with that much," he said during an interview with Charlie Rose that aired Friday on PBS. "We have little relationship there."

Despite the overlapping of product categories, Cook said he doesn't see Amazon as competition.

"They sell -- as you know, they sell -- they've come up with a phone," he told Rose. "You don't see it in a lot of places. They have some tablets. But I -- they're -- they're not a product company. Apple is a product company."

Neither company could be reached for comment.

Amazon's Jeff Bezos at the Fire phone launch in Seattle on June 18. James Martin/CNET

Amazon does sell old iPhones through a network of third-party sellers. It also doesn't have a problem hawking other competitors' products, with Google's Chromecast streaming stick among the site's best-selling electronics products, besting Amazon's own Fire TV media device.

Deals between retailers and manufacturers are often complicated by a number of factors, Baker said. Whether they choose to work together can depend on factors like pricing or the performance of a retailer. A device maker may not agree with a discounted price requested by a retailer. There can also be circumstances when a brand thinks a retailer is not capable or willing to promote the product, which would help sales. Any combination of these factors could be why Amazon and Apple aren't striking those deals.

Further confusing things: Amazon does directly sell the Apple TV streaming media box, as well as MacBooks and iMac computers.

Apple's distancing from Amazon comes as the retailer attempts to transform itself into a device company. After Apple launched its iPad in 2010, Amazon followed with its Kindle Fire tablet a year later. Amazon actually made headway with the Kindle Fire thanks to its $199 price tag, a steep drop-off from the iPad's starting price of $499. But over the last three years, the Kindle Fire tablet has waned in significance as other rivals such as Samsung and its Galaxy Tab S tablet have taken over.

Amazon entered the smartphone business this year but the Fire Phone's seemingly dismal sales suggests the product isn't likely on Apple's radar.