From my experience I see two retail chains that are consistently and constantly busy and full of customers: Costco and Apple. In their own way they have redefined the physical retail shopping experience.
If you are ever in Costco there are hundreds of people essentially pushing their carts through a warehouse invariably filling those carts with items that they didn’t even come in to buy.
If you ever walk by an Apple store you will not only see a crowd of people inside but you will often see a long line of people outside waiting to get into the store. There is no doubt that there is something unique about the Apple retail experience.
According to Forbes, and many other sources for that matter, the number one brand in the world is Apple. And it has held this illustrious position for 10 years in a row.
With respect to the stock market Apple is also the company with the highest market capitalization in the world, with a value of over $2.5 Trillion dollars.
But this wasn’t always the case. As Apple has evolved over time, redefining and repositioning itself it has risen to claim these number one positions. A part of that strategy and evolution has been the creation and proliferation of the highly unique and celebrated Apple store.
Over time many companies have tried and failed to enter the brick-and-mortar retail marketplace. Many have entered and many have failed. The prospects for Apple creating this retail channel and succeeding were met with similar expectations of failure. But you can never underestimate Apple and the Apple store.
Apple launched its first store in Virginia in May, 2001. Within 3 years the Apple stores reached over $1 billion in sales, the fastest retailer to ever achieve this milestone. Apple stores also rank amongst the top retails in sales per square foot ($5550 per square foot).
Since then Apple has opened and operates 522 physical Apple stores in 25 different countries. Over time the company has continued to reshape and refine the store design and further enhance the customer experience, if that were possible.
Apple stores have over 1 million customer visits per day. 1 million customers per day! That’s astonishing.
The Unique Characteristics and Strategy
The popularity of the Apple store, and all of the resultant achievements and kudos, are a result of the design and execution of the entire Apple store experience.
As soon as you walk into one of these stores you can see the differences from most other retailers.
Clean glass windows, simple lines, clean aesthetics, lots of white, great lighting, a lack of clutter with products (iPhones, iPads, Watches, MacBooks, Macs, Apple TV,…) lined up on simple tables allotted a generous amount of space, the genius bar in the back of the store, store associates greeting you quickly with a smile and an offer to help or to let you browse.
The store is not crowded with inventory. Aside from seeing an assortment of different accessories at the back of the store you do not see rows and rows of shelves crammed with products.
And all of the main products are Apple products. The accessories and more ancillary items are branded by other companies. But these accessories are the complementary supporting cast for the Apple products themselves.
Busy-ness and active conversation can be seen everywhere. Whether you are a novice and uneducated with respect to technology or if you are very tech-savvy, there is someone to engage with you at your level. This attention to exceptional customer service is quickly understood.
You can explore, touch and interact with the products on display. You gantry them out in a hands on environment, you can try them out, and you can ask questions, not matter how simple or complicated, and have a conversation with a knowledgable and trustworthy Apple associate, or even with other customers.
This is key. You don’t feel like you are in a store, per se. You feel like you are in a more casual environment, which means you can relax more, and have real conversations with store personnel. You don’t feel like you are being pressured to buy or being upsold. You get the sense that they are truly there to help you.
And part of that customer service response is because they are not being paid on commission or quota. They don’t have that personal internal pressure which can cause other salespeople at other retailers to focus more on the sale than on customer service.
Sales associates are trained to focus on creating a more emotional relationship with their customers and not just a transactional relationship.
When you do decide to buy the great and unique customer experience continues. You don’t have to stand in a line and wait to get up to the cash register or credit card machine. Wherever you are standing in the store your associate has a hand held device which enables them to create and process your order and order payment.
And then they will go to the back of the store and get your products for you. You don’t have to carry any items throughout the store from shelf to shelf looking for what you want. When you are ready to buy, and only then, do you have to carry any product at all.
Apple is removing the word “store” in identifying its locations so as to convey the subliminal that this is not just a store but an experience. They are now considered more of a town square or communal meeting place than just a “store”.
According to futurestores.wbresearch.com, “Apple Store associates are trained to walk customers through five distinct service steps (based on Ritz Carlton service guidelines), which spells out the acronym APPLE:
A: Approach customers with a personalized, warm welcome
P: Probe politely to understand the customer’s needs
P: Present a solution for the customer to take home today
L: Listen for and resolve issues or concerns
E: End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return”
And let’s not forget the Genius Bar. Even those who consider themselves to be technologically aware can run into technical problems that they can’t solve. Instead of trying to solve issues through an online chat or over the phone you can schedule an appointment with the geniuses at the Genius Bar.
They will listen to your problem and will work to solve it interactively with you. This enables them to educate you and help you at the same time. You feel more understood as they empathize and share their real life experiences with those specific issues that you are having.
The results are clear, as we have previously stated. Apple’s brand popularity and value, its revenue and profits, and its market capitalization are all a result of the strength of the Apple products, the Apple experience, and Apple employees.
Part of that is clearly the outrageous success of the Apple store. Even if you don’t like Apple, you have to envy and admire the look and feel of an Apple store and the crowd of customers and associates therein.
As you leave an Apple store, new product in hand or problem resolved, you feel good. You’ve just had a completely unique and different experience from virtually every other store.
While you don’t need to go there often, you do know that you will be excited to go back when the time is right and re-experience that unique Apple store customer service all over again.