The latest Chicago store has a laptop-shaped roof. Once finished, the retail haven will resemble a giant transparent box, blurring the boundaries between inside and outside, architects have said. Whatever you think of the brand, it’s hard to deny that Apple is a leader in redefining the brick-and-mortar shopping experience.
Apple’s response to the rise of eCommerce is clear: Don’t nix brick-and-mortar, reinvent it. Turn visits to your stores into adventures that let customers sample the latest bedazzling products without pressure from reps. Have associates forgo the sales-pitch. Invite customers to explore. The merchandise itself — along with its gallery-like presentation — will make the ultimate sale.
Apple has been redefining retail — offering classes, on-hand experts and lightning-fast salesfloor check-outs — for at least a decade. In 2007, Chicago’s Michigan Avenue site was already a tourist attraction — and the tourists didn’t just window shop. The store earned $14 million in revenue that year. The new Chicago store with its selfie-inspiring roof will undoubtedly surpass the old.
The company has also taken a new step in providing what it calls a “people-based” rather than “product based” experience. It’s just introduced the Today at Apple program, a series of courses, like robot-coding for kids, designed to turn each of its 495 sites into a community hub.
“We’re creating a modern-day town square, where everyone is welcome in a space where the best of Apple comes together to connect with one another, discover a new passion or take their skill to the next level. We think it will be a fun and enlightening experience for everyone who joins,” said Apple’s senior vice president of retail, former Burberry CEO, Angela Ahrendts in a release.
Apple “Creative Pros” teach the courses and attempt to bridge the gap between the store’s “Geniuses” and everyday computer users. Some say this will help a neglected corner of the Apple market, tech-challenged baby boomers, feel more at home.
Although the average college store can’t afford something as extravagant as a Macbook®-shaped roof, directors might glean advice from Apple’s retail innovations:
- Think people, not products — If you want students to frequent your store, offer ways for them to connect under your roof: coffee, comfortable chairs, discussion-centered courses. Even video games can become communal in the right locale.
- Allow play — A lot of products sell themselves if customers are not just permitted but encouraged to experiment on site. When we associate a product with a joyful moment of exploration, we’re likely to return for more.
- Don’t underestimate the power of display — Stage your products with care and they will become an aesthetic experience students want to repeat.
- Be audacious — If someone hasn’t done it before, that’s probably a good sign. Want to host a ramen-noodle cook-off, launch a wacky YouTube® show, host an all-night party for the sleepless during finals? Go for it. It doesn’t have to be explicitly about sales to work.
Whether you choose to learn from Apple or not, their retail efforts offer good news: Brick-and-mortar retail isn’t dying so much as changing. That which doesn’t kill you might make you stranger — it can also make you more fun.