An Inside Look at the Apple Store

I had the opportunity to tag along to the first part of the ?WhatIf! Innovation Field Trip on May 4, 2009. This event began at the Apple Store in SOHO.

The Apple Store session began with an Apple Store GM recounting of the predicted failure of the Apple Stores when they first opened back in 2001. Apple for their part wasn’t seeking to create just a retail store. They wanted to create a place to gather. Their first goal was to get brilliant real estate, and then integrate the store into the community if possible.

The Apple Store started with four products (two laptops and two desktops) – this was before the iPod. They designed the stores to have flexible space – to be flexible to customer needs. In addition to the space being flexible, they’ve been flexible in creating new roles (e.g. Concierge, Creative, etc.) as a need was recognized.

Apple Stores hire for customer service and train new hires on the technical skills. They also try to look ahead at people’s potential and move them around for the best fit. The reason for this is as follows:

1. The Concierges and Floor Staff are about creating the relationship
2. The Studio is about deepening the relationship
3. The Genius Bar is about repairing the relationship if anything goes wrong

To connect with each other before starting the day, employees participate every day in a morning huddle. Employees are also empowered to make suggestions. No suggestion is too crazy.

Apple Store employees seem to believe that they exist to provide information and provide a good ownership experience first, and then if they happen to sell hundreds of millions of dollars of product, so be it. They seem to take pride in each store having its own personality and local decision making capabilities because they want the store to be a gift to the community. Along those lines, Apple Stores have summer camps for kinds and school nights where teachers can bring in their students.

Apple believes that investing in the customer experience will pay off in the future. After all, people’s lives are on these computers, and sometimes people need to have live support available, so Apple Stores provide that. They want to be able to provide the right solutions to people.

While other retailers might get bogged down in features, Apple tries to focus on benefits and orient them towards solutions that resonate with customers. The personal shopping service grew out of the desire to be able to offer busy people a way to schedule time for their questions about Apple products instead of having to wait to speak to someone.

Another solution they decided to offer that didn’t exist when Apple Stores began opening was One-to-One. Apple discovered customers were looking for instructions/advice at the Genius Bar and so they created the $99/yr service (up to one appointment per week) that includes advice on professional apps like Final Cut Pro. The goal of One-to-One is to help customers know how to enjoy their computer at home.

Customer success stories are shared with teams and there is also a section on the One-to-One Portal for success stories. Two examples are a girl that learned how to use Final Cut Pro in the SOHO store and just got a movie into the Tribeca Film Festival, and a 5-foot tall model that wrote a book on the computers on the floor that has since been published.

Question: If One-to-One customers are a losing proposition after maybe session number two, how did you sell it to corporate?

Answer: You have to look beyond the direct cost to revenue comparisons. A service like this creates loyal, happy customers that help to convert other consumers into Apple customers.That’s not easy to measure, but they know it happens. You can’t quantify everything. Sometimes you just have to do the right thing. Ultimately Apple wants to exude passion to create passion.

Not everything succeeds though. The iPod bar was taken out to create the Studio for One-to-One. They continue to experiment in the stores, including the upcoming ProLabs.

The Apple Store GM described the relationship between corporate and retail as linear not vertical. Product managers and developers pay visits to the store to hear the voice of the customer first-hand, and store employees often get called to Cupertino to work on special projects.

Finally, they have a saying in the stores:

“With every Apple computer comes an Apple Store.”

What do you think?


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Braden Kelley

Braden Kelley is a Design Thinking, Innovation and Transformation Consultant, a popular innovation speaker and workshop leader, and helps companies use Human-Centered Change™ to beat the 70% change failure rate. He is the author of Charting Change from Palgrave Macmillan and Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. Braden has been advising companies since 1996, while living and working in England, Germany, and the United States. Braden earned his MBA from top-rated London Business School. Follow him on Twitter and Linkedin.




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