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BlackBerry Refutes Z10 Return Fears, but There's More to the Story

By Steve Heller - Apr 12, 2013 at 11:00AM

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The smartphone maker refutes claims that returns are outpacing sales, but there's still a shadow of doubt.

Yesterday, it was widely reported that BlackBerry's (BB -2.00%) make-or-break device, the Z10, was being returned faster than it was being sold at key retailers. Although this report from Detwiler Fenton sounds troubling, it contains all the characteristics of a storyline that's likely misrepresenting the truth. For one, device returns cannot technically exceed sales, and the report gave zero specifics to strengthen its credibility.

Despite the story's dubious nature, BlackBerry investors reacted poorly, and shares finished the day down over 7%. Near the end of the market session, BlackBerry responded to the report by releasing a statement saying that Z10 returns are completely along the lines of normal for a premium smartphone device, and in some cases, are actually better than expectations. BlackBerry also failed to go into specifics, which perhaps could be why the stock didn't breathe a sigh of relief.

However, there another storyline that's a bit troubling for the BlackBerry Z10.

Amazon has dropped the price of the Z10 to $99 for customers willing to open a brand new two-year AT&T contract. If you're an existing customer, the price increases to $149 for the device -- still $50 below the $199 what AT&T sells it for on its own website.

Either Amazon has some serious economies of scale working in its favor, or sales aren't living up to expectations. Regardless, investors could easily interpret this development negatively because it undermines the Z10's image as a premium device and suggests that the BlackBerry brand no longer commands pricing power. Over the long term, a business that cannot command pricing power puts its long-term profitability in a potentially compromised position.

It doesn't add up
Until investors get more some more hard data about how the BlackBerry Z10 is actually faring, there's likely to be a continuation of extreme sentiment shifts during the short term. If BlackBerry really wants to calm investor fears, why not release some sales data to back up its response?

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