The A.P.P.L.E. Way

The WSJ just did an interesting deep-dive on the Apple retail stores, interviewing current and past employees and obtaining some of their training manuals.  One of the things that stuck out for me was the fact that they aren't really relying on some technology advantage -- its about carefully controlling the customer experience.  For example, they use the acronym APPLE as follows:

  • A - Approach customers with a personalized warm welcome
  • P- Probe politely to understand all the customer's needs
  • P - Present a solution for the customer to take home today
  • L- Listen for and resolve any issues or concerns
  • E- End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return.

Nothing high-tech about that at all.  Each employee receives at least 40 hours of training to ensure they know the products and understand how to treat customers.  They are not on commission and earn a typical $9-$15/hr or around $30/hr at the Genius Bar.

And the results are an impressive $4406 per square foot.  To put that in context, compare it to Tiffany at $3070, Coach at $1776, and Best Buy at $880.

From what I've read, Steve Jobs is a bit of a control freak, and that definitely extends into the stores.  When he first returned to Apple, he tried the "store within a store" concept with big box retailers like CompUSA and Circuit City.  But he couldn't control the user experience and thus could not adequately differentiate from the Windows offerings.  This led to the eventual hiring of Ron Johnson from Target (who recently announced he's leaving Apple to run JCPenney), and the two collaborated on new store formats to show off Apple's products.

The concept was to create a destination showroom, not a retail  store.  Stores were a place to showcase the products and talk to customers in a very inviting environment.  Apple has always been good at taking care of their zealots, and this was just an extension to the less geeky public.  Back in 2001 they insisted on a point-of-sale that ran on their hardware, which is how we landed the business.  These days, most of the registers have been phased out or hidden in favor of the iPod Touch mobile POS.

Other retailers have tried to emulate the model, but no one has seen success.  Apple is Apple, and they did exactly what worked for their business.  No one else is Apple, so no one else should copy their stores.  But retailers can and should be inspired by Apple's success and strive to find ways to improve their own customers' in-store experience.  And it doesn't take a ton of technology.

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David Dorf, Sr Director Technology Strategy for Oracle Retail, shares news and ideas about the retail industry with a focus on innovation and emerging technologies.


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