The Apple Store is much more than a place to buy a product.
Over the weekend, a report from Bloomberg revealed that Apple still plans to open more retail locations despite an overall shift in the retail industry to online sales.
The report said that Apple sees its stores as “an opportunity for people to experience new technology, ask questions and attend workshops on Apple’s products.”
Apple Inc. will add to its global retail presence even as stores in inner cities struggle with an accelerating shift to sales online during the coronavirus pandemic, Germany’s Funke Mediengruppe reported. The Cupertino, California-based company operates about 500 Apple stores globally, including 100 in Europe. Retail locations offer an opportunity for people to experience new technology, ask questions and attend workshops on Apple’s products, Funke said, citing Deirdre O’Brien, the iPhone maker’s senior vice president of retail and people.
There have been some who, upon learning of this news, felt that it was the wrong move for Apple to continue to focus its effort on opening physical stores and should shift all of its focus to its online business. Basically, they believe that physical retail will either die or not be profitable enough to justify keeping it around. While those ideas are certainly true for a number of physical retailers out there, anyone who has walked into an Apple Store knows that the ability to purchase a product is only one of the many reasons that the store exists.
I remember watching one Apple event when then-Apple Retail VP Angela Ahrendts called Apple Stores “gathering places.” While it sounded a little hokey, it might actually be one of the simplest ways to describe what an Apple Store is truly designed to be: a place where people gather for any need that they have for their experience with the brand.
I worked at an Apple Store and got to experience just how much the store offered to customers outside of sales. Granted, we did that too, and well – the shopping experience that Apple wants you to have at one of its stores is mostly unmatched. However, outside of the Sales experience, the store did a lot more that, when I think about it, was really the heart of the store to begin with.
One of the obvious things that an Apple Store also features is the Genius Bar or, in some cases, the now Genius Grove. If you ever have a problem with your Apple device, whether it be a cracked screen or a software issue, you can schedule an appointment and get help right at your local store. For anyone who has bought any other electronic brand, you know that Apple stands pretty much alone with supporting its devices this way. Almost every other brand either requires you to ship it out or take it to a third-party repair shop.
Another major part of the Apple Store is Today at Apple, the company’s collection of in-store classes and events that aim to help everyone learn how to take their devices to the next level. With Today at Apple, you can schedule a time to learn how to use your iPhone, draw on iPad with Apple Pencil, or get started with music with Garageband on Mac. A number of stores will also host events like a local artist, musician, or other creatives to showcase their work and teach others how to accomplish what they did.
In addition to these two enormous pillars of the Apple Store, plenty of stores also have an Apple Business division that helps small businesses in their local areas deploy Apple devices in their workplace or education systems. This one is probably least known, but I remember the Business crew at my store and they were some of the most knowledgeable people in the store. If you have a business that uses (or wants to use) Apple devices, the Business team at your local Apple Store is a hidden gem.
Of course, Apple has online versions of the Genius Bar, Today at Apple, support for businesses, and obviously sales. However, there is one thing that Apple Stores do for the company that all of these things can’t do online: they can’t all come together into one beautifully built location and create an incredible experience for any customer.
Though retail is certainly shifting overall to online, Apple realizes that its stores play a crucial part in the company’s desired experience for its customers and, while changes will occur, the future of Apple Retail is bright.