Apple's Response to the Death of Retail

Traditional retail shopping in the United States is dying. As an industry, retail has had decidedly negative results; and analysts, including Warren Buffet, believe this trend will continue. As shopping continues to shift to the internet (more specifically to Amazon), Malls and department stores are having a particularly difficult time.

Despite this overall trend, Apple's brick and mortar stores have succeeded. Industry experts peg Apple at $5,546 sales per square foot, the highest of any retail store. This doesn't happen on accident.

Apple Stores from the very beginning have been more than places to purchase products. Their tables are filled with devices meant to be held, fidgeted with, used; and their Genius Bars offer device support to customers. Brick and mortar stores must provide an experience, something more than buying products, if they're going to succeed in competition with the internet.

At their recent iPhone event, Apple set aside 7 minutes of valuable stage time (6% of the total according to Neil Cybart) to discuss the furthering of their retail strategy. *Angela Ahrendts, SVP of Retail, announced steps they're taking to continue to transform their stores (now called Town Squares) into gathering places.

They've branded many of the changes Today At Apple.

To accommodate Today At Apple, they've been making significant renovations to standalone stores in major cities, and I expect those changes will trickle down to the smaller stores over time.

  1. Plazas: An outdoor area with seating, tables and free wifi. They'll be hiring local artists to hold free concerts in these areas.
  2. Forums: Indoor meeting places used for free classes (photography, coding, helping local teachers with classroom technology). Some classes will be lead by local artists and others by a new role at Apple, a creative pro. Angela said, "the Creative Pro is to liberal arts as the Apple Genius is to technology."
  3. Board Rooms: Rooms set aside for app developers and local business customers to get specialized help from Apple employees.
  4. Genius Groves: A twist on Genius Bars. Instead of a bar at the back of a store, they've created seating areas mixed with real trees to provide a more calming experience while you wait in line to get your iPhone screen fixed.
  5. Avenues: This is a fancy name for the new way they'll be displaying cases, headphones and other products.. Angela compared it to "window shopping" in a town square.

To prepare for the death of retail, Apple is betting big on in-store experiences for differentiation.


*Note: Angela is known in the retail world for her leadership at the luxury fashion company Burberry before moving to Apple. In her role as SVP, she manages both the online and brick and mortar retail businesses for Apple.

Header image from Apple Newsroom.

TechnologyTimothy Buck