In the same month that Borders and Colorado announced they were closing stores all around the country, a small little technology company by the name of Apple celebrated its 10th year in the retail space by becoming more valuable as a company than Microsoft and Intel combined. In the US, more people visit Apple retail stores each year than the four Disney theme parks combined.
But how has Apple succeeded where stalwarts of retail have failed? The answer, it seems, is in the simple idea of making shopping in an Apple Store an experience for the consumer instead of just pressuring them to buy stuff.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal had an in depth report looking behind the scenes of the Apple retail chain, and uncovered some very basic, yet fundamental ideas that make the Apple Store unique. At the top of the list is having staff there to help the consumer rather than sell to them.
But it goes much deeper than that. Apple dictates the minute details of a staff member’s day, going so far as to prohibit them from using words like “unfortunately” while dealing with customers, and not allowing staff to correct customers if they mispronounce a product.
Apple’s success in the retail sphere certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2009, Microsoft opened its own retail store in Arizona, while Sony have their own flagship stores around the world. Neither have seen the same levels of success. Closer to home, JB Hi-Fi recently opened a specialist store in the Sydney CBD dedicated to technology hardware, and video game retailer GAME has recently announced a shift to offer gaming experiences in store to try and promote sales.
Neither JB Hi-Fi or GAME are mimicking Apple’s approach completely. There’s no manifesto to limit the words used by staff, and no wild, cult-like celebrations whenever a new store opens. But both companies are trying to offer a unique shopping experience in an attempt to win consumers loyalties.
As GAME’s marketing director, Ben Grant, told Kotaku in an interview last month, “Book retailers and music retailers didn’t adapt to the changing consumer – we have learned from their mistakes. Adapt or die. This change is purely driven by our customers.”
The experience-led retail approach has certainly worked for Apple. Since opening its first store in Sydney in 2008, the company has expanded to 10 stores around the country, with rumours of at least two more new locations set to open in the near future. Whether the same approach will be as profitable for the other retailers remains to be seen, but a generic shift that sees the customers treated as human beings rather than just potential sales has to be lauded as a good thing.