Customers Pay to Get Out of iPhone Lines

The Craigslist marketplace helps Apple fanatics to avoid the wait.

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The cheapest version of the new iPhone costs nearly $200, plus tax. Waiting in line for it can run even higher—missing work and potentially breakfast, not to mention missing out on priceless sleep.

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Fortunately, people worried about the opportunity cost of standing in line can pay someone else to do it. One company that connects customers with errand-runners, TaskRabbit, ran a promotion in San Francisco and New York City in which people wanting an iPhone could pay $55 to hire a TaskRabbit (as the errand-runners are called) for four hours of Apple store line-standing. The company found itself inundated with linestanding requests.

"It's been a little insane, actually," says Jamie Viggiano, head of corporate marketing at TaskRabbit. When she left the office last night, she says, there were 230 requests for line standers for the iPhone 5. She compares this to the 80 requests for the most recent iPad launch, and adds that it is "most definitely" bigger demand than for the other iPhone launches her company has handled. Though demand was remarkably high, Viggiano estimates that 99 percent of the linestander requests thus far have been fulfilled.

[Read about the long lines for the latest iPhone.]

The TaskRabbit customers were out $55, but many gained extra sleep time.

"We had a lot of 4:00 a.m. wait times. And then somebody would swap in with them at 8," when Apple stores started distributing the phones, she said.

You don't have to be an organized company to make money off of the launch, though. Plenty of enterprising individuals took to Craigslist to make an extra few bucks.

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"Hi I have nothing to do tonight so I can stand online for you to get the iPhone 5," said one New York City post asking for $150 for an unspecified length of line-standing time. One posting in Los Angeles asked for $400. Plenty others offered more competitive prices, however, often well below $100.

The customers in line at Washington, D.C..'s Apple store this morning didn't have the option of hiring TaskRabbit, which doesn't operate in the city. Still, many seemed perfectly happy to stand patiently while extra security guards—hired specifically for the day—and blue-shirted Apple employees looked on.

Sri, 28, and Kiran, 30, both left work at a nonprofit educational association in the district to get their phones. Standing near the back of a roughly 30-person line around mid-morning, they were both excited to upgrade from their current iPhones.

Kiran said he didn't think his boss would mind. "I just texted him, saying that I'd be back in 30 minutes," he said. It ended up being a bit longer—nearly an hour later, he rushed off from the store to get to a meeting.

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If you must wait in line for your iPhone, it helps to have a more accommodating office culture. Antti, a 33-year-old self-employed website developer, joked that his boss "encouraged" him to come buy the new phone. After an hour of waiting, he was still about a dozen spots from the front of the line, where cheerful Apple store employees were letting customers into the store, not yet open for regular business, one by one.

He acknowledged that he would usually have been working for the morning, rather than standing around on Wisconsin Avenue.

Was the wait worth it? "Yeah, I hope so," he said, adding that he was excited to switch out his iPhone 4 for the new model. However, he recognized that new technology can come with glitches: "I mean, the maps are going to suck, but I think I'm just going to live with it."

Danielle Kurtzleben is a business and economics reporter for U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter at @titonka or via E-mail at dkurtzleben@usnews.com.


Corrected on 9/21/12: An earlier version of this story misstated where the TaskRabbit promotion was running. It ran in San Francisco and New York City.