June 15, 2012

Apple's Retail Tilt Shift

I'm not a big shopper. What little shopping I do is usually performed from the comfort of my recliner with my laptop's browser pointed to a few select online retailers. The first Christmas I purchased all my gifts online was 1999. I even purchased my first Christmas tree online. There is one shop that I love to visit in person and that is Apple's retail establishment. I have a problem going to a mall in a new town and not taking a browse through the Apple store, even if I have zero intention of ever buying anything. How is it that Apple can convince me, someone who calls a large, multi-tenant structure built solely for the purpose of commerce a 'maul' instead of a 'mall', convince me to spend more time in their store than the rest of my time in the building visiting all other stores combined? Call me a fan-boy if you want, but you would be wrong.

Until I read this article in Forbes, which discussed some of the strategies Apple uses to lure in customers, even I was confused as to why this little-Mecca of technological innovation drew me like a moth to a flame. No matter how many times I have stepped across that threshold, it has never lost the wonder, the child-like glee, of that initial visit.

Walk into any AppleRetail Store when it opens in the morning and you might notice that all of the new MacBook Pro notebooks with retina display are positioned at exactly the same angle. Employees who open the store use an iPhone app as a level to tilt all the screens to exactly the same angle (the Simply Angle app is a popular choice to measure degree of inclination).
Attention to detail, even something as small as the angle of the screens, that sets Apple stores apart from other retail experiences. Don't believe me, listen to the author:
Walk into a ‘big box’ retailer and you often find the opposite scenario. The devices are turned off and the screens are black. It should be no surprise that some of these retailers like Best Buy are in financial trouble and looking for ways to improve the customer experience.
Lots of retail establishments have people at the door to greet you, but most are inauthentic. These people are obviously there to get you to buy something. Apple employees just don't seem to work that way. But its not just the people, think about where the Apple store employees who greet you are versus other retailers. The Apple store employees are with their products; they don't stand apart, they don't say "Hi" and drop you as you walk past, they go with you into the store.

One of my favorite stories is of a couple guys I work with, both of whom are in charge of purchasing Apple gear for their organization. These guys buy for hundreds of people and when they walk into the local Apple store, its like Norm from Cheers just walked into the bar. These two guys are known by name by just about every single Apple retail employee. Its astounding to watch them greeted by a dozen smiling faces as they walk the length of the store. This is the Apple retail difference.

My town once had a Gateway store and for a short time, a Dell experience. Both were awful places. It was like visiting a Staples that just sold computers. Not that Staples is necessarily a terrible place, just not a place I want to go. Just because you build a shop that has something in it I might need, doesn't mean I want to go there. I've seen hospitals that I want to visit more often than most retail stores. Apple just isn't like that. Some part of me wishes that more retail organizations understood this, but then I realize if they did get it, Apple would lose something that makes them special. The last thing I want is to make that awesome experience of visiting an Apple retail store something just like the Abercrombie & Fitch next door.