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Apple’s new idea isn’t new at all

Chris Field
Chris Field

The largely Apple-obsessed media is happy to go along with Apple’s idea that it has reinvented the store as a community gathering place, whatever that actually means.

95 of its stores will feature an interactive wall called “The Avenue” that shows off accessories, lots of open space and plants. And apparently there is even a new way to interact with Apple ‘Genuises’.

Why the cynicism on my part? I’m a dedicated Apple user, I even have some early versions that most of you wouldn’t even recognise. And I am pretty confident that the new concept will work, even if Apple Retail’s operations director ends up being disappointed by the sales per square foot figures. We are now into retail as experience, retail as good citizen and retail as community leader.

What worries me is that other retailers will think this means they need to rethink their businesses through the increasingly narrow filter of the store. Some will think, “great, I can finally justify the huge investment I have committed to real estate by turning my stores into meeting points”. This may work for Apple, but it will not work for everyone.

Moving the deck chairs around the store Titanic will not address some of its much bigger challenges, and the list is long. For instance, we can’t keep saying that loyal customers continue to travel invisibly through the store and think the only answer is to install beacons or run geo-located promotions.

We can’t keep saying that the customer’s buying journey is complicated and non-linear, but not really do anything about it.

And, we can’t really expect the systems, processes and people in place to come together overnight to serve the new consumer.

Appreciating that changes will need to be big and therefore will take time, I also think that we all need to be a lot braver in considering the answers. Many retailers are already thinking about these answers, not least through internal or third-party labs that are trialling new tech for engaging with customers. It’s a start, but already I sense some fatigue in the labs world. The danger is that they end up becoming tech museums, banished to the periphery of the business, no longer influencing big decisions.

To confront these challenges, firstly, we all need to accept that tech is important, but it is not the whole answer. Secondly, we need to acknowledge that too much of the tech industry is still talking product not solutions. And thirdly, we need to admit that a lot of what tech retailers currently have in no way prepares them from what is coming.

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