Okay, that’s not strictly true, the iPhone remains the most valuable thing that Apple does – and by some way. However the contribution of the Apple Store to Apple’s success should not be underestimated, a large chunk of Apple’s success stems from its growth of retail locations around the world. And with market focus moving to China and India Apple needs to ensure that its successes in retail translate to these very different markets.
Why is the retail store so important? Firstly because it keeps Apple front and centre of the consumer’s mind. They are almost universally located in high-profile, high foot traffic retail locations and are a very visible reminder of Apple’s consumer focus.
They are also about more than the sale of Apple products. Its almost a social arena for Apple users to congregate, investigate new products, get support or advice and attend workshops. The value of that readily accessible ongoing support and engagement cannot be over-estimated.
For a large number of customers, technology – even something as simple as an iPhone – is seen as being complex, difficult to use or scary. Being able to walk into an Apple Store and get help on even the most trivial of matters adds a level of value that can’t be overstated. On its own this must be a large factor in many customers purchasing decisions. Even if they buy their iPhone, iPad or Mac from elsewhere help, support and guidance are just a step away.
It may seem like a strange thing to do for a retail operation, giving away space and time to customers who aren’t buying. Apple has turned that logic on its head and proven that a good customer experience begins long before purchase and extends long after it. And the retail store has been the most visible manifestation of that logic.